Politics & Policy

Back to the ’08 Olympics, &c.

One of my great complaints — regular readers have heard it for a long time — is that no one ever goes back: No one ever reviews what was said, takes stock, etc. For example, a senator says, “If Ronald Reagan deploys those Pershings, we will have nuclear war!” Well, did we?

This is the great power of Mona Charen’s book Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First. She cites chapter and verse; and everyone is on the record, accountable. (To read my review of that book — published in a March 2003 National Review — go here.)

Why am I bringing all this up? Well, advocates of granting the Olympic Games to China all said that having the Games would force the PRC to liberalize. It would be good for human rights, people said. Even Chinese authorities themselves said that the Games would cause them to liberalize!

That was the great selling point.

And what happened? Not only did the Games not have a liberalizing effect; they had the opposite — moving the PRC to crack down all the more. I documented this extensively in a five-part series on this site last August. You can find it in my archive, here.

And just the other day, I saw this headline, from the Falun Dafa Information Center: “Fueled by Olympics, Falun Gong Persecution Escalated Sharply in 2008.” You’re darn right it did (and the relevant article is here).

Now, there’s nothing wrong with guessing, or arguing, and being wrong. It may have happened even to me one time. And it was possible that the Games would have a liberalizing effect (although I always thought that was a foolish guess, for reasons I detail in the above-mentioned series). In any case, the granting of the Games to Beijing set the cause of human rights back.

And it would be nice if some of the advocates of those Olympics — and there were millions of them — would simply say, “Oops: Turned out to be wrong.” Why should they say this? Because I think there should be Mao-style self-criticisms? No. Because I like to say “I told you so”? No. It just seems to me that, before we glide on, we should review, take stock, so as to prevent similar errors or misjudgments in the future.

Isn’t that elementary? (And elementary, as you know, is one of the specialties of this column.)

‐A grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini has said some interesting things — and the Middle East Media Research Institute, as usual, has relayed them (here). An interviewer asked Hossein Khomeini, “In your opinion, is the regime ruling Iran today exactly the same Islamic republic that Ayatollah Khomeini wished for?”

And he said, “No, we certainly did not want such a thing. The religious people did not want this, and the non-religious did not either. Only people who are mentally deviant could possibly want such a thing. Nobody else would want a regime that, in the name of Islam, challenges all the rights of the people, and, in many cases, tramples those rights underfoot.”

Of course, Ayatollah Khomeini planned a nightmare, for all of us: for as many as he could lay his hands on. And he plunged many millions into that nightmare. Still, interesting, what the grandson said.

‐On Saturday, I spotted a headline that said, “Good news on the ocean front for a change.” I thought, “Boy, Obama moves fast: He has been in office less than a month!” The article said,

Some Pacific Island countries are successfully protecting their reefs, haddock and scallops are recovering in New England waters, and a few types of whales are even making a comeback.

“The news today is that there is good news” for the oceans, Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Friday.

That doesn’t mean that people no longer need to be concerned about the future of the oceans and sea life, but she said it is time to move beyond the obituaries and recognize there is also progress.

Well, he said he would heal the waters, and lo . . .

‐In many music reviews for the New York Sun (200208), I decried the practice of shushing in concert halls. Someone would clap at an inappropriate moment, or a cellphone would go off, and others would immediately shush: which I’ve always found worse — more disruptive, more annoying — than the original offense.

With this in mind, an old colleague from the Sun sent me an article from the Guardian, here. It begins, “Museum attendants should be stopped from ‘shushing’ children and displays should be hung low enough for youngsters to see properly, according to a manifesto to make museums more family-friendly published today.”

I dunno. I’ll have to think about it. Probably some children in museums deserve to be shushed . . .

‐From January 28 to February 5, this site published my Davos journal — my notes from the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum. (To view this journal — in somewhat handy form — go here.) These jottings provoked a considerable amount of mail. And I’d like to share a dollop or two.

Many political and financial leaders at Davos fretted over the American consumer: He would cease to consume enough, injuring the world’s economy overall. A reader wrote, “I remember a distant, hazy era when ‘excessive American consumption’ was the cause of 99.9 percent of the world’s problems. The world is hard to please, isn’t it?”

Yeah, it is — always has been.

‐I also wrote about the performance of Shimon Peres, the old president of Israel. (Not a former president, but the octogenarian current president.) He rose up magnificently, defending his country after it had been maligned. I said that, no matter what Peres had done before or would do after, I would always be grateful to him for that shining, stunning performance.

A reader wrote, “We usually judge batters and pitchers by their career averages, but it’s okay to remember Don Larsen for his perfect game,” in the ’56 World Series. (Larsen was actually a journeyman.)

What a lovely, apt letter.

‐In the course of that journal, I wrote about Al Gore and global warming — and Václav Klaus and global warming. Gore calls those who disagree with him (such as Klaus) “deniers.” This is rather obviously meant to be parallel to Holocaust deniers. He also speaks constantly of “the science,” as in “accept the science.” The consensus of the scientific community is clear. We must have no more discussion. “The science” has spoken.

Well, a reader sent me an excerpt from a Michael Crichton lecture, and I found it quite powerful:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

And I was reminded of a story I learned from Tony Daniels (a.k.a. Theodore Dalrymple). It’s sometime in the 1930s, I believe, before the Reich has really gotten going. A hundred “Aryan” scientists sign a letter against Einstein, saying that the theory of relativity is a Jewish hoax (or whatever). Asked for his response, Einstein says, “If what they are saying were true, one signature would have been enough.”

That is my favorite story about majorities or mobs.

‐In Part I of my journal, I wrote that Davos was slightly downscale this year, owing to the financial crisis. Still, “Davos 2009 is no Hooverville, let me tell you. You would not mistake the Promenade — the main thoroughfare — for the Bowery.”

A reader wrote, “My only complaint about your journal is ‘Hooverville.’ As a conservative, you should never use this epithet.”

I agree entirely, and in fact have made this point many times myself. I’m not sure why I succumbed to “Hooverville” in that instance. I wrote the following impromptu in September ’05:

A brief word about George W. Bush, and the tendency to pin Katrina on him. I always thought one of the cruelest terms ever invented was “Hooverville.” A Hooverville, as you know, was a camp for the destitute during the Depression. There was never a more humane man in politics than our 31st president, Herbert Hoover. And to do that to him . . .

I thought about this when I heard that some people were referring to flooded New Orleans as “Lake George.”

You recall how Hoover “fed Europe” after the Great War, don’t you?

‐Friends, I am terribly behind in my mail — behind by thousands — and am sure I will never catch up. I hope you’ll forgive me. Share something amusing with you: A regular reader began one e-mail, “Dear Jay: My mother, God rest her soul, would have loved to receive as many letters from me as you do.”

‐Care for a little language? Val Kilmer, the actor, is pondering a run for New Mexico’s governorship. He told the Associated Press, “I’m just looking for ways to be contributive.” I was going to say, “There’s a word that ought to be a word.” But, lo, it’s a word already: not just in Kilmer’s mouth, but in the dictionary.

So, the former Batman has been contributive to my vocabulary.

‐A reader sent me the following missive:


Yet another example of cognitive dissonance expressed through bumper stickers: In ultra-liberal Chapel Hill, N.C., today, I spotted a car with these two: “When religion ruled the world, they called it the DARK AGES”; and right below that, “SAVE TIBET.” Of course, there was an “Obama ’08” sticker, too, but I’ll leave that alone.

Probably a good idea!

‐Impromptus via RSS? Go here.

‐Finally, I saw a headline that was quite jolting. It read, “Michelle Pfeiffer: Turning 50 has been liberating.” Michelle Pfeiffer, 50? Of course, in the late 1950s, plenty of men were exclaiming, “Holy smokes: Clara Bow, 50?”

Have a great one, dear readers. (You too, Michelle!)



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