Do you mind if I dump on Lula da Silva for a second? I thought you wouldn’t. He is the president of Brazil, and one of the most lionized leaders in the world. Indeed, a couple of months ago, my friends in Davos gave him their first-ever Global Statesmanship Award. What he is, however, is a louse.
You remember that Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the Cuban prisoner of conscience, died on February 23, after a hunger strike — a hunger strike of 83 days. Silva happened to be in Havana, doing his thing with the Castros: schmoozing, paying court. Democracy activists pleaded with him to say something about human rights. He refused. And he refused to do so when he got back home, too.
On the contrary, he defended the Castros’ dictatorship. He said, “We have to respect the decisions of the Cuban legal system and the government to arrest people depending on the laws of Cuba.” He further said, “I don’t think a hunger strike can be used as a pretext for human rights to free people. Imagine if all the criminals in São Paulo entered into hunger strikes to demand freedom.” Thus did he compare prisoners of conscience to drug dealers, rapists, and murderers.
Silva himself was a hunger striker, back when he was a prisoner of his country’s military dictatorship. But now he has changed his tune: “I would never do it again. I think it’s insane to mistreat your own body.” And I think it’s insane to honor or admire Lula da Silva.
Listen, if he were just another leftist lout — an Ortega, a Chávez — that would be one thing. But the fact that the democratic world slobbers all over him: That is particularly hard to take.
Also hard to take is Che Guevara’s daughter, who appears to be a chip off the old block. I quote from a wire-service story:
In Brazil, the daughter of legendary Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara called hunger striking dissidents in Cuba common criminals.
In remarks after a university lecture in northeastern Brazil, Aleida Guevara said that deceased dissident Zapata had economic gain in mind and that Farinas is serving the U.S., said philosophy professor Joao Carlos Salles, who attended the lecture.
Guillermo Fariñas is familiar to readers of Impromptus. He is an independent journalist — an “Afro Cuban” — who is a constant thorn in the dictatorship’s side. He is 200 times the man the likes of Lula da Silva could ever be.
To continue with that story:
“She said he (Zapata) was a common criminal who went on a hunger strike not to demand freedom but to demand a television set, a telephone and a kitchen,” Salles said Friday.
Aleida Guevara is a liar, and having a monstrous father is no excuse. Romano Mussolini was a jazz pianist who turned out pretty much fine.
‐Let’s talk about something more pleasant. I think I told you that I was going to Stetson University, in DeLand, Fla., for events involving Ignat Solzhenitsyn. And I did. Ignat, you remember, is a pianist and conductor. Next week, he leads his final concerts with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. He will move on to other musical pursuits.
At Stetson, Ignat did two things: He gave a lecture on the life of his father, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; and he gave a piano performance. In both things, he was splendid.
His lecture was so good, so absorbing, as to be spellbinding: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn led a great, brave, and heroic life. Also a very important one. You don’t need to dress it up: You can simply relate the facts. And that’s what Ignat did. About an hour after the lecture, he played Schubert’s Sonata in D major — a long, profound, thoroughly Schubertian work. And then we had a little Q&A. It was a tremendously rewarding day.
I might note that Ignat is not merely his father’s son, but a real expert on his father: a close student of all his writings; even a translator of some of them. He has an expertise both filial and scholarly, so to speak. And if you would like to hear some of that piano playing, try his Brahms CD, here.
‐During Ignat’s lecture, I thought back to my own education. All of my professors were on the left, pretty much. And they were all more or less apologists for the Soviet Union. What we students heard over and over was, “The West may have political rights, but in the Soviet Union they have social and economic rights, which are at least as important.” The American professoriate has a lot to answer for — but, of course, they never do.
‐Solzhenitsyn fils was at Stetson as a Lawson Lecturer. As I explained in an earlier column, I think, the Lawson series is sponsored by Martha Apgar, a native of DeLand, a friend of National Review, and (not least) a friend of mine. She endowed the series in the name of Father LeRoy Lawson, an Episcopal priest who worked in DeLand, and later in St. Petersburg. In addition to his clerical duties, he taught philosophy and Greek at Stetson. By all accounts, he was a Renaissance man, and a man of Judeo-Christian civilization. It is Mrs. Apgar’s desire to continue that learning, and that spirit. It ain’t easy, given the modern flow of things.
‐Martha was there, along with her posse, which includes Marian McGrath, a crack St. Petersburg lawyer and a Stetson alumna; Suzie Babcock, an irrepressible American who grew up in Brazil; and Suzie’s patient husband Huston. Also present were Martha’s sons Rob and Karl, and a delightful assortment of nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and so on.
‐It was satisfying, as it always is, to see and meet National Review readers. I asked one man what he did. He said rather shyly — almost apologetically — “Oh, I’m an aeronautical engineer.” I said, “Oh, you know real things and do real work . . .” (Well, we all know real things, and do real work. True?)
‐Stetson professors, administrators, and staff were most welcoming of us Apgarites and Lawsonians. We are indebted to Michael Denner, Anthony Hose, Eugene Huskey, Paul Steeves, Ron Hall, Grady Ballenger, Thomas Farrell, and their colleagues.
Linda Davis is a vice president at Stetson. I know, not only her, but her illustrious parents, Harold and Rabel Parson. They have been married for 65 years, I believe. They met in a church choir. She was a high-school senior, he was a freshman at Stetson. He would go whistle outside her classroom window. They live on a spread outside DeLand, and have a heifer named Martha — named after Mrs. Apgar.
Rabel Parson is an organist, and a very good one, I can testify. Not long ago, she gave an 85th-birthday recital. She is already planning the 90th-birthday recital. Mr. Parson had a career as an FBI agent — and has many interesting, and harrowing, experiences to recount.
Mrs. Parson does not have a regular church job, but provides the music at a variety of churches. Mr. Parson likes to say, with a twinkle in his eye, “She plays around.”
‐If you walk around DeLand, you will see beautiful old trees, with moss hanging on them. Once you see such trees, ones without moss really won’t do. Flowers are everywhere — the city seems to pride itself on flowers — and birds chirp gaily. They seem as happy as anyone to be in DeLand. Also, kids on their bicycles say hello to you, unprompted. That is not the sort of America some of us see every day.
‐Before arriving in DeLand, I was in St. Pete, on the Gulf of Mexico. There is a stereotype about the Gulf: boring, sedate, not as good as the Atlantic, on the other side of the peninsula (if I may refer to Florida that way). I’m not sure I buy it. I’ve been around a bit, and the Gulf of Mexico is positively beautiful, and quietly alluring. I have never tired of looking at it, swimming in it, and walking along it (not on it, alas — not there yet).
‐Last week, I believe, I related a story about Churchill, which ends, “I am only looking for a jujube.” I had to figure out what a jujube was. And I asked readers, “Am I the last to know?” They responded, sometimes not all that charitably, “Yes.” (For the Wikipedia entry on “jujube,” go here.)
Well, am I the last to know this? I heard in Florida, “Apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.” I for one can’t imagine apple pie without vanilla ice cream — but I am too lazy to think of an appropriate rhyme.
‐In the recent past, we discussed place-names here in Impromptus, and when I say “we,” I’m not being royal: Readers contributed many nominations and observations, you recall. Well, Florida is chockfull of place-names — eye- and ear-catching ones. I give you, for example, Thonotosassa. Florida places, more than most places, I believe, go in for many syllables.
‐Is there any airport in which kids are happier than the Orlando airport? They are notably happy, even though they’re having to leave Disney World. Their faces are painted, and they’re wearing terrific headgear: mouse ears, tiaras, and the like. A father was asking his daughters, “So, what were your most magical moments?” They had eager, and multiple, answers.
‐NR junkies like to hear about WFB, so I’ll tell you something — I was reminded of it when I was in the Orlando airport. I was there with Bill once — coming back from Stetson, in fact. (He and I had done a Q&A on the stage. I was the Q-er, natch, and he was the A-er.) The security line was incredibly long, as it was the other day. The entire hall looked like Calcutta, madding and desperate. I was not able to get Bill into a shorter line, but I was able to do this: rustle him up some coffee ice cream, one of the things he liked best.
Will that do for a WFB fix today?
‐On this latest trip, there was wifi on the airplane, a fact much advertised: “Wifi Available Here” and so on. There will come a time, I’m sure, when such notices will be unnecessary, because we will all simply assume that the plane has wifi. There was a time when motels would advertise “Color Television” and “Air Conditioning.” And then . . . you simply assumed.
‐A reader sent me a New York Times article and commented, “This country is going nuts! It needs collective psychiatry.” The excerpt he offered was this:
Recently the Cleveland Orchestra’s application for Martin Mitterrutzner, an acclaimed young Austrian tenor, was denied for reasons that left the orchestra perplexed: the report from immigration officials said, among other things, that the scheduling of Mr. Mitterrutzner’s performances did not indicate prestige, since he was booked for matinees, not evening performances. After two denials, the orchestra retained a lawyer and got the decision reversed in the nick of time — but only after considerable expense.
Weird, yes; kind of fun, too.
‐Another reader knows that I have long inveighed against the phrase “social justice” — a phrase simultaneously nonsensical and dangerous. When you hear it, you’d better watch your back: All manner of hell has been inflicted on man in the name of “social justice.”
Well, the reader wanted us to know of a high school in Chicago called . . . Social Justice High School. Yes. Go here.
Excuse me while I shudder and retch.
‐Care for a little language? In yesterday’s Impromptus, I said that Paul Johnson, in a conversation, had used the word “fazed.” It was interesting to hear, because you usually hear “unfazed” — same, I said, as you usually hear “uncouth,” rather than “couth.”
Many readers wrote in to say, “What about ‘ruth’?” True, you don’t have to be ruthless: You can be full of ruth, meaning “pity or compassion,” “sorrow or grief,” “self-reproach, contrition, or remorse.” How about “ruly,” the opposite of “unruly”? A wonderful, if very rare, word: “neat and orderly.”
A wit wrote to me, “So, I had a friend who was truly ept at mantling an engine.” Ha-ha.
‐I was in the post office the other day, buying stamps — not as oppressive an experience as it can be — and I noticed, and bought, stamps featuring the Simpsons: yes, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and the pacifier-sucking baby (whose name escapes me). I love The Simpsons as much as anybody does; one of the best shows in the history of television. But a person has to be dead five years to appear on a stamp. The Simpsons is still going strong, I believe, with new episodes on the air. They’re on stamps? Along with Jonas Salk, Ralph Bunche, and John Kennedy? Okay — fine by me, I guess (not that anybody asked)!
Thanks and see you.