Politics & Policy

Who cares? &c.

Reading a report about China’s latest massacre in Tibet, I was struck by one line in particular: “China is gambling that its crackdown will not bring an international outcry over human rights violations that could lead to boycotts of the Olympics.”

That is a very, very good gamble. Nobody gives a rat’s behind what the Chinese do, to Tibetans or anybody else. It is a curious fact of modern times. If only China’s rulers would embrace the Bush administration: Maybe the world would care!

‐Cynicism is very unattractive, isn’t it?

‐Couple of weeks ago, Bush said we weren’t heading into a recession. And I heard someone say, “But I thought Bush was a truth-teller!” Well, we may be heading into a recession, and we may not be. But I know this: Bush is as truth-telling as any leader you’ll ever find.

I thought of this, for the thousandth time, when he said, “In a free market, there’s going to be good times and bad times. That’s how markets work.” Are presidents supposed to talk this straight? Perhaps not, but Bush does. He also warned against overcorrection — an unpopular but wise warning.

Sometimes, Bush talks more like a free-and-clear commentator than an elected official with all sorts of political and CYA obligations. As I’ve said before, we will miss him when he’s gone. At least some of us will . . .

‐As you may have read, seven Cuban soccer players made a move to defect in Florida last week. (For a report, go here.) This is a very, very familiar story: When Cubans have a chance to defect, they tend to do so. They vote with their feet. And they vote with their feet when they head out into shark-infested waters, too, risking death.

How do Castro’s countless apologists deal with this? They don’t, really — except to condemn the would-be escapees as “Batista stooges” or whatever.

For decades, these apologists have said that Cuban Communism is popular on the island. Okay: and if that is so, why doesn’t the Party hold elections? Why doesn’t the Party hold free elections and prove their popularity before the world?

Because Communist officials know what their apologists may not: They wouldn’t stand a chance.

And when Cubans have a chance to “vote,” they tend to do what those soccer players did in Florida.

‐Before we leave Cuba, the “Ladies in White” are marching again, appealing for the release of their husbands and others, imprisoned by a ruthless dictatorship. (A news article is here.) This week is the fifth anniversary of the “Black Spring,” in which the regime cracked down brutally. At that time, they rounded up 75 innocent people and threw them into dungeons. Fifty-five are still there.

And these wives, who march, are extraordinarily brave people.

‐Someone sent me a piece by Yossi Klein Halevi, called “The Iranian-Israeli War.” (To see the piece, go here.) I’d like to make three quick points, one of them a language point.

1) I’ll read any piece by Halevi, who is one of the best analysts of the Middle East there are.

2) Either he or an editor made a common mistake, one that writers and speakers ought to be on the lookout for. He said — or someone caused him to say — “Ironically, Hamas was initially more reluctant than Fatah to enter into an Iranian alliance, precisely because the Sunni Hamas takes religion more seriously than Fatah and was loathe to accept the authority of the Iranian Shiites.”

“Loathe,” of course, is not an adjective — “loath” is. But I would be loath to loathe anybody who makes this mistake: I just wish it were less common.

3) Halevi wrote, “In contending with Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel is trying to treat the symptoms, rather than the cause.” This reminds me of something I once heard a head of state say. The conversation was off the record, unfortunately. But I will relate the image that stays with me:

Iran is the body of the octopus, the center of the octopus. Hezbollah and Hamas are mere tentacles. To deal with the animal: Look to Tehran. Don’t fool around with the tentacles.

‐I’ve written about this before: Some bright foreign journalist writes something bonkers about your country; and you think, “Geez, do I write that way, when I write about other countries?” It makes you want to be very, very careful. It’s hard enough to know our own countries, let alone other people’s.

I thought of this, yet again, when reading Charles Moore’s “Notes” in the current Spectator. He writes,

If Mr Obama pulls through and beats Mrs Clinton for the Democratic nomination, he presumably would not offer her what she offered him [the vice-presidential nomination] and, even if he did, she couldn’t accept it. [?] But perhaps Mr McCain should ask her to be his running-mate. Wouldn’t theirs be an unbeatable combination? Or would it enrage the Republican base so much that the whole thing would fall apart?

Now, Charles Moore is basically the smartest person in the world. But . . .

Have I ever written anything like that about Britain? I devoutly hope not.

In any event, we learn something absolutely fascinating from Mr. Moore: “The only time I ever met Mr John McCain, about three years ago, he told me at length what an admirable person and wonderful politician Mrs Clinton was.”

I’m not surprised. That she is a canny politician, I’ll grant you. But, as she blazed her way through the 1990s, blackening her opponents, frustrating the law, inveighing against a “vast, right-wing conspiracy” — she did not strike me as so admirable . . .

The proper use of honorifics is no small matter in Germany, a society given to formality where even longtime neighbors insist on addressing each other using their surnames. Those with advanced degrees like to show them off, and it is not uncommon to earn more than one. A male faculty member with two PhDs can fully expect to be called “Herr Professor Dr. Dr. Schmidt,” for example.

Why did readers alert me to this article? Because I once wrote an essay on “Dr.” in America — a very, very touchy subject (as elsewhere, apparently). That essay can be found in this book.

And speaking of that book — Here, There & Everywhere — a reader in Florida went ahead and had a T-shirt made, using the cover. She sent me a picture of herself in it: here.

How ’bout that?

And before leaving the subject of Germany, I’d like to address something in the above-cited passage: “a society given to formality where even longtime neighbors insist on addressing each other using their surnames.” I had a pang of recognition. In Salzburg — not Germany, of course, but same diff (!) — I have stayed in the same hotel about eight times, for weeks on end. I can’t get the staff to call me “Jay.”

Sort of like Mary Tyler Moore: She could never bring herself to call Mr. Grant “Lou.” Remember that?

‐Speaking of Minnesota, I got a great deal of mail in response to my item Friday about Al Franken. He very, very badly mistreated a conservative kid at Carleton College — mimicked a nervous tic he has, etc. I was stunned to read this, for a few reasons. And readers wrote in to say, “Yeah, he’s always been a horse’s” you-know-what — and provided many examples.

But they were more interested in writing about something else. I’d written, “What if a conservative figure had treated a liberal kid this way?” (or words to that effect). And readers wrote in, “Remember George Allen and ‘macaca’? It deep-sixed Allen’s career — but about Franken, nothing.”

Oh, yeah: How quickly they forget. Or at least how quickly I forgot about this amazing episode.

‐I couldn’t suppress a smile in reading about the trick that pro-life students at UCLA played. Did you hear about that? You may find an article here. What the kids did was remind Planned Parenthood, and the country at large, about the eugenic roots of the abortion movement. A good trick, IMO.

‐Let’s have a little music, in the form of my “New York Chronicle,” for The New Criterion. My archive is here. And February’s chronicle gives you a Ballo in maschera at the Met and a reflection on Ross Lee Finney. This chronicle here gives you the St. Lawrence String Quartet, with the Murphys, Kevin and Heidi Grant; Thomas Quasthoff, Sir Simon Rattle, and a quartet from the Berlin Philharmonic; a slew of singers associated with the Salzburg Festival, plus the crack pianist Brad Moore; and Valery Gergiev.

How about one more? This chronicle gives you Lorin Maazel, the New York Philharmonic, and a Tchaikovsky festival; the Cleveland Orchestra under Franz Welser-Möst; Ivan Moravec; the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Sir Colin Davis; and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic under Yuri Temirkanov.

Begging for more? Okay, as long as it’s begging: This chronicle records Richard Danielpour’s opera Margaret Garner at New York City Opera; an evening in memory of the Hungarian pianist Georges Cziffra; and — going out of town — Opening Night in the Atlanta Opera’s new home.

That should fix you . . .

‐Finally, a word about Ariel Sharon: I wouldn’t be surprised if the sumbitch just up and woke up one day — got back to work.

(Note to all itchy-fingers: “Sumbitch,” certainly in this instance, is admiring.)

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