Happy Election Day, friends (though “happy” may not be the word). I’d like to say something about the University of Michigan football team. This item is related to the election, I swear.
On Saturday, Michigan won a close game against Ball State. They were supposed to cream Ball State — piece o’ cake. Michigan was ranked No. 2 in the country, and Ohio State was ranked No. 1. The two will meet on November 18. Everyone was pointing to that game.
But Michigan had a real scare against Ball State — it concentrated the mind. Ohio State, too, won a close game against an inferior opponent: Illinois. A headline over an AP article said, “Ohio State, Michigan get scared straight.”
It was possibly the ideal outcome for both teams: They got their wakeup call, but they didn’t lose.
For the past many months, a lot of Republicans have been saying, “It would be good for us to lose Congress. Concentrate the mind, shape us up. We’d come back strong later,” etc., etc. I have never bought that line, for several reasons. A loss would be more devastating than many people realize.
My real preference is that the GOP be scared straight! That we hang on, but be chastened — whereupon we straighten up and fly right in all sorts of directions.
The GOP Congress may have disappointed, in certain respects. But I cannot believe that Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic party are the answer.
‐By the way, a rude name for Ball State is Testicle Tech. Another one is Ball U.
‐A very curious event is set to take place in Central Park the day after the election: the unveiling of a bust of Castro. Now, this monument, or whatever we should call it, will not be permanent (I trust). An artist appears to be engaged in a stunt. (For a press release on the matter, go here.)
But a bust of Castro in Central Park makes a certain amount of sense. The Cuban dictator, like other leftist dictators, has ample support in New York, and people are entitled to honor those they admire. And if New Yorkers admire Castro — so be it. By the monuments they erect, ye shall know them.
‐In other Cuban news, the sister of Jorge Luis Antúnez has issued an urgent call. You know Antúnez, if you have been reading this column for any length of time: He is one of the bravest and most inspiring of Cuba’s many political prisoners. His sister wrote a letter on October 31, saying that Antúnez had been badly beaten, and had gone on a hunger strike. (For the relevant material, please go here.)
This man is constantly menaced by Castro’s thugs and “re-educators.” Most of the world is silent about him. Cuban, Cuban Americans, and their few supporters scream as loud as they can.
After Communism falls — if it falls — will people erect a monument to Antúnez? We’ll see. But I would not hold my breath. You’d think that American liberals would take him up, because he is black, and they love, love skin color.
You’d think a lot of things.
‐Jimmy Carter is up to his old tricks, or his never-ending tricks. I will not really comment on the latest — here — but merely want you apprised. Have a taste:
Nov. 3 (Bloomberg) — The Bush-administration claim that North Korea cheated or reneged on a 1994 agreement with the U.S. to freeze its nuclear program is “completely false and ridiculous,” former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said.
Carter, a Democrat who helped broker the agreement with the North Koreans on behalf of then-president Bill Clinton, said the pact was “observed pretty well by both sides” for eight years.
“It lasted until 2002 when the United States in effect abandoned that agreement and branded North Korea as an axis of evil,” Carter, 82, said in an interview to be broadcast this weekend . . . Carter also said the U.S. further undermined the agreement by condemning summit meetings that took place in 2000 between North Korea and South Korea.
There is so much to say — but the mere fact that a former American president can use the phrase “both sides” when referring to the United States and a totalitarian, psychotic, murderous regime . . .
Long ago, I vowed never to stand aghast at President Carter, but sometimes it’s hard.
‐P.S. on Carter: Remember how glum and upset he was when the democrat Violeta Chamorro beat the Sandinista Daniel Ortega down in Nicaragua? He even tried to get Chamorro to share power with him. Well, in a photo taken yesterday, he looked much, much happier: here.
‐Last week was Union League Week for me. At New York’s Union League, I attended a book launch for our senior editor David Pryce-Jones. His new book is Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews, published by Encounter. It is a tour de force, saying exactly what has long needed to be said. The book will instruct, provoke, and guide you.
At the club, David spoke near a bust of Lincoln, and I must say — what higher compliment can be paid? — the sight of both men cheered me.
And the Union League in Philadelphia saw another cheering, inspirational event: the launch of The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005. The publisher is ISI. If you don’t mind, I’d like to quote the blurb I wrote for the book:
You want a Solzhenitsyn reader, because he is one of the greatest writers, and greatest men, of our times. And you want Edward Ericson and Daniel Mahoney to edit this reader, because no one has been more devoted to Solzhenitsyn, or is more knowledgeable about him, than they. This book is a perfect happening. It inspires deep gratitude.
I can assure you that no truer — or more sincere — blurb was ever written.
At the book party, both editors, Ericson and Mahoney, spoke, and spoke very eloquently, as usual. Two of Solzhenitsyn’s three sons were present: Ignat and Stephan. They spoke eloquently too, as expected.
Have a sample — a generous sample — of what Ignat said:
It’s astonishing to consider how much of Solzhenitsyn’s work — the work of perhaps the world’s most famous living writer — has remained unknown in the English-speaking world. And so the best thing about [the new reader] is that it provides an opportunity for people to meet the “undiscovered” Solzhenitsyn and entire genres of his work. [I wish] to draw your attention to just one of these genres, to introduce to you Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn the poet.
There are two “first things” you need to know about my father’s poetry: one, that he wrote his last poem on December 2, 1953, when, at the ripe old age of 34 — the same age I am today — he was told he had but two weeks to live (he was dying of cancer) and composed the arresting poem “Death — not as chasm” as he walked down the street of a small provincial town in the godforsaken deserts of Central Asia. In the 53 years that have passed since then, he has not published a single new line of verse. So Solzhenitsyn the poet is a young man whose great literary achievements are of course still ahead of him.
And the second thing you need to know is that his poetry is, in a sense, not poetry at all. In the judgment of many critics, and indeed by his own admission, his poetry lacks that element so crucial to the traditional notion of poetry — liberal use of metaphor and the self-consciously abstract aesthetic that Immanuel Kant considered to be an inherently defining feature of this art-form. But meter, rhythm, rhyme — here the young Solzhenitsyn displays an astounding technical mastery that yields to few in its daring and self-assurance. Combine this with a startlingly dense laconicism, an almost prose-in-verse style, and what you have is an utterly distinctive voice, as memorable as it is unorthodox.
And that is true.
You will also want a taste of Stephan’s remarks:
Solzhenitsyn’s presence in Russia, of course, extends beyond the bookstore. Matryona’s Home and Ivan Denisovich are in the standard high-school curriculum. And the proceeds of The Gulag Archipelago, which have always been used solely for charitable and cultural purposes, are continuing to do their good work. Today, through the vehicle of my father’s Russian Social Fund, there are 3,000 elderly and poverty-stricken veterans of the Gulag — former political prisoners — receiving regular assistance. The extra bit of material help is critical to them, many write, but no less important is the moral recognition: that the country has not forgotten them, even if the government takes no further steps to expiate this historical shame.
It’s nice that such a great man has splendid sons. It was no guarantee, but we feel justice has been served when things work out that way. Solzhenitsyn also has splendid (and towheaded) grandchildren. Doesn’t he deserve them?
‐I met a woman at the Solzhenitsyn party who is a wonderful rarity: a conservative art-history professor. You wouldn’t have thought any existed. This is also an extremely gutsy lady: She goes jogging in a Rumsfeld Fan hat.
Can you imagine? Well, one day, a man spat at her: spat at her. I know that you can imagine that.
Did it faze her? As far as I can tell, not one bit.
‐We should efface the image of spitting. May I tell you a funny story — what I regard as a really funny story? Okay. I was going to Carnegie Hall on Sunday, for a 2 o’clock concert. My usual route to the hall was blocked, by the apparatus of the New York City Marathon. So I found myself asking a policeman, in all sincerity, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” He and I both got a chuckle out of that.
(The classic answer, as you know, is, “Practice, practice, practice.”)
‐Second funny story, or at least a story: I said to a fellow critic, as we were walking up the aisle at intermission, “You know, you or I would be the best writer in the house — but Philip Roth’s here, the bastard.”
‐Vote early, vote often, dear ones! And remember that, no matter what happens, God is in His heaven, and the Constitution is in place. Now, if we can only pick up a couple of more Supreme Court justices . . .