Politics & Policy

A better 25,000, &c.

On some recent overseas travels, I read the International Herald Tribune a bit. The IHT is the New York Times abroad, as you know. And much of it is nauseating. Students of both publications say that the IHT is even more biased and insufferable than the NYT. I’m not in a position to say.

In any case, I read an IHT editorial that I admired very much — it was about Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the vice chancellor and foreign minister of Germany. You can read it here.

Steinmeier is no Angela Merkel, put it that way. Chancellor Merkel is a Christian Democrat, and Steinmeier is a Social Democrat. Last fall, Merkel took the extraordinary step of meeting with the Dalai Lama — despite the fact that Germany is China’s biggest trading partner in Europe.

Beijing was furious, of course. And so, apparently, was Herr Steinmeier: He accused the chancellor of trying to “showcase” human rights (!). And such showcasing is vulgar, to a certain kind of mind.

Just recently, the Dalai Lama was again in Germany. Merkel was out of the country, and Steinmeier refused to meet with him, quipping, “It takes a lot of courage not to meet with the Dalai Lama these days.” That is one of the most obnoxious quips in memory. And Steinmeier exhibits anything but courage. The IHT noted that his foremost concern is to make money in China.

But Germans as a whole may have a different idea: 25,000 of them turned out at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to hear the Dalai Lama express condolences to China over the recent earthquake. This brave and spiritual Tibetan is a better man than Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and those 25,000 are better too.

‐In last Wednesday’s Impromptus, I alerted you to a very interesting and unusual auction taking place on eBay: Up for bid is a baseball card picturing Fidel Castro; imbedded in the card is his autograph. Last year, a friend of mine bought this item, so outraged was he that it even existed. He has since “improved” the card — defacing it to note that Castro is a murderer and tyrant.

Taking a page from Rush Limbaugh, he decided to auction the card on eBay — giving the proceeds to a worthy and apt cause, specifically the Center for a Free Cuba. This center stands for everything that Castro despises: freedom, human rights, decency — and truth.

Anyway, check out the page, if you like: here. This is a righteous and somewhat thrilling caper. And, if you got the jack: Bid!

‐The other day, I saw an arresting headline: “Cuban Political Prisoner Defies Guards in Dramatic Phone Recording.” The report came from the Directorio Democrático Cubano, or the Cuban Democratic Directorate, an organization in the Miami area — a blessed and invaluable one, too. The Directorio’s report began:

Political prisoner José Daniel Ferrer García, held at Guantánamo Provincial Prison, was attacked by guards as he attempted to give a firsthand report on prison conditions to activist Juan Carlos González Leiva. The guard[s] attempted to cut the prisoner’s telephone connection, producing a confrontation during which Ferrer shouted slogans against the dictatorship and in favor of freedom for Cuba. The connection cut off abruptly.

The rest of the report can be read here. Sadly, the media at large care about only one type of prisoner in Cuba: the Islamic terrorist, detained by the United States. For that reason particularly, I thought you’d like to know about José Daniel Ferrer García.

‐Did you read the article about how George Monbiot, a leftist jerk, planned to execute a citizen’s arrest of John Bolton at the Hay Festival? Monbiot considers JB a “war criminal,” or at least says he does. And the Hay Festival is a lovely literary festival in Wales — been there (in the company of David Pryce-Jones, who was speaking).

The article I’m talking about is here. And what I liked best about it was this statement of Monbiot’s: “This is the one opportunity we have, because [Bolton] is mingling with the public, which doesn’t happen very often.”

What nonsense! Monbiot implies that Bolton hides out, or something — when, in fact, he “mingles” all the time. Hell, he comes on National Review cruises. And is, of course, a total joy, in addition to a sage.

‐In the mid-1980s, something peculiar happened: The U.S. acquired a “poet laureate.” To many of us, this seemed terribly un-American and un-republican. Official poets are something that monarchies and dictatorships have. What American poet with an ounce of pride or gumption would accept such a position? They all would, is the answer, unfortunately.

Recently, the National Endowment for the Arts bestowed its first Opera Honors. (Why does the NEA still exist, by the way? Didn’t Republicans control Congress for twelve years?) The NEA’s chairman, Dana Gioia, said that “the time has come for the U.S. government to honor our great living artists with the high C of official praise.”

Official praise — ugh, gross, disgusting. What would the government know about opera? And what kind of country are we — a republic or not? Does Mussolini rule us from his balcony?

Art is its own aristocracy, and it has its own ideals, judgments, and standards. Georg Solti, the late conductor, said the best praise he had ever received in his life came from Arturo Toscanini — who said to him just one simple word: Bene (good).

Since practically nothing that comes from the government is ever reversed (see NEA), the Opera Honors are undoubtedly here to stay, forever. What a shame. And under the best leadership the stupid NEA will ever have.

‐Longtime and regular readers of this column may remember that I was absolutely besotted with Spellbound, the 2002 documentary about the spelling bee. In addition to being a near-perfect film, this was a hymn to America.

Just when you’re down about this country — its ability to absorb immigrants, its ability to assimilate, and even its ability to inspire joy — you read about the spelling bee. I read this the other day (in this article):

One other returning finalist remained in the competition. Kavya Shivashankar, 12, of Olathe, Kan., stayed alive by spelling the agricultural term “Krummholz.”

For comic relief, there was Easun Arunachalam, who has a habit of treating every word as if it were the strangest thing he’s ever heard. The 11-year-old from La Crescenta, Calif., blurted “What?” when presented with the chemical compound “benzophenone.” After asking the usual spate of questions — definition, word origin, alternate pronunciations — Easun spelled the word flawlessly.

Then there was Jahnavi Iyer, who pondered the medical term “solidungulate” until she finally asked, “Could I have an easier word, please?” . . .

The 14-year-old from Enola, Pa., took a guess, nailed every letter, and trotted back to her seat with arms raised in celebration.

I love it, I love it.

‐In that news excerpt above, I would have said “alternative pronunciations,” instead of “alternate pronunciations.”

‐America is a country that has a girl named Kavya Shivashankar spelling “Krummholz.” To say a third time: I love it.

‐Do you know about Standpoint yet? It is a British magazine, brand-new — just launched. It aims to “defend and celebrate Western civilization.” There’s a novel idea, huh? The editor of the magazine is Daniel Johnson, son of Paul (and Marigold); the deputy editor is Jonathan Foreman, Anglo-American, foreign correspondent, film critic, and many other things. The website is here.

And who’s on the editorial board? Intellectuals and writers, among them V. S. Naipaul, Tom Stoppard, Noel Malcolm, and Gertrude Himmelfarb. Also my favorite writer-parliamentarian, Michael Gove. There is also at least one artist, David Hockney, and at least one singer, Ian Bostridge (the tenor).

Standpoint promises to recall the old Encounter, one of whose editors was Gertrude Himmelfarb’s husband, Irving Kristol. Encounter was a splendid contribution to Western civilization, including its politics (which is to say, the politics of Western civilization — democratic).

I have a piece in the first issue, but don’t let that put you off: Read Standpoint, and rejoice at another thrust against nightfall.

‐Well, as long as I’m up, up, up in this column — where did all this sunshine come from? — I might as well close with this:

A reader sent me the text of an ad for Harley-Davidson. It contains many a point that people like us — Reagan conservatives — would wish to make. I swear, Paul Johnson could have written it! Here goes:

We don’t do fear. Over the last 105 years in the saddle, we’ve seen wars, conflicts, depression, recession, resistance, and revolutions. But every time, this country has come out stronger than before. We’ve watched a thousand hand-wringing pundits disappear in our rearview mirror. Chrome and asphalt put distance between you and whatever the world can throw at you. Freedom and wind outlast hard times. And the rumble of an engine drowns out all the spin on the evening news. If 105 years have proved one thing, it’s that fear sucks, and it doesn’t last long. So screw it. Let’s ride.


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