Politics & Policy

A name among millions, &c.

Well, what do you want? A Cuban political prisoner abused unto death, or a Chinese political prisoner abused unto death? Let’s do a Chinese: His name was Chen Xiaoming, and he died on July 1. What were the circumstances? The organization Human Rights in China (HRIC) has the details:

Early in his detention, sources told HRIC that Chen was held in a storage room of the Luwan District Public Security Bureau and that in the middle of the night on March 6, 2006, he was stripped naked and physically abused, his cries for help audible from outside. . . .

Chen’s family told the authorities that he had a chronic illness, but strangely — almost unprecedentedly — the authorities failed to show sufficient concern. On June 29, 2007,

a Baimaoling Prison official notified Chen’s family that Chen was seriously ill, and that he had been transferred to Shanghai’s Tilanqiao Prison Hospital. Upon reaching the hospital, Chen’s family learned that he had actually been transferred there a week earlier. They found Chen reduced to a skeletal condition, constantly vomiting blood and barely conscious.

Chen died. This man was

an individual committed to justice, and his familiarity with the law made him a leader among Shanghai petitioners and an annoyance to local authorities. . . .

HRIC deplores Shanghai authorities’ repeated denial of medical parole to Chen Xiaoming, in violation of the UN Minimum Standards for Prisoners and the PRC Detention Center Ordinance. There are also indications that ill treatment and beatings in prison were major factors in Chen’s death.

Blah, blah, blah. You’ve read a thousand of them, and I’ve read a million of them. Every week, my mailbox is stuffed with reports of good and brave men who were beaten to death in a police state. And, every once in a while, it’s right to put forth a name — or two.

Incidentally, HRIC’s full report on Chen Xiaoming is here. And when you’re watching the Beijing Olympics next summer — presided over by all those smiling PRC officials — you may want to think of him.

‐Concerning the recent Turkish election, a couple of points: I remember hearing Jack Straw, then Britain’s foreign secretary, saying “Don’t freak out.” Those were his exact words: “Don’t freak out” when religious parties form in Iraq or elsewhere, and when those religious parties win. Because, in Europe, there are lots of religious parties — Christian Democratic ones and so on. And some countries even have state religions. Straw himself, when he was home secretary, had sworn in bishops.

So, said Straw: “Don’t freak out.”

And that is probably good advice. And yet some concern — or a mini-freak-out, if you like — is certainly warranted.

I also remember words that Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan spoke, in a Davos forum. (Straw had spoken in a different such forum.) Erdogan said, “We are condemned to success.” Hang on, let me just reprint what I wrote at the time:

The first question [of a press session with Erdogan] comes from me: “Some people say that Islam and democracy are incompatible. What do you say?” He answers that his response need not be verbal — he can just point to his country, Turkey. This is a country in which “98 percent of the people happen to be Muslim.” (Those are the words of his translator.) “And we are a democracy, a republic, in which the rule of law, secularism, and the fundamental rights of liberty are held dear.”

He says that, as time goes on, “we are taking greater steps in meeting the requirements of democracy.” Turkey is “in a state of transition,” in which “people are going from local custom to a more scientific approach in their daily lives.”

Like others, Erdogan views Turkey as “a bridge between the Arab world and the West.” And since many eyes are on Turkey — if I have interpreted the prime minister correctly — “we are condemned to success.” A nice phrase, that: “condemned to success.” Turkey cannot afford to fail. It needs to set an example.

Yes, that would be swell — we’ll see.

‐You have read about Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.). In the words of the Daily Telegraph, “America’s first Muslim congressman has provoked outrage by apparently comparing President George W Bush to Adolf Hitler and hinting that he might have been responsible for the September 11 attacks.” (The article is here.)

“Apparently” comparing? “Hinting”?

Addressing a gathering of atheists in his home state . . . [Ellison] compared the 9/11 atrocities to the destruction of the Reichstag, the German parliament, in 1933. This was probably burned down by the Nazis in order to justify Hitler’s later seizure of emergency powers.

“It’s almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that,” Mr Ellison said. “After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it, and it put the leader of that country in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted.”

To applause from his audience of 300 members of Atheists for Human Rights, Mr Ellison said he would not accuse the Bush administration of planning 9/11 because “you know, that’s how they put you in the nut-ball box — dismiss you.”

Uh-huh. I must say, I’m kind of glad that Keith Ellison is in Congress, and that his remarks got reported — because there are many, many people in America who feel this way, and it’s better to have such beliefs out in the open than to have them lurking in the shadows. Ellison represents a lot of people — even well beyond his Minnesota constituency.

Do you know anyone who believes that George W. Bush and a bunch of Texas right-wingers orchestrated the 9/11 attacks? No? Then you’re keeping pretty good company, I’d say.

Also — I will resume quoting the Telegraph — Ellison said that “Vice-President Dick Cheney’s stance of refusing to answer some questions from Congress was ‘the very definition of totalitarianism, authoritarianism and dictatorship.’”

That is so sad. Is Ellison too ignorant, about the fundamentals of political systems, to serve in the U.S. Congress? Of course — but the people voted for him, and the people got ’im.

A final question: Do you think that, if a conservative Republican congressman had made equivalent statements, the rest of the Republican party would have been tainted by him? Yeah, I do too. But the Democrats, at large, don’t suffer from having the Ellisons in their midst.

Curious, that.

‐As you probably know, Mark Steyn has been covering the Conrad Black trial, from the opening bell. And now Mark has written a kind of summa — a long, brilliant, compulsively readable piece, published in Macleans. Here it is. A more absorbing piece of journalism you will not read all season.

I, for one, am rooting for Black to beat these raps, and to emerge again as the media leader — “press baron” — he is. I believe he has done a lot of good in the world; I look forward to his doing more. He understands the worth of Western civilization, and he understands the many threats against it, both within and without. I regret not having had the opportunity to work for him.

I am not a meticulous student of the legal case against him, but I am a casual student, and if I were as meticulous as Mark — I feel sure my conclusions would be the same as his. Anyway, read his piece, if you have the time, and you’ll want to make it. The loss of Black would be a pathetic and damnable loss indeed.

‐A little language? Some time ago, I swore that I would not use hoary clichés (such as “hoary clichés”). I said I would not say “grievous error”; I said I would not say “arrant pedantry”; I said I would not say “fatal flaw”; etc. And in the above item, I went and said “compulsively readable.”

Which must make me incorrigible.

‐The next issue of National Review is coming soon — the digital version is available tomorrow — and you will find many good things in it. The cover story is by the good doctor Theodore Dalrymple, responding to the Michael Moore film, Sicko. Dr. D. is utterly authoritative — and a supreme stylist to boot. You will not want to miss this — the piece is vital medicine.

My own contribution to the new issue concerns Taiwan. You may remember that, in an Impromptus a while back, I mentioned that Costa Rica had ditched Taiwan, to establish diplomatic relations with Communist China. And in the process of doing so, Oscar Arias — Costa Rica’s president and the vaunted Nobel Peace Prize winner from the mid-1980s — said some snarky, unsporting things about Taiwan. (Basically, he said that Taiwan had not showered enough dough on him, and he went with the more generous sugar daddy.)

There had been 25 nations with diplomatic ties to Taiwan, and now there were 24. That got me to thinking: Who are these two dozen nations? Why do they recognize Taiwan? And what are the prospects that they will continue to do so? I went ahead and wrote the piece to appear tomorrow.

You may ask why a government can’t have diplomatic relations with both Taiwan and the PRC. And, as I say in this piece, that is a sweet and innocent question. Taiwan would be delighted with such a state of affairs. But Beijing won’t permit it. They won’t let you have relations with them and Taiwan both. They make you choose — and they often make you choose in the most vile of ways. (For example, they could fund a rebel army against you.)

As I say in my piece, whether at home or abroad, Beijing is a bully.

The 24 nations are all small and inconsequential, globally, to be found in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and the Pacific. (An example from the first category is Paraguay; an example from the second is St. Kitts and Nevis; an example from the third is Gambia; and an example from the fourth is . . . Kiribati.) The Vatican also recognizes Taiwan — for now. They are trying to strike a deal with the PRC, and some people think they may reach one, before next summer’s Olympics.

The PRC has laid down two conditions for having relations with the Vatican. First, the Vatican must ditch Taiwan. Second, Beijing must appoint the Church’s bishops. The Vatican has not agreed to the second condition. But they have signaled their complete willingness to drop Taiwan, after all these decades. In this, they are no different from anybody else.

Anyway, an offbeat subject, seldom explored. It is a major goal of China to isolate Taiwan, until it is friendless. If it is recognized by no sovereign states — can it be a sovereign state itself? This is a question for the future, along with many others involving China, all of them making the blood run a little cold.

‐I have almost reached a tipping point concerning “Clinton.” For a long while, “George Bush” meant the 41st president. Then — at some point — you could say “George Bush” and mean the 43rd, W. When I see “Clinton” in the news, I still think Bill, instinctually. But I will soon reach the point of assuming Hillary.

I would rather think George — or DeWitt!

‐Back to the forthcoming issue of National Review, if you will. One of my heroes in life — and one of the globe’s great heroes today — is Pius Ncube, Archbishop of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. He has stood firm against Mugabe’s reign of terror and misery, at considerable personal cost, as you can imagine. He embodies the opposition to the regime in Zimbabwe, speaking for countless others too scared or little to speak for themselves. He seems to be, at the moment, his country’s indispensable man.

And NR’s Travis Kavulla spoke to him, for a piece in the aforementioned issue. Ncube is in jeopardy, but he’s not wasting his life: He is using it to try to protect the innocent from the brutes.

‐Something a tad lighter? Okay. You know how, on mailboxes all across America, you see “The Murray’s” and “The Brown’s” and so on? Well, I saw a T-shirt to beat all the other day. A man was walking up Broadway with a shirt that said, “God See’s Everything.”

I liked it, too.

‐A little music? I think I mentioned that the Kirov Opera of the Mariinsky Theater — St. Petersburg — has been performing Wagner’s Ring at the Metropolitan Opera House. Well, they’re through now. And for my final two reviews — of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, published in the New York Sun — go here and here. Hojoto-you-know-what.

‐Seve Ballesteros has at last retired from golf — officially. And thus does one of the greatest and most maddening careers in history end. He was the best golfer in the world, for several years — and such a joy to watch. And then he tumbled, all the way down. He could not claw back up. His game simply fled him — weird, spooky. Frightening.

About ten years ago, I was talking to Curtis Strange, on a range. (How’s that for name-dropping?) We talked about Seve, for he has always been one of my favorite subjects, and one of golf’s favorite subjects. Curtis said, “I think he should quit” — because you cannot go on, tying yourself into knots. And now he has.

But I will never forget his golf — neither will anyone else, who saw it — and he is a champion for the ages.

‐Not long ago, I engaged in conversation with an immigrant from Romania. He spoke a bit about the Ceausescu days. He said, “We didn’t have freedom of speech, sure — you couldn’t say anything. But you didn’t want to think either. You were afraid that even if you thought anything incorrect — you could be in trouble.”

Exactly that testimony has been given about totalitarian societies for as long as we can remember.

‐Was talking to another immigrant — this one from Sri Lanka. A Muslim. He was talking about the breakup of the family in America — meaning, all families. No one seems married, and children bounce around. The young man further said, “When I first got here, I was sort of perplexed by Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. I thought it was a little offensive. I mean, you picked out one day for your father, and one day for your mother? What about all days? Also, you’re supposed to leave home at 18. And if you don’t — it’s a mark of shame. This is a society I found very peculiar.”

I was struck, even a little moved, by what this man had to say. It can pay off to hear what foreigners have to say about you. Not always, but sometimes.

I’m in the lobby of the Sears Tower, waiting for a friend. I have been standing for a while, and wish to sit down — but there are no chairs or benches, this being America, the most inhospitable place in the world (sometimes). So, I sit on my suitcase — which, by the way, has been run through a security machine. And a guard comes up to say, “You can’t sit down.” It doesn’t matter whether it’s on my own suitcase — I just can’t sit down. Presumably, I could stand all day — but I can’t sit down. This being America — or at least the Sears Tower.

Ladies and gentlemen, sometimes America is utterly nonsensical, and maddening. You know that I’m a dedicated anti-anti-American. But there are societies that, in a situation like mine, would find you a drink, maybe some cookies.

Anyway, this item provoked quite a bit of mail, and I’ll provide a sample. The first note is from a spirited southern lady:

Dear Jay,

The last time I had the misfortune to be in the Sears Tower, I was using a cane because of a bum knee. My leg was swelling and hurt like the dickens. When an officious guard informed me there was no sitting, I dropped my cane and collapsed into him, saying, “Then you can hold me up!”

A second note:

Dear Jay:

Ever since the successful lawsuits to prohibit the denial of access to public facilities to anyone (bums, alcoholics, the visibly disturbed, etc.), seats in lobbies — and even graveyards! — have virtually disappeared from America. Americans aren’t inhospitable — just terminally litigious! If you were allowed to bring in your own seat (or suitcase) and sit, how could the guard stop a bum from bringing in his own box and squatting?

This litigiousness — this ruling out of common sense, and judgment, and balance — is one of the most dismaying things about modern America.

One mo’:

Mr. Nordlinger,

I read your anecdote about being unable to sit on your suitcase in the lobby of the Sears Tower, and it brought to mind an experience of mine from the same building that might find a home in your catalogue of America the Nonsensical.

I am a retired Navy captain (eight years active, 16 years Reserves) and was attending a business meeting at the Sears Tower. Asked at the security desk to show some identification, I produced my Navy ID (because it was handier than my license). The security personnel said that they could not accept a military ID (which obviously has my photo), but could only accept a driver’s license. After being informed (again) that military IDs did not cut the mustard to get into the Sears Tower, I marveled (maybe not quite the right word) at the nonsensical rule. But, alas, seeing as I needed to attend the meeting, I did not stand on ceremony and produced my driver’s license.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me a Navy captain’s military ID ought to trump a lousy ol’ driver’s license.

‐A few weeks back, we were talking about the wonder of words, as we’re wont to do, and a reader wrote in,

Mr. Nordlinger,

As I was driving my (then) 15-year-old daughter to a father-daughter dance at her high school, we passed a building that had been on the side of the highway for years, and whose sole identification was a large red neon sign that read, “ADULT BOOKS.” My daughter remarked that “when I was little, I always thought that sign meant that they sold books without pictures.” Temporarily possessed by the spirit of W. C. Fields, I could only reply, “Quite the antithesis, my dear.”

‐Friends, it might be a while before I write this column again — maybe late August. I will be cruising with National Reviewers in Alaska (“Wish you were here!” I can hear myself saying, already). And then I’ll be at the Salzburg Festival, conducting a series of public interviews, and reviewing performances. But I will be reading my National Review Online — and my National Reviews — and I’m sure you will too. Take care, and I’ll check you soon.

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