Politics & Policy

More Che Chic, &C.

You want to begin with a little Che? We haven’t Che’d in a while. This is not really “on the news,” but then, this is Impromptus.

First off–one of my favorite expressions of all time: First off–a journalist friend sent me an eye-popping item: here. The Churches Advertising Network has given us a Baby Jesus Che. I could say more about it, but I have provided the link, and the image is too creepy for words (at least mine).

Ay, caramba.

Then I received a letter from a reader, who said, “I was in Newport for a couple of days and ran across a new Che Guevara item: Che lip balm, made in Australia, and, according to the sales clerk, selling quite well. I asked if it was disconcerting to be selling lip balm named for a Communist book-burning murderer. She said, ‘No, I admire the things he did earlier.’ Great.”

To see the lip balm, in all its glory, please go here. The text reads, “Exotic, revolutionary lip balm dedicated to the great, immortal icon of revolution, Che Guevara. 100% natural protection. Guava flavour.”

Oh, guava flavour!

And then there’s Club Che, down in Dallas. (Actually, they spell it Club Ché, with a superfluous, un-Spanish accent.) You’ll see that “the club is modeled after the late controversial rebel leader Ché Guevara.”

Really, really cool.

Incidentally, for the piece I did on Guevara and his cult and kitsch, please go here.

But there is good news: On three days in early September–the 7th, 8th, and 9th–cartoonist Scott Stantis devoted his Prickly City comic strip to mocking Che shirts, and decrying them. It was glorious. I would give you the links, but they’ve expired. Instead, I will send you to Prickly City generally–here–for this is a strip I believe you will want to know. People would call it “conservative” or “right-wing,” but I’ve often found it humanely liberal. (We are not going to get into appellations, right now–that would take forever.) Amazing that newspapers agree to run Prickly City. Ever. Maybe they understand that man can’t live on Doonesbury alone.

You think?

Oh, I’m not done with Che yet. Thought I was. Wanted to share with you the following letter:


I wanted to mention my recent trip to London and Israel. In both places I saw pictures of Che everywhere. But I honestly believe there is a marked difference. Israelis whom I confronted had no idea who Che was–they looked on him as an “alternative” American icon (i.e., something pro-American). In England, people looked on Che as an anti-American icon.

The most shocking thing I saw was a skirt in a fancy dress shop that had pictures of two men plastered all over it. One was Che. Guess who the other one was? None other than that great peacemaker Mao. I was so disgusted, I couldn’t even bring myself to take a picture of it (though I did take a picture a book–shown in windows all over London–featuring the American flag with swastikas instead of stars. Charming).

“Charming” is right.

‐Here and now, I’m not going to comment fully on the China-Yahoo matter, but I was tickled by something I read concerning Jerry Yang, the president of Yahoo (or whatever his title is). He said, “I’m a Chinese American, and I don’t think that gives me a special privilege to say what I’m about to say . . .” Could be I’m uncharitable, but I think that’s exactly what he thinks he has–that special privilege!

Incidentally, I know that Yahoo is spelled–technically speaking–with an exclamation point (Yahoo!). Somehow, I don’t feel like giving it to them, sometimes.

‐Speaking of China, let’s look in on the Party’s use of psychiatry. I am told constantly that the PRC is no longer a Communist state–it may be authoritarian, or a one-party state, or something comparably mild. I once heard an august foreign-policy figure say that China was now like Mexico under the PRI.

Hmmm. A hallmark of a Communist regime is the misuse of psychiatry. In a moment, we’ll turn to Cuba–but for now, China:

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that Shanghai authorities have staged a major round-up of long-term petitioners, detaining at least 100 people since September 14. [Petitioners are people who have appealed to the government to address some wrong.] Sources say some of the detainees have been threatened with forcible psychiatric treatment.

Sources in China told HRIC that beginning on the afternoon of September 14, local police detained more than 100 petitioners city-wide, with some people rounded up as they were walking in the street, or riding a bus, while others were taken in the middle of the night. Most of the detainees remain in custody, although their families have not been presented with any warrants for their detention.

. . . HRIC’s sources quote a number of . . . detainees as saying that they witnessed one detainee, Zhang Fenfen, being beaten by a police officer with the badge number 027223 when he refused to be photographed and searched; police reportedly also threatened to send Zhang to a psychiatric facility if he didn’t cooperate.

Zhang has been sent to a psychiatric hospital on two previous occasions after judicial organs ruled that he had an “obstructionist personality.” While under psychiatric treatment on these occasions, Zhang was reportedly subjected to forcible injections and electric shocks.

And so on and so forth. The website of Human Rights in China is here.

‐And have a taste of Cuba, in the form of a report from the Coalition of Cuban-American Women:

According to the testimony of Lisandra Lafitta, wife of the physician and prisoner of conscience Dr. Luis Milan Fernandez, her husband, a man free of mental ailments, has been arbitrarily confined since February 18, 2005, to a psychiatric ward of the Boniato Prison Hospital in Santiago de Cuba. Dr. Milan, serving a 13-year prison term, is forced to share a cell with patients suffering a variety of mental disorders . . .

Dr. Milan is unable to sleep due to the incessant mosquitoes and suffocating heat (40 degrees Celsius in the shade). To escape this situation he sleeps on the floor, under his bed.

Following an inspection of the Boniato Prison on June 10, 2005, when trucks arrived and guards with dogs searched every cell, Dr. Milan lost all his maps and the personal letters he had received from different countries. . . . Also, he is prohibited from receiving any medicines or food that his family takes him.

Dr. Milan, who is 35 years old, has always been a very healthy man. When he was transferred from the Prison of Canaleta in Ciego de Avila (where he was confined along with 146 common prisoners) to the Combinado del Este Prison in Havana, where he underwent a medical check-up, penal authorities diagnosed the following illnesses: a tumor in the left humerus, loss of hearing, pulmonary emphysema (he does not smoke but was exposed to cigarette smoke in the Prison of Canaleta), hypertension, swollen nasal turbinates, and an enlarged liver. Dr. Milan refuses to undergo the required biopsies and surgical procedures required to treat these ailments since he does not trust the medical personnel in the prison.

Dr. Luis Milan Fernandez is a member of the Independent Cuban Medical Association (Colegio Medico Independiente de Cuba). In June 2001 he and his wife, a dentist, signed a document titled “Manifiesto 2001,” calling for recognition of fundamental freedoms in Cuba. . . .

Friends, I get 15 or 20 of these a week, and share very few of them. Some are more gruesome or outrageous than others, but they all speak to one, central fact: Cuba is a Communist hell, made all the more sorrowful by the huge and unshakable support the regime receives from Free World elites.

‐Okay, a little language, and a little art. I want to say: Et tu, Antonin? While at the Juilliard School the other day, Justice Scalia referred to “da Vinci”–meaning, Leonardo. I’m surprised at him.

The mistake of referring to Leonardo as “da Vinci” is so entrenched, I’m afraid it’s uncorrectable. I have had to fight with editors about this: You say “Leonardo,” and they want to say “da Vinci,” thinking it’s his last name–thinking it’s the same as saying “Reynolds.” They think that, when you say “Leonardo,” you’re saying the equivalent of “Joshua.” Actually, to say “da Vinci” is to say “of Orange,” instead of “William.”

Which brings me to a blurb I found in Charles Moore’s Spectator Diary, not long ago:

My colleague Christopher Howse has pointed out that you can tell that The Da Vinci Code is rubbish just by its name. Students of art refer to the man in question as ‘Leonardo’, ‘Da Vinci’ being simply the identifier of his town of origin. So Dan Brown’s title is the equivalent of a book about Jesus being called Of Nazareth. [That is much better than my “of Orange” example.] To be fair, though, these things do not follow a common rule. A friend of mine who had done a thesis on Correggio applied for an art history fellowship at a well-known university. One of those interviewing him for the post asked, ‘So where did Correggio come from?’ My friend replied truthfully, ‘From Correggio.’ He sensed at once that he should have spared his questioner’s blushes. He failed to get the fellowship.

Look, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. You have to learn at some point. I remember when I learned–when I was a college student in Italy. An art-history teacher asked whether I was interested in a particular artist, and I answered, “da Vinci.” He looked puzzled for a moment. Then recognition crossed his face, and he said, “Ah! Leonardo.”

I wanted to crawl under a rock–but I learned, as, sooner or later, one does.

‐Speaking of great artists: Mark Helprin now has a website. It is a handsome and spiffy website, too. Helprin is one of the best novelists of today, and one of the best writers, period, and although a website seems a little un-him–I’m not sure Mark owns a computer–this one does him justice. The books he has for sale are at quite affordable prices. Do you own a copy of his latest collection of short stories, The Pacific? It was a Christmas recommendation of mine last year, regular readers may recall. The volume is stupendous, and I have given it many times. I’ll give it many times more.

Next on my list is the latest novel, Freddy and Fredericka. (A nice-sounding pair, like Jack and Diane.)

Mark Helprin with a website. Now you know that everyone’ll have one. I remember when Jack Nicklaus first succumbed to using a metal driver. He was about the last to abandon real wood. And when he did, that was the ultimate statement. So it is here.

‐It somehow always amuses me when Brits use the word “bugger.” Try it out in a Ron Liddle piece (The Spectator):

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, refused to attend the events organised for Holocaust Memorial Day, if you remember. It seems to be beyond his ken to grasp the damage his public boycott caused: he simply doesn’t get it. But as we have seen, his views are bang in line with those of almost all ‘moderate’ Muslim spokespeople. And again, rather than worry a little about Sacranie’s mental health when he boycotts the memorial day or speaks of Osama bin Laden as a respected ’scholar’, we knight the bugger.

This reminds me of a story told to me by David Pryce-Jones–it’s about Sir Thomas Beecham, the great conductor. One night, he conducted the ballet Coppélia, at especially brisk tempos. The dancers must have really had a workout. When he laid down his baton, Sir Thomas remarked to the orchestra, “Made the buggers hop.”

‐People never talk so fast as when they leave their phone number on your answering machine. They speed up from their normal pace of speaking. It’s like they’re daring you to copy down the number, after the eleventh hearing.

Have you noticed?

‐Couple of letters, then we should go.

The first concerns an item I had the other day on the recent Miss Thailands–they’ve been half Thai, half something else (e.g., Dutch). I wondered what gave . . .

Mr. Nordlinger,

I have the honor and good fortune to be the father of two chino-gringo boys (half Thai, half Caucasian). I first heard the term chino-gringo on a visit to the produce market after my first son was born. My wife and I had shopped there regularly and were on recognition and friendly-greeting terms with some of the gals who worked there. [You can be killed for saying “gals” these days, but anyway . . .] Spanish was the native tongue of everyone who worked in the place and they’d been seeing my wife come in pregnant for some time. When we came in with the new baby, the first gal who saw us got very excited and called the others over: Mira el chino-gringuito! (“Look at the little Asian-white boy!”). They were absolutely delighted with him and I think his mixed ancestry made him all the more interesting to them. In Latin America, chino refers to pretty much anyone Asian, and gringo everyone knows.

Anyway, in Thailand, mixed Thai-Falang people (falang being white–and pedantic people will tell you it’s farang, which is technically true, but ignore them) are generally considered to be, on average, more attractive.

Self-hating? Well, Thaksin Chinnawat’s political party is called Thai Rak Thai (“Thais Love Thais”).

‐This letter was touched off by something I had written. I was about to explain what, but now I realize: It really doesn’t matter.

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

I’ve been re-reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, and one thing that has always bothered me about it is the attitude. “Housework is so boring and degrading; a moron can do it.” That’s all it means to be a wife and mother: the physical acts of housework. The feminists reduce it all to dirty dishes, dirty laundry, and dirty diapers, and then say it’s no fun and worthless to boot.

Got to say, the dirty stuff was never particularly “fun.” But it goes along with the wondrous joy of serving other people and drawing them to be their very best. I’d give about anything to have that same freedom and joy again. (Can’t, because I’m my family’s sole financial support.) I can’t think of anything more satisfying than serving one’s family wholeheartedly.

‐Last, a reader wanted to respond to my story about visiting the Richard Strauss home, in Garmisch, several weeks ago–you may recall that a laugh was had at the expense of a WWII soldier from Texas (who hadn’t recognized Beethoven in a sculpture):

Dear sir:

In regard to ignorance, I am reminded of the story of some German tourists driving across Texas. Intrigued by the green plants growing so vigorously under the hot Texas sun, they stopped to sample the fruit of the plant. They found the taste of the cotton boll not to their liking. Ignorance depends on perspective, I suppose.


See you soon.


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