Politics & Policy

A Day of Conception, &c.

Mark Steyn describes himself as a “demographics bore,” but he couldn’t be boring if he tried — and he has vital things to say on the subject. For instance, he has been telling us for years that Russia is emptying out. So I paid special attention to a headline yesterday: “Russian Region to Host Day of Conception.” Huh?

ULYANOVSK, Russia (AP) — Make a baby. Win a car. Don’t be surprised if the streets are empty and curtains drawn in this central Russian region Wednesday as residents take up an offer by the regional governor to help stem Russia’s demographic crisis.

Ulyanovsk Gov. Sergei Morozov has decreed Sept. 12 a Day of Conception and is giving couples time off from work to procreate. Couples who give birth nine months later on Russia’s national day — June 12 — will receive money, cars, refrigerators and other prizes.

It’s the third year that the Volga River region, about 550 miles east of Moscow, has held the contest. Since then, the number of competitors — and the number of babies born — has been on the rise.

All right! Rock on, Russkies (or something like that)! (For the complete news article, go here.)

‐Speaking of Russia, I found the below just slightly depressing. Did you?

MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian military has successfully tested what it described as the world’s most powerful non-nuclear air-delivered bomb, Russia’s state television reported Tuesday.

It was the latest show of Russia’s military muscle amid chilly relations with the United States.

Channel One television said the new weapon, nicknamed the “dad of all bombs,” is four times more powerful than the U.S. “mother of all bombs.”

I think the 20th century gave the world enough competition between our country and theirs to last a millennium — or three. (For the article that I have cited, go here.)

‐In an interview, John Abizaid, the retired Army general, spoke a striking sentence. Let me do a little quoting (from this article): “The fact the Iraqis want us to go, we want to go, is one that none of us should ever lose sight of. We’re trying to work ourselves out of a job. But we can’t do it in a way that destabilizes the country and allows precisely the worst thing to happen, which is the country becomes an even greater safe haven for extremist groups such as al-Qaida.”

We’re trying to work ourselves out of a job. Yes, aren’t we always? That’s why it’s maddening when people refer to the U.S. as an “imperial power” — when they speak of an “American empire.” What galloping ignorance. Empire, my a** . . .

(I had started to spell “ankle,” but just gave up.)

‐Bishop Han Dingxiang has died, in the custody of the Chinese government. And when you die in a Communist country — your death is not necessarily straightforward.

BEIJING (AP) — A bishop who led an underground congregation of Roman Catholics and was repeatedly detained in China for his loyalty to the Vatican died in police custody, a monitoring group said Tuesday.

Bishop Han Dingxiang, 71, was cremated within six hours of his death Sunday and buried in a public cemetery with no priests or other faithful present, both groups said.

Han, who had been under house arrest or other forms of detention for nearly eight years, died while being treated for an unspecified illness . . .

“Why were the priests of his diocese not allowed to bless his remains, and together with his faithful, to pray for this heroic shepherd and to view his body?” asked the statement from the Cardinal [K]ung Foundation. “This is not only inhuman and atrocious but also suspicious.”

Yes, of course. We’re all supposed to be quite jolly about China, host of our next Olympics. Problem is, if you know anything about the country, you can’t be. (For the AP’s complete report, go here.)

‐Uh-oh: It seems that teaching in Hebrew has put us in danger of theocracy. The Constitution is on the brink of collapse — or at least it was. Listen to this report from Ft. Lauderdale:

A charter school may resume teaching in Hebrew, three weeks after the lessons were halted over concerns the Jewish faith was seeping into public classrooms, the school board voted Tuesday.

Broward County board members said close monitoring of the country’s first Hebrew-language charter school is still necessary, but that its administrators had cleared up major concerns.

The school district will work with the Ben Gamla Charter School in Hollywood to create training programs for teachers and board members to ensure the separation of church and state, Schools Superintendent James Notter [said]. Lesson plans will be submitted monthly for district review.

Whew! That was close. I hope those training programs do their jobs, and that the monthly reviews are strict. We don’t want any Bible “seeping into public classrooms,” infecting the minds of South Florida youth. Not only would religion violate the Constitution — it would take time away from the regular, vital fare of public education: sexual techniques, environmental alarmism, etc.

Of all the threats that America faces, maybe the worst comes from the Hebrews . . .

(For the complete article, go here — and I promise to de-sarcasticize this column soon.)

‐Hey, how can these Hebrews run charter schools, when they’re busy running U.S. foreign policy? (I said soon.)

‐Were we talking of foreign languages? I wonder if you caught Governor Richardson’s performance the other day. He was participating in a Democratic presidential debate sponsored by Univision. The ground rules were, you couldn’t speak Spanish — English only. But the New Mexico colossus would have none of it:

“And I do want to say at this point that I was under the impression that in this debate Spanish was going to be permitted [yeah, right] because I’ve always supported Univision all my career, but I’m disappointed today that 43 million Latinos in this country, for them not to hear one of their own speak Spanish is unfortunate.”

And then he went on in Spanish — despite admonitions from the debate’s moderators.

Couple of things: I wonder if the “43 million Latinos in this country” mind being represented by so boorish a man. (And no doubt, he thinks of himself as representing them.) Two: Do Americans of Hispanic origin really want to hear a presidential debate in Spanish? That would be . . . unfortunate (to use one of Governor Richardson’s words).

(For a story on this show, go here. And for a piece of mine about Spanish in America, go here. It’s called “Bassackwards,” and was published in NR last January.)

‐You may well be aware of Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s performance in Syria. (View a clip here.) Why do such people appear in every war? They just do. Free countries will never run out of them; unfree countries use them to their advantage. Kucinich may not have reached Lord Haw Haw heights, or depths. But that such a man could serve in the U.S. Congress is almost mind-boggling. What are people in Cleveland thinking? Or are they just not paying attention?

‐Reading a story about Henry Paulson’s visit to Europe, I noticed something that had previously escaped my attention: The new chancellor of the exchequer is called Alistair Darling. Say what you will about the U.K., and it surely has its problems: but they can still throw up a finance minister named Alistair Darling.

‐You’ve probably heard that the Washington Post and other newspapers didn’t run a cartoon strip or two — by Berkeley Breathed, the genius behind Bloom County — for fear they would offend Muslims. According to this report, “the strips were shown to Muslim staffers at The Washington Post to gauge their reaction.”

Funny, but no one ever asks me whether I would be offended by something (and I’m offended by a great deal of what appears, anywhere). Do they ever ask you?

How can we get on this list?

‐Have another media note, if you will. I keep reading that Katie Couric has low ratings — rock-bottom. This surprises me, simply because she is so beautiful. You’d think her ratings would be pretty healthy. Look, no matter what you think of her politics, and it seems to me her politics are Kucinichian, or Hillaryesque: She is a clear beauty.

‐Should we have a speck of music? For a review of a new two-CD set of the Berlin Philharmonic, under Sir Simon Rattle, in Haydn, go here. And for a review of just one section of the Berlin Phil. — the horns — go here. Both reviews appeared in the New York Sun.

‐You may recall that, in Monday’s Impromptus, we talked a little about President Bush as speechmaker and communicator. I’d like to share with you a letter from a very astute and well-informed reader, a letter I endorse wholeheartedly:

Jay,

Hey, I’m a constant critic of the administration’s “selling” of the war and our positions at home and abroad.

Here’s the deal, as I see it: Bush’s speeches are often great, as good as or better than anything I’ve ever heard from a president. The problem is, it’s not reinforced down the chain. We have not had cabinet secretaries, undersecretaries, ambassadors, consuls general, etc., out there explaining our rationales to audiences big and small across America and around the world. Jeff Gedmin was running a think tank in Berlin during the run-up to the Iraq War and ended up being the most prominent voice of American policy in Germany (as a private citizen!), despite the fact that we have a huge diplomatic establishment across that country. Cheney occasionally emerges and is utterly brilliant and convincing, but he’s so low-key and the forums are so Inside the Beltway that I bet not one in a hundred of my Midwestern neighbors sees it.

So, basically the content isn’t the problem. It’s the frequency and ubiquity of the explanations. We need much better propaganda (in the good sense of the term). There are, of course, reasons for our failings — not least the State Department, which, from Powell on down, opposed American policy and felt justified in doing the minimum.

‐And in this column, I had an item on American unions, and what they have become. A reader sent what I regarded as a most enlightening letter:

Dear Jay,

My father was a union steward for the Communications Workers of America before he got promoted to management with AT&T. So, he saw both ends of the union issue. He has an interesting take on the right to work. He says that closed shops actually hurt unionized workers. The reason is that if the shop is closed, then it really makes no difference to the union whether any individual employee keeps his job. If Joe Sixpack gets fired, it is no skin off the union’s back since the guy who replaces him will have to join the union to work. If the shop is open, however, there is no guarantee that Joe’s replacement will join the union. That means that the union has an incentive to actually make sure that Joe gets a fair shake from the company and isn’t fired unfairly because if a union member is fired, he takes his dues with him and there is no guarantee his replacement will be a dues-paying member. With unions, like everyone else, it is first and foremost about the money. In my father’s experience anyway, unions are much more likely to actually fight for an individual member in open shops than they are in closed shops. Something to think about the next time someone describes right-to-work laws as bad for the worker.

This may be A-B-C to everyone else, but, again, it was enlightening to me.

‐In the above-mentioned column, I had a letter from a reader explaining that, where he grew up, products of Jewish-Cuban marriages were called “Jewbans.” A different reader subsequently wrote,

“I thought you’d appreciate a similar line I heard from Carlos Mencia, the comedian, at a show Labor Day weekend. He said that he has heard of Mexican immigrants who have been marrying southerners, and referring to their children as ‘wetnecks.’”

‐Finally, a picture from a reader: here. He accompanied it with the words, “Capitalism rocks.” In case your computer has trouble bringing the photo up: It shows a Wal-Mart Supercenter on Karl Marx Street. The street, and the store, are located in the former East Germany.

Catch you soon, y’all.

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