Politics & Policy

A heroic woman, &c.

Readers of this column are well familiar with the Ladies in White. They are a Cuban human-rights group whose members have loved ones in prison, or once did. The ladies march silently through the streets, hold candlelight vigils, and so on. They have been subjected to vicious attack — including physical attack — by state security and the mobs it whips up. They are incredibly brave women. They act as though they had nothing more to lose.

In a column a couple of weeks ago, I wrote, “Remember and bless the name Laura Pollán.” It was she who founded the Ladies in White. I was shocked to read, three days ago, of her death. She was 63. (For an Associated Press report, go here.)

Pollán would have made a worthy recipient of the Nobel peace prize, as many Cubans would. Earlier this month, the Nobel committee announced the 2011 award, which is going to three campaigners for women’s rights, peace, and democracy. Two of the women are from Liberia and one is from Yemen. This is a good award, the 2011 award. An award to Pollán and the Ladies in White would have been good too.

I hope there is a monument one day to Laura Pollán in a free Cuba. The name of the Castros, and the names of their supporters, defenders, and apologists, will live in infamy. The name Laura Pollán will be shining.

‐In the United States, one of the Cuban Five has been released. For a news article, go here. The Five are spies of the Castro government, convicted in the U.S. of espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. Needless to say, every legal avenue was available to them, and they exploited them all. The Five are a big cause on the left, as is the Castro dictatorship at large.

The released spy made a statement, saying, “We still have four brothers whom we have to rescue.”

I’m sure the language he chose, or that someone chose for him, was not accidental. One of the other spies was convicted for his role in the dictatorship’s shootdown of the two Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996. Those planes were in international airspace, of course. The attack killed four men: three U.S. citizens and one permanent resident.

‐I read a headline: “Virginia man accused of helping Syrian government.” That’s a little odd, I thought, for about a half-second. What interest would, say, Rufus Lee have in helping the Assad dictatorship?

Then I skimmed the article itself: “The Justice Department says the man, Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid of Leesburg, Va., supplied the material as part of an effort . . .” Ah, yes: “Virginia man.”

‐The government of South Africa is in the habit of denying the Dalai Lama the opportunity to visit the country. The reason is, the government is loath to offend Beijing, which views the Tibetan leader as a mortal enemy. Everyone walks on eggshells around Beijing.

Most recently, South Africa blocked the Dalai Lama’s entry when he wanted to attend Desmond Tutu’s 80th-birthday celebration. Organizers of the birthday events circumvented the government, however, by having the Dalai Lama participate via a new technology called Google+. It was the next best thing to being there.

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Technology sometimes works for freedom, sometimes against — more often for.

‐A couple of my colleagues have cited a slice from a New York Times article about Occupy Wall Street:

Like the rest of his anti-corporate comrades, Mr. Roberts learned soon after arriving in Zuccotti Park that his meals would be taken care of. All he had to do was amble toward a ramshackle cluster of tables and boxes in the middle of the park and, without paying a cent, grab a slice of pizza or a warm slab of homemade vegan casserole. Last Thursday he had encountered “a bunch of Katz’s Deli sandwiches,” he said. “That was good.”

This put me in mind of an impromptu I jotted last March:

I was in Carnegie Hall Sunday afternoon, covering a voice recital (Joyce DiDonato). I encountered a distinguished fellow critic. He is on the left, of course, as almost all arts-world people are. He told me he was sending pizzas to the union demonstrators in the Wisconsin capitol. I said, “How nice. Can you tell them to throw the boxes away? Why can’t they clean up after themselves?”

Yeah, why?

‐I don’t think I’ve ever quoted George C. Wallace with approbation, but there’s a first time for everything. He said something amusing about hippies, which I’ll paraphrase: “They sure know a lot of four-letter words. But there are some they don’t know: such as S-O-A-P. And W-O-R-K.”

‐An article in the New York Daily News reported, “Solidarity hero Lech Walesa is flying to New York to show his support for the Occupy Wall Street protesters.”

I am not surprised. When I interviewed him last year, Walesa made his anti-capitalism clear. Capitalism, he said, “pushes an individual to the side and considers him a commodity. The system kind of focuses on the machine and not the human being.” He spoke of how people had been replaced on the job by robots.

I believe his understanding of capitalism is defective. But he has contributed so much to the world, I’ll give him a pass on just about everything. And his merriment, bravery, humanity, anti-Communism, and religious faith are far removed from what we’re seeing in Zuccotti Park, I think.

‐Stick to the eastern side of Europe for a moment: “Belarus KGB gets new powers amid growing anger.” That was the headline over this article, which began, “Belarus’ authoritarian president is trying to tighten his grip on the ex-Soviet nation with new legislation that boosts the already sweeping powers of the secret police, still known as the KGB.”

Readers may recall that I had a series on Belarus in January, after the horrendous crackdown surrounding the election in December. If you would like to see that series, its three parts are here, here, and here.

Back for a second to the recent article I linked to at the beginning of this item. It quotes Stanislav Shushkevich, the first post-Soviet leader of Belarus, and a great and democratic man. About the dictator Lukashenko, he said, “[He] has run out of money, and he is now selling fear to an angry and hungry population.”

Now back to the interview with Walesa I mentioned in the previous item. In this interview, I asked him who, in his opinion, should have won the Nobel peace prize but did not. (Remember that Walesa himself won, in 1983.) He gave me one name: Shushkevich.

‐On Thursday night, I was in Atlanta, returning to my hotel room. As I went up the stairs — outdoors — I thought I heard the sounds of baseball. Those are distinctive sounds. I peered through the woods and, sure enough, I could see the lights of a ballpark. And I enjoyed the sounds of baseball.

Of course, a ball off a wooden bat sounds a lot better than a ball off an aluminum bat. And what I heard was ball-on-aluminum. Anyway . . .

Years ago, I read about a golfer who was having trouble with his game. An instructor blindfolded him and had him hit some shots that way. “I just want you to hear the sounds of golf,” the instructor said. “Get reacquainted with the pure sounds of golf, no matter what you see.”

A lot of mysticism in the game of golf, for better or worse. (Nicklaus loves that phrase, uses it all the time: “the game of golf.”)

‐In New York, I had a cabbie from Iran, who immigrated in 1977. He is a big Republican activist. Thinks Obama is destroying the American Way, undermining capitalism, initiative, and self-respect at every turn. He sounded like a Goldwater volunteer in 1964. I got a huge kick out of listening to him. A true believer, articulating the American entrepreneurial faith.

He had an interesting idea about 2012. In 1960, he said, a politician from Massachusetts and a politician from Texas formed a ticket. Why shouldn’t Romney and Perry do the same for the GOP next year?

I regard that as a fanciful idea, but I had to smile at this Iranian immigrant’s total embrace of American politics.

‐Now and then, I’ll see a Pennsylvania license plate with a tiger on it. Something about saving that species in Africa. I find the license plate kind of disorienting: tigers and Pennsylvania. William Penn or the Liberty Bell, I could understand. Do you know what I mean?

(Note to itchy-fingers: I’m not anti-tiger. That goes double for Detroit Tigers.)

‐Responding to my Impromptus on a trip to Mississippi, a reader wrote me the following: “As a southerner, not only do I write with an ink pen but I water my lawn with a hose pipe.” I like it!

‐Another reader wrote, “Bless yo’ neck.” Liked that too!

‐Finally, a little music. My latest article in City Arts can be found here. It’s about Opening Night at Carnegie Hall, with the Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev, and Yo-Yo Ma.

In that article, I say, “Gergiev used no podium, having his feet flat on the floor, and no baton. These are his usual practices. We also saw his habitual ‘Furtwängler flutter’ — those mysterious movements of the hands. Apparently, orchestras respond to them, as they did when Furtwängler fluttered.”

I received an e-mail from the legendary Donald Arthur: singer, actor, writer, scholar, critic, etc. He wrote,

There are hundreds of stories about members of the Berlin Philharmonic getting together with their counterparts from Vienna to talk shop. On one of these occasions, back in the early Fifties, the matter under discussion was the odd way Furtwängler brought in the orchestra at the beginning of a work.

“We’ve developed a system,” said one of the Berliners. “When his baton reaches the second button on his waistcoat, we start playing. How do you fellows do it?” One of the Viennese replied, “When it gets too stupid to look at anymore, we start.”

Have a great week, y’all.




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