Politics & Policy

The thing about Orwell, &c.

I often have occasion to quote Robert Graves, who said, “The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he really is very good, in spite of all the people who say he is very good.” I quote this in my music criticism, when discussing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, for example, or Verdi’s Traviata.

I thought of it last week, when reading two blogposts that quoted George Orwell. They both appeared on the Telegraph’s website, and they appeared on the same day. I read them within five minutes of each other. The thing about Orwell? He really is very good.

This post quoted the following dead-on sentences:

. . . the English intelligentsia are Europeanized. They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. . . . England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a poor box. 

Does all this ring familiar to you, here in 2011?

This post, which had to do with Libya, quoted Orwell as follows: “Despotic governments can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force.”


‐I was reading this review of a book about Jessica Mitford when I came to this sentence: “She was a serious communist activist at a time when . . .” And I thought for a split second, “Oh, good, it’s going to say something like, ‘at a time when her fellow believers were killing, enslaving, and terrorizing masses of human beings all over the world.’”

Um, the line actually read, “She was a serious communist activist at a time when to be so in America was uncomfortable . . .”

Of course. How could I have been so naive?

‐Richard Goldstone was the author of the infamous, libelous report on Israel in Gaza. Earlier this year, he issued a partial repentance. A lot of people — including brethren of mine — poured scorn on Goldstone: Too little too late, etc. I welcomed what he said. I will quote a little from the Impromptus of April 7:

. . . I’m glad [Goldstone] wrote the article he did — the article confessing his errors. It is very important. If it is not noble, it’s at least not ignoble. The radical Arabs are branding Goldstone a betrayer. He was a hero to them — and to the U.N. crowd, to use a shorthand. Chances are, it wasn’t easy for him to write his article. It cost him something.

Now he has done something similarly useful. He has written an op-ed piece for the New York Times standing up to the idea that Israel is an apartheid state. His piece includes the simple sentence, “In Israel, there is no apartheid.” Of course there isn’t.

The idea that Israel is an apartheid state is very, very important to people the world over (on American campuses, for instance). It is a deeply cherished lie, almost a religious tenet. Goldstone’s refutation of it is particularly important coming from a South African, which Goldstone is.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been a powerful weapon against Israel. He is an anti-apartheid hero, the winner of the Nobel peace prize, and he has been telling everyone for many years that Israel is an apartheid state, just as South Africa was. He has tried to make Israel a pariah state, again as South Africa was. To this end, he campaigns for boycotts.

Last year, the Cape Town Opera was planning an international tour that included Israel. Tutu told the company to stay away. The company told him to get lost — and went ahead to Israel. This makes my heart swell for the Cape Town Opera.

Richard Goldstone did a rotten thing in his original report on Gaza. He is not, by the evidence, continuing in rottenness. This is not to be begrudged.

‐I got an e-mail from a reader containing what he called the “Overreaction du jour.” Our reader was forwarding another e-mail, whose Subject line read “IMPORTANT: A Letter From IEEE Spectrum Editor in Chief Susan Hassler About Today’s Tech Alert.”

What is IEEE Spectrum? In its own description, it’s “the world’s leading engineering and scientific magazine.” Does National Review describe itself as the world’s greatest opinion journal? Maybe we do. I hesitate to check. In any case, here was the Spectrum editor’s letter:

Dear Members and Readers,

Please accept our sincere apologies for the headline in today’s Tech Alert: “With the Arduino, Now Even Your Mom Can Program.” The actual title of the article is “The Making of Arduino.”

I’m an IEEE member, and a mom, and the headline was inexcusable, a lazy, sexist cliché that should have never seen the light of day. Today we are instituting an additional headline review process that will apply to all future Tech Alerts so that such insipid and offensive headlines never find their way into your in-box.

Spectrum’s insistence on editorial excellence applies to all its products, including e-mail alerts. Thank you for bringing this error to our attention. If you have any additional comments or recommendations, do not hesitate to contact me or other members of the editorial staff.

Ay, caramba. May I recommend an additional review process for the new headline-review process, just to be on the safe side? And if America has to go down the tubes, must we do so with such uptightness?

One more thing — a question, and not 100 percent rhetorical: Could the editor-in-chief possibly have condemned the 9/11 attacks in such vitriolic terms?

‐In the Soviet Union, you remember, the Communists turned churches into museums of religion and atheism. I thought of that when reading this awful report, headed “Buddhist Temple in Sichuan Used for Brainwashing Falun Gong Practitioners.” An interesting, if revolting, report.

‐For some reason, I’m on the mailing list of Chávez’s embassy in Washington. Earlier this week, I got this:

The Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Washington, DC, announces its 2011 Holiday Card Contest, an initiative aimed at promoting creativity and participation designing the official holiday card of the Venezuelan diplomatic mission.

My question is my usual one, late in the year: What holiday?

This Associated Press report out of New Delhi was fascinating and heartwarming: “A poor government clerk from a desolate region of eastern India has become the first person ever to win $1 million on an Indian game show.”

The report continued, “Sushil Kumar’s staggering win on the popular Indian version of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ has transformed him into a role model for millions of aspiring youth yearning to escape from lives of poverty and find a role in India’s burgeoning economy.”

Have you seen this movie before (so to speak)? “Kumar’s win echoes the plot of the 2008 Oscar-winning film ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ whose impoverished protagonist won the grand prize on the show.”

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in India is hosted by Amitabh Bachchan, the most famous and beloved actor in the country. I once had an encounter with him in the Zurich airport. Do you perhaps recall? I wrote it up here.

One more quote from the AP report, please: “Kumar, 26, told viewers his family was so poor they couldn’t afford a television set . . .” Americans like me are occasionally startled to remember that, in some places in the world, the poor don’t have television, cars, air conditioning, and cellphones.

‐Kevin Williamson is the theater critic of The New Criterion, in addition to being an all-around stud at National Review and National Review Online. He was telling me about coming across something unusual in a playbill. An article was discussing Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, who are appearing in a play together. Jackson was quoted as saying, “We go to the same church . . .”

Ladies and gentlemen, let me suggest that you can go for many, many a moon without hearing that statement about a couple of actors. Am I wrong?

‐I offer some music — or, not as good, some music criticism: For my “New York Chronicle,” in the current New Criterion, go here.

‐A little language? A recent Charles Moore column included a word I didn’t know: “invigilate,” meaning “to keep watch.” I think of the Gershwin song: “Someone to Invigilate Over Me.” “Someone to Invigilate Me”? Dunno.

‐At the end of Monday’s Impromptus, I had a note about a coming change in golf’s rulebook: No longer will you be penalized a stroke if your ball should happen to move after you address it (but do not touch it). This is great news for all who love justice. I said the next target on my list was the rule about signing an incorrect scorecard. “No more DeVicenzos!” was my battle-cry. (Roberto DeVicenzo signed an incorrect scorecard in the 1968 Masters, much to his sorrow.)

Many, many readers wrote in to say the following: “If you lace your drive down the middle and wind up in a divot — particularly a sand-covered one — you should be able to move your ball, without penalty. The divot should be considered ground under repair.”

I don’t know — here’s where my conservatism may kick in. I guess I always thought dealing with divots was part of the game: tough luck, the rub of the green, so to speak. You get good breaks and bad breaks in that infernal game.

Anyway, I’m open to argument. But I’m closing today’s column — I’ll see you! Have a great weekend.




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