Politics & Policy

An appalling comparison, &c.

Max Frankel, the former executive editor of the New York Times, reviewed Henry Kissinger’s latest book for his old paper. That book is called On China. In his review, Frankel wrote this about the United States and the PRC: “Both nations were exhausted from war (Vietnam, clashes on the Soviet border) and domestic strife (antiwar protests in Nixon’s case, the Cultural Revolution in Mao’s).”

That sentence will sicken anyone who knows about the Cultural Revolution. It was not “domestic strife.” It was one of the most horrifying outbursts of dictatorial cruelty in history. Children were made to beat, torture, and kill their own parents.

The relationship between anti-war protests in the United States and the Cultural Revolution is zero.

‐In the Financial Times, Kofi Annan was treated to a fawning profile — the kind of profile he has long been used to. He appraised the career of Robert Mugabe, the dictator and butcher of Zimbabwe. Annan said, “He did well at the beginning. One has to give him that, and, after all, he is not a young man. However capable he is, we all get tired.”

Oh? As some of us see it, the problem is that Mugabe is not tired. In these latter years of his life, he has brutalized the nation he rules with heightened zeal. All that expropriation, all that intimidation, all that murder — takes energy, you know.

Many of us look forward to the day when Mugabe is too tired to tyrannize.

The gentle treatment accorded this monster by African “statesmen” is disgusting. (Archbishop Tutu — not my favorite person — is an honorable exception.) And Annan is not just another tin-pot dictator, a member of Mugabe’s fraternity. When he was U.N. secretary-general, he was always called “President of the World” and “the Secular Pope.”

Yeah, right, whatever.

‐Does it make me a rat bastard that I got a smidgeon of satisfaction out of reading that Osama bin Laden much valued the writings of Jimmy Carter on the Arab-Israeli conflict? I’m sure it does; I know it does. We are not (really) responsible for those who like what we say.

Still . . .

‐Back to a story that has gnawed at many of us for years. I will quote the latest bit of news:

“A group of Falun Gong followers has filed a potentially groundbreaking lawsuit accusing Cisco Systems (CSCO) of helping Chinese authorities persecute members of their religious movement by building a computer system that tracked their Internet activity and fed information to internal security databases.”

Eight years ago now, I reviewed a wonderful book by Ethan Gutmann, Losing the New China: A Story of American Commerce, Desire and Betrayal. One of the best, most honest books about China in recent times. I said,

“[Free World businesses] practice not so much capitalism as bribery and deception (especially self-deception). One wag came up with a hilarious description of such businesses: ‘American companies with Chinese characteristics.’ The roll of dishonor includes Cisco, Motorola, and Microsoft. And special shame belongs to Nortel (a Canadian firm), which presented an Internet surveillance mechanism ‘specifically designed “to catch Falun Gong.”’”

I was quoting Gutmann there. Plus ça change, plus c’est the same old rotten, stinking thing.

Cisco pleads its innocence. I hope its plea is accurate. It’s unsettling to think that Silicon Valley companies — those miracles of which we are so proud, and for which we are so grateful — are, in one aspect of their lives, junior-varsity I.G. Farbens.

Remember when the late congressman Tom Lantos, dressing down Silicon Valley reps, said, “I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night”? A stirring moment. (Lantos, of course, was a Holocaust survivor.)

‐This is a story that relates to Silicon Valley — and it’s a very nice story. I know a young man named Matthew Feddersen. An extraordinary kid. His parents, Troy and Denisa, are dear friends of mine. And of National Review. They will occasionally come on a cruise.

They have three perfect boys, of whom Matthew is the oldest. He’s a senior in high school. Troy is a homegrown American. Denisa grew up in Czechoslovakia. When she was 16, she made it out of that country, with her family. It was a harrowing flight. Suffice it to say, she knows a thing or two about freedom and its opposite.

Matthew is a full-blown wunderkind. It’s been obvious for years. He’s an excellent pianist and composer (Troy is very musical, and so’s the whole family).  A black belt in karate. A whiz in math and science. Etc. He’s also just about the nicest young person in captivity. What more could you want?

Denisa has always resisted the idea that Matthew is anything special. “Just a normal boy,” she’ll say. Like hell. (Pardon my French.) A relative of hers told me, “That’s just the Czech way. We downplay everything.”

Well, Intel holds an International Science and Engineering Fair. More than 1,500 students from all over the world — 65 different countries — entered this year. Two kids from the same neighborhood in Lafayette, Calif., outside San Francisco, entered as a team. And won. They were Matthew and his friend Blake Marggraff.

This story, from ScienceNews, will give you details. Matthew and Blake “invented a way to fry cancer cells.” Their first-place finish gave them the Gordon E. Moore Award — named for the Intel co-founder and inventor of Moore’s Law — and $75,000.

Here is an article from the Los Angeles Times, accompanied by a picture showing a jubilant Matthew. His grandfather, who lives in SoCal, said, “What a strange experience, to pick up your morning paper and see your grandson’s picture on the front page.” Here is a YouTube video. (“We were disappointed when we didn’t get fourth!” Matthew says.) And here is an interview with Blake and Matthew, on CNN.

I don’t know how Blake’s parents feel. How about Matthew’s mother, Czech-born? Has she changed her tune on her oldest son? Has first place in Intel’s worldwide science fair made any difference? Oh, no. “Just a normal boy,” she continues to say. You can’t budge her; she will make no concessions.

American parents, when their kid makes a doo-doo, call the New York Times, throw a party, and compose an ode. When an American child crosses the threshold at school without tripping, we give him a blue ribbon, and a week off. That’s just the way we are. (Have you ever seen The Incredibles?)

One more little tidbit: Matthew’s full name is Matthew Troy Feddersen, and we sometimes refer to him as MTF. His father recently pointed out that they almost named him William. Which would have given him the initials . . .

‐Care for a little music? For my “New York Chronicle,” in the current New Criterion, go here. And for my piece in the current City Arts, go here.

Speaking of The New Criterion: That splendid journal now has an iPad app. I don’t know if I’ve used the right lingo. If I haven’t, forgive me. Go here.

‐So, I’m in Cleveland — specifically, beautiful, bucolic Pepper Pike, outside the city. I’m at the home of friends. I wake up in the morning, and look out the window. The first thing I see is a doe with her fawn. Swear. It’s as though I have woken up in some sweet Disney movie or something. I half expect to hear Snow White sing.

‐The license plates, I notice, say, “Birthplace of Aviation.” The license plates in North Carolina say — or said (haven’t been there lately) — “First in Flight.” Will they fight over the Wright brothers forever?

‐One more tidbit, then I’ll leave you alone. I was in a couple of stores, looking for a hat. (Longish story, not worth bothering.) What I saw, mainly, was fedoras. I said, “Are these cool?” Oh, yes — very. But, not so long ago, they were terribly old-fashioned — old man’s hats. Weird how what is old becomes new again. (Have you heard that one before?)

Relatedly, I read the other day that the most popular female name is Isabella. Blow me down. It’s a lovely name. But, when I was growing up, it would have been like saying Amaryllis or something. (Has Amaryllis, too, become popular?)

Thanks and see you!




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