Impromptus

The meaning of 10/29, &c.

Unemployed men line up outside a soup kitchen in Chicago, 1931. (National Archives)
Economic health, the Khashoggi murder, nationalism, patriotism, and more

On Monday, at some point late in the day, I had to write the date: October 29. And that reminded me of the Crash, the Crash of 1929, which started the Great Depression. That date was 10/29/29. This is a date that lived in infamy.

Do people remember it still? It will fade out, surely, as all dates do. Probably already has. (Will July 4 eventually fade out? Of course it will, at some point centuries or millennia hence. Such is the way of the world.) But I was reminded, on Monday, to be grateful for economic health. To be grateful for prosperity. It’s not something to be taken for granted, and it can be gone pretty quickly.

Have we learned the lessons of 1929? No. I mean, no lessons are learned permanently. They are learned and, after trouble, relearned. That pattern has never been altered, so far as I know.

• A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post related to Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. I looked at the “comments” — readers’ remarks under the post — and this was the first:

He’s not a US Citizen.

Why should we care?

Seriously?

Well, let’s take that question seriously. True, Khashoggi was not a U.S. citizen. He was a U.S. resident with a green card. He had fled to the United States, escaping danger in his homeland (Saudi Arabia). He had three children who are U.S. citizens. But, again, he himself was not, as President Trump stressed, over and over.

Khashoggi was a regular columnist for the Washington Post. He was in the crosshairs of the Saudi regime. And, of course, they got him.

“Why should we care?” Because Khashoggi was a human being, and we are human beings. Because we had taken him in, as a resident. Because Saudi Arabia is a close and longtime ally of the United States. Because we don’t want our allies murdering dissidents (especially when those dissidents are U.S. residents). Because a world in which dictatorships can murder dissidents on foreign soil is a world dangerous for America and its interests. Because many in the world expect us to stand up for freedom, democracy, and justice. Because, when we fail to do so, we are less trusted, less respected, making our foreign relations more difficult.

What is our creed? What do we stand for? In a sentence (a long one), “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Among nationalists, populists, and rightists, there is a movement. Indeed, that’s what Steve Bannon calls his organization in Europe: “The Movement.” Nigel Farage speaks of “the whole global movement across the West that we have built up and we have fought for.” He spoke those words at a rally for Roy Moore in Alabama, having just come from Germany, where he rallied for the AfD, the Alternative für Deutschland, a literal alt-Right.

So, they have a movement, a global movement. I wish for a liberal-democratic movement, in which those espousing freedom, democracy, and justice can lock arms. This is a movement I would like to be part of, and that I think Americans in general should be part of.

• Trump has gotten definitional. Have you noticed? “You know what a globalist is, right? You know what a globalist is?” This was Trump speaking to a rally in Texas. “A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well — frankly, not caring about our country so much. And you know what? We can’t have that.”

He continued, “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist! Use that word! Use that word!”

Will they? Will they use that word? People often follow their leaders, especially ones they’re wild about. It will be interesting to observe this in coming months and years. What is a nationalist, and what is a patriot? What is a conservative, what is a populist? These are questions that are now roiling the Right.

• There is patriotism, of course, and there is jingoism. How can you tell the difference? In part, with your nose, I think — with your gut, with your conscience. With your good sense and experience. Our new military deployment on the Mexican border is called “Operation Faithful Patriot.” That designation is a little sick-making, I think.

By the way, I always said that the worst thing about the PATRIOT Act was its name. It had an illiberal smell about it. Otherwise, I supported the act entirely (and still do).

• Here is a bulletin from the (London) Times:

Scotland Yard has begun a high-level investigation after a Saudi human rights activist was attacked in a London street by two men accused of being agents for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s regime. . . .

The dissident, Ghanem al-Dosari, said the men had followed him and a friend, Alan Bender, from a cafe where they were having coffee and attacked him in Brompton Road, opposite Harrods.

“They came behind us and they came at me, saying who am I to talk about the Saudi royal family,” he said. “They punched me three times.”

To read the full story, go here. (Subscription required.)

Years ago, I heard about Chinese agents attacking Chinese dissidents, and Cuban agents attacking Cuban dissidents — all on American soil. Were these merely exile tales? No — I looked into them, and they were absolutely true. And I believe these attacks continue to this day.

Brazen. And something to be aware of.

• For a long time now — veteran readers know this (sorry)! — I’ve been talking about Gulf money, and what it does to Middle Eastern studies in the West. And about PRC money, and what it does to China studies.

What does it do? Corrupt the hell out of those studies.

I was interested to read this: “U.S. colleges and universities have received more than $350 million from the Saudi government this decade, yet some are rethinking their arrangements in the wake of the killing of a journalist that has ignited a global uproar against the oil-rich nation.”

• I’ve written about Milos Zeman before. He’s the Czech president who’s Putin’s little buddy — the guy who skipped his country’s commemoration of the Prague Spring, for fear of offending the Big Guy in the Kremlin.

By the way, have you ever considered this? Today’s Russia is completely different from the Soviet Union. A whole new ballgame. If that’s so — and surely it is, right? — why would the current Kremlin be offended by a commemoration of the Prague Spring, i.e., a commemoration of an atrocity committed by the Soviet Union, which today’s Russia bears no resemblance to?

Hmm?

Anyway, here’s the latest from Zeman: He said, “I love journalists. That’s why I may organize a special banquet for them this evening at the Saudi embassy.” Such a charmer, this little Putinist.

• I have never been anti-politics. On the contrary. Politics is important — the nature and composition of the government is important — and that importance should not be denigrated. Also, I have never been against money in politics. I mean, that has not been a complaint of mine. Maybe it should have, but it never has been. George Will used to say, “Americans spend more per year on yogurt than they do on politics,” and politics is more important than yogurt. (I’m paraphrasing, but closely.)

With that in mind: I was a little jarred to read that 60 million dollars has been spent on the Senate race in Montana. Itty-bitty Montana (the population, I mean, not the Sky, etc.).

That’s kind of a lot, isn’t it?

This is one of the best stories I’ve read in the recent period — best stories about anything. By Jeff Eisenberg, it’s about Adam Vinatieri, the NFL kicker (and the pride of Rapid City, S.D.). He was taught to kick by a man in a wheelchair. I mean, a magnificent story, for those interested in sports and those not.

This is one of my favorite ads of all time. Michael Jordan is asking, “Who’s the greatest?” He’s talking, on one hand, about Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers. Who’s the greatest quarterback? “I mean, even the jersey numbers are the same.” On the other hand, he’s talking about himself vs. LeBron James — who’s the greatest basketball player?

Well conceived.

• Care for a little language? I have a dear friend who’s from Austria but speaks excellent English. Not idiomatic English, however, as is understandable. She sent me a note, which referred to the upcoming midterms: “Will you be involved in the half time elections?”

I loved that.

• A little music? Here is a review of the Czech Philharmonic. And here’s a new Jaywalking podcast, which includes some music (by Mahler, Shostakovich, and Van Heusen & Cahn) (Jimmy and Sammy).

• Let’s end on some names. A reader, and fellow Michigander, knows that I love names, especially Great American ones. “Not sure if the Steelers have played the Packers recently,” he writes. “But I’d love to see announcers talk about a Steeler wide receiver and a Packer free safety: ‘JuJu Smith-Schuster is covered by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.’”

Perfect. God bless America, and you too.

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