Some years ago, I visited Egypt for the first time. Was there ten days, I believe, and relished the interaction I had with people. I said so in an e-mail to my friend David Pryce-Jones, the Middle East historian (along with a thousand other things). He wrote me back, “Yes, another wonderful people, betrayed by their intellectuals.”
Why do I bring this up? I spotted something from the Middle East Media Research Institute, here. The headline: “Egyptian Liberal: It Is the Educated Who Are Responsible for the Lack of Democracy in the Arab World.” The liberal in question was Dr. Said of the Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies. MEMRI summarized, “He accused Arab educated circles of failing to fill their historical role of promoting democracy. [He] stated that the educated had made a mistake by joining forces with anti-democratic elements in society, and that they were still unjustifiably devoting their energies to resisting foreign forces, rather than to building a democratic society.”
I have had years to ponder DP-J’s statement to me — and to see the glaring truth of it. Everyone is responsible for his own actions, of course (I suppose). But intellectuals in Arab society have more to answer for than most.
‐Do you want to look in on Cuba, just for a second? We will do so courtesy of the Directorio Democrático Cubano (Cuban Democratic Directorate, in South Florida). This is nothing “special”; just another day-in-the-life.
BARACOA, GUANTÁNAMO — At about 7 AM on Thursday, July 10, troops from the Castro regime’s Special Forces stormed the home of the father of student pro-democracy movement leaders Néstor and Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina. This same morning, other activists in solidarity with Néstor were arrested elsewhere in Baracoa and in the city of Guantánamo, amounting to a total of fourteen detained human rights activists. The house has been under siege from paramilitary mobs led by State Security forces since Tuesday, July 8, at 7 PM. Former Cuban political prisoner and student leader Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina continues on hunger strike for a fourth day at this house, where he is demanding respect to travel freely in his own country.
And so on. For the complete report, go here.
Rolando said, “We awoke once again to a terrorist attack.” Ponder that statement — so full of meaning, so expressive of life on this tortured island. “We awoke once again to a terrorist attack.”
Of course, the world is interested in Guantánamo — but not in what’s done to Cubans there, that’s for sure. And how can people be so brave, as these dissidents? How is that possible? Are they reckless, insane? Or just incredibly good, doing necessary work for less capable others?
‐All right — descend to the ridiculous, of American politics and columny (as William Safire called it). Michael Kinsley wrote, “Many Republicans dislike John McCain with a passion that has lasted for years. Asked to explain, they refer to the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform law (which they thought, incorrectly as it turns out, would bite Republicans more than Democrats) . . .”
Actually, a lot of us opposed that law because we thought it was wrong.
‐Learned something delicious from my friend and colleague Roger Kimball, who blogs here. The New York Times had a story on the retirement of baby-boomer profs. And it included this sentence: “In general, information on professors’ political and ideological leanings tends to be scarce.”
Oh, no — how will we ever know?!?!
‐In yesterday’s Impromptus, I commented on the recent travesty in Dallas: A county commissioner spoke of a “black hole” of bureaucracy. He was denounced for racism. Well, I heard from a reader who had a similar story. It seems that a black man was at work, and a co-worker was playing her radio nearby. She asked him whether the music bothered him. He said, “No, it’s just white noise.”
He was later called into HR for maligning country music . . .
Ladies and gentlemen, is America crazy or what?
‐In Tuesday’s Impromptus, I commented on old churches that are no longer churches but something else — and the sadness of this transformation. This item was prompted by a trip back home to Ann Arbor (Mich.). I’d seen a beautiful old stone church, and couldn’t figure out what the denomination was. Then it was apparent that the church had become offices.
Anyway, my remarks occasioned many, many letters. And I’d like to share just two. (They contrast.)
A few years back, one of your fellow Michiganders, Kid Rock, was arrested at a strip club in downtown Nashville. The news stories didn’t mention that the club had been a church — home to an AME congregation.
Swell. And the second letter is one of several from Ann Arbor. It is from my (ahem) mother:
Is the church you’re referring to at the corner of State and Huron? [Yes.] It is a lovely architecture studio, linked graciously to the home next door — they saved it from destruction. Also, I have a friend who is a financial person there. This group actually uncovered and preserved the magnificent Tiffany stained-glass window. You might pop in sometime and see how nice it is. No damage was done to the original church. There are no pews, of course, but there is a choir loft, which is full of architect’s drawing tables, I think.
‐Speaking of Ann Arbor, received this:
When visiting your hometown circa 1993, I saw a sign on campus that read “Diversity Days: Celebrating Our Similarities.” I laughed out loud and observed that only on a college campus would that make any sense. My friends totally missed the humor. I think this is when I started to suspect I was one of those conservatives I’d heard about.
I loved that letter. Rings so very true.
‐As usual, I’ve received a lot of mail about Che, Che shirts, Che knick-knacks, Che experiences . . . (Let me remind you that the Colombian hostage-rescuers were wearing Che shirts — in order to make the bad guys think they were with them.) Quick sample Che letter:
My wife and I are in the process of adopting three daughters from Ukraine. A few days ago, the girls were showing me their wrist bands, and the youngest was wearing a Che Guevara band. I asked if they knew who Che was, and they replied they thought he was a football (soccer) player.
They know better now. And a very astute reader said the following (I paraphrase): “People say that the image of Che does no harm. It’s just a symbol. Same with a kaffiyeh. Just a symbol, just a decoration — nothing to get worked up about. But why don’t they say that about the Confederate flag?”
We know why . . .
‐In yesterday’s column, I talked about being on a train, where a couple was having a loud, obnoxious, and leftist conversation. (The political color of the conversation was irrelevant — almost.) This inspired me to write a little sermon on etiquette, particularly where political views are concerned.
As you might guess, many readers wrote in to share their own experiences. Let’s look at just one:
You reminded me of something that happened earlier this year. I ride the Northeast Corridor to and from work every day. One evening, after a long day, I decided I was going to read National Review on the train home. It helps to relax me, particularly when I see the looks on commuters’ faces after I manage to wrest the mag from the Penn Station newsstand.
Anyway, it was the issue with Jonah Goldberg’s book cover on the cover. The train was exceptionally crowded, and a man catty-corner to my right took exception to my choice of reading. So much so, he spent quite a bit of time uttering vulgarities to the woman next to him. (I could only assume it was his wife and not a stranger.) I let this go on for about 20 minutes and finally could take it no more.
I spoke up and asked if he had a problem with me. While he’s getting louder and begins screaming at me — Bush lied, we ruined the country, etc. — I have to get up and let the woman beside me out for the next stop. As I’m doing this, I quietly explain to him that this is still America and I can quietly read as I please. And if he still has a problem with this, we can discuss it further by getting off at the next stop.
Now, I am a large man, and drawing up to my full stature as I say this. The rest of the ride home? Quiet as could be.
That’s what Reagan might call “peace through strength.” (But what do shrimps do?) (I’ll give you another Reagan line: “No one ever picked a fight with Jack Dempsey.”)
‐This one is darn depressing:
While waiting yesterday outside the Special Collections department in the basement of UCLA’s University Research Library for my boxes of research materials to be delivered, I happened to glance at the ancillary card catalogue, happened to notice the label on one particular drawer — “Extremist Literature” — and, curious to see what the archivist considered extremist, just happened to pull the drawer open to the card for . . . National Review. What a hoot.
Yes, a hoot — or something.
‐A little music? I don’t have any reviews for you, so I’ll give you this note:
You were talking about famous and great singers in ordinary church congregations. Well, here is the opposite situation. In many Catholic parishes, the job of leading the singing in church falls to someone who can’t sing. Sometimes not even close. Why is this? Because these people volunteer and the priest/committee cannot tell them the truth. The bad singer is very happy, but everyone else is miserable. Maybe it’s an opportunity for penance.
‐A little language? I don’t have anything in particular for you, but I do have a letter:
In your recent musings, you said, “This is a story that just may beat all. And if it doesn’t, it beats a lot.” In the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, her Pa often compliments the mother’s cooking by saying, “Caroline, you beat the Nation.” I just thought you would enjoy that tidbit.
And I certainly do.
‐Finally, I thought this was amusing — a reader wrote, “I actually saw a Prius hybrid the other day without an Obama sticker on it.” You mean they don’t come with one straight from the factory?