Culture

A million here, 24 there, &c.

Chance the Rapper performs at the National Christmas Tree lighting in December. (Reuters photo: Mike Theiler)
Chance the Rapper, Silicon Valley parents, Bret Stephens, Vladimir Putin, Tiger Woods, and more

Chance the Rapper — that’s his name, or the name he goes by — has donated $1 million to the Chicago public schools. That’s a drop in the bucket. But it’s also a million dollars. You know?

The rapper is especially interested in arts education. So am I. If I had my way, students would be exposed to everything: math, science, poetry, sports, music, the works. And during school hours, not necessarily after, or before.

But this is a big subject …

I have heard a Chance the Rapper rap — a religious one, and a wonderful one: “When the praises go up, the blessings come down.”

‐How do your schools raise money? (Besides taxation.) Bake sales are traditional. And car washes. But check out this story. It comes from Mountain View, Calif., the heart of Silicon Valley. There is a high school in Mountain View called St. Francis. (Not a public school, obviously.) Parents of students there made an investment of $15,000 — which has turned into $24 million. Yup.

The school’s president, Simon Chiu, said, “Silicon Valley is a pretty amazing place to live.” Yup (again).

‐One of the most stirring things I have read in recent months is a speech by Bret Stephens. Time magazine published it, here. Stephens is a writer for the Wall Street Journal. He is an anti-Trump conservative, but I think what he has to say is of interest to all conservatives, and all people.

He delivered the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA. Pearl, too, worked for the Wall Street Journal. In 2002, he was murdered by jihadists in Pakistan. They beheaded him. Before committing the murder, they made him recite a statement. Pearl said, “My father’s Jewish, my mother’s Jewish, I’m Jewish.”

Pause for an aside. Ed Koch, the onetime mayor of New York, decided that he wanted those words on his tombstone. I discussed this with him in an interview, here.

The theme of Stephens’s lecture was, in his words, “intellectual integrity in the age of Donald Trump.” Let me print an excerpt:

We honor the central idea of journalism — the conviction, as my old boss Peter Kann once said, “that facts are facts; that they are ascertainable through honest, open-minded, and diligent reporting; that truth is attainable by laying fact upon fact, much like the construction of a cathedral; and that truth is not merely in the eye of the beholder.”

Stephens recounted a moment in an interview that Bill O’Reilly conducted with President Trump. O’Reilly said that there was no proof that 3 million to 5 million people had voted illegally in November’s election. That’s what Trump had alleged. The president replied to O’Reilly, “Many people have come out and said I’m right.”

Stephens: “Now, many people also say Jim Morrison faked his own death. Many people say Barack Obama was born in Kenya. ‘Many people say’ is what’s known as an argumentum ad populum.”

Here is another excerpt from the speech:

I personally think we crossed a Rubicon in the Clinton years, when three things happened: We decided that some types of presidential lies didn’t matter; we concluded that “character” was an overrated consideration when it came to judging a president; and we allowed the lines between political culture and celebrity culture to become hopelessly blurred.

Amen. Bret is singing my song, a song I have sung since about November 1992.

Have some more:

If a public figure tells a whopping lie once in his life, it’ll haunt him into his grave. If he lies morning, noon, and night, it will become almost impossible to remember any one particular lie. Outrage will fall victim to its own ubiquity. It’s the same truth contained in Stalin’s famous remark that the death of one man is a tragedy but the death of a million is a statistic.

In this lecture, Stephens talks personally, and poignantly, about the recent period. He was once almost universally acclaimed on the right; today, it is different — and he has not changed his views at all.

He has occasion to cite Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet and dissident, who wrote The Captive Mind (1953). And here I’d like to indulge in another aside — two, actually.

When I was in college, Milosz was a visiting professor, and I stared at his name on his door. (He’d won the Nobel prize. He was famous.) I never knocked, I never saw him. Wish I had.

Years later, in 2001, Jianli Yang, a Chinese intellectual and dissident, came to see me. I asked him, “Is there a book that sums up what you and yours peers are facing?” He answered in a flash, “The Captive Mind. Milosz.”

These things are not confined to time and place. Obviously.

I could go on about Bret Stephens’s speech, but I will just recommend it again, and link to it again: here. Also, he was a guest on Need to Know, the podcast that Mona Charen and I do. The relevant episode is here.

‐Here is a report from the Wall Street Journal, published on March 2: “President Donald Trump’s eldest son was likely paid at least $50,000 for an appearance late last year before a French think tank whose founder and his wife are allies of the Russian government in efforts to end the war in Syria.” Trump Jr.’s host, Fabien Baussart, has nominated Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I’ll tell you what he has won — Putin, that is. He has won the Confucius Peace Prize. That prize was established by the Chinese Communists when they were upset at the Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2010. In that year, the Norwegians awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident. In one of their several retaliatory moves, the ChiComs created their own — their own peace prize.

You know who else created their own prizes, out of pique at the Nobel people? The Nazis and the Soviets. Swell company. (I go into all this, of course, in my history of the Nobel Peace Prize, Peace, They Say.)

Speaking of swell company: Another winner of the Confucius Peace Prize, besides Putin, is Castro — the late Castro, not the still-dictating one.

‐What’s the matter with Tiger Woods? Physical? Mental? Spiritual? I cannot do better than Jack Nicklaus (quoted in this article): “I don’t know about Tiger. That is the biggest puzzle to me that I know. I just don’t know where he is and where his mind is. I don’t know.”

‐Let’s have a little language. In yesterday’s Impromptus, my language note — one of them — involved the King James Bible. Here is another one. In our modern English, the phrase “for good” means “forever,” “permanently.” In the Bible, it means “for the sake of good” — to wit, “And the Lord thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good: for the Lord will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers.”

Quite possibly, this meaning of “for good” evolved into the modern — “forever,” “permanently.” Nice to think of the meanings conjoined, isn’t it?

‐On the streets of Manhattan, I was stopped by a young Italian. A visitor. He wanted to know how to get to a certain place. With the help of my smartphone, I told him.

As we parted, I had this thought: “It’s sort of payback. How many Italians helped you find places when you were a student in Italy, years ago?”

‐Last week, I was in the Tampa Bay area, sitting with friends at a seafood joint. A sign at the front advised,

Walt reserves the right to close early, open late, or remain closed any day for any reason. This includes but is not limited to: stormy weather, cold nights, exhaustion, spur of the moment vacations, or just a good day at the beach. We do not recommend this establishment if you are in a hurry, are high maintenance, or do not enjoy fresh Florida seafood!

Amen.

‐Finally, meet Lester Tenney, who has died at 96, and was obituarized in the New York Times:

Lester Tenney survived the Bataan Death March, followed by three and a half years of slave labor as a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II. When he was released at the war’s end, he learned that his wife had remarried, believing he was dead. He suffered from what came to be known as post-traumatic stress, but he married again and built a life in the academic and business worlds.

He eventually forgave the Japanese people for the atrocities visited upon him and thousands of other prisoners. But he never forgot. He waged a relentless and ultimately successful quest to win apologies from Japanese leaders for their nation’s brutality.

Helluva man, clearly.

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