Impromptus

One country, one system, &c.

Chan Kin-man greets supporters as he arrives for sentencing in Hong Kong on April 24, 2019. (Tyrone Siu / Reuters)
Hong Kong, Notre-Dame de Paris, Tiger Woods, a great farmwoman, and more

Around Hong Kong, the noose is tightening. This was probably inevitable. In 1997, when Britain handed Hong Kong over to the Chinese government — i.e., the Chinese Communist Party — Beijing promised “one country, two systems.” In other words, Hong Kong could remain free while the rest of China was Communist.

That was always a crock.

In 2014, democratic protests broke out, and these protests were termed “the umbrella movement.” Reason: Protesters used their umbrellas to shield themselves from pepper spray. Of course, participants have been tried and locked up. Most recently, eight leaders have been sentenced.

One of those is Chan Kin-man, a retired sociology professor. “In the verdict,” he said, “the judge commented that we are naive” — naive to believe that a protest movement could attain democracy. “But what is more naive than believing in one country, two systems?”

Well said.

You will note, in the article I’ve linked to, that people in Taiwan have protested the sentencings in Hong Kong. The Taiwanese know that they could well be next. This is all very moving, as well as alarming.

• When I was a freshman in college, I made mention of the little plaque on the plaza outside Notre-Dame de Paris. It marks “le centre de Paris,” I said. My (French) professor responded, “De l’univers, mon ami. De l’univers.”

The pictures of the cathedral, burned and disfigured, are practically unbearable. But I know it will be rebuilt. I also know that nothing material lasts. I once visited the Temple of Diana, in Ephesus. It was a Wonder of the World. People came from great distances, to gaze at it, incredulous and rapt. When I got to it, it was an unsightly heap, a joke.

I further know that temples and cathedrals will rise and fall, rise and fall, inspired by ideas that are unkillable, unburnable, and immune to ruination.

• Anne-Elisabeth Moutet is one of my favorite journalists, a Frenchwoman who writes in both her native tongue and English. I did a podcast with her, in which we discussed many important things, but mainly Notre-Dame: here.

• “All politicians lie,” we are told. “All presidents lie. Everyone in D.C. lies.” This is often said with an air of sophistication. Often, it is just an excuse — nothing more than an excuse. “Everyone does it, so relax. Don’t get your panties in a twist. Don’t be so square, daddy-o.”

To hell with that.

People will tell you that moral behavior — decent character — is too much to expect. Again, an excuse. Don’t fall for it. I think of a phrase: “defining deviancy down.” They can do it only when you let them.

• Harvey Mansfield, the legendary Harvard professor, was invited to speak to a little college in Canada. They were lucky to get him. He was to speak on the Great Books. Then, the college disinvited him, unable to take the heat — because Mansfield is a conservative.

To read him on this episode, go here. (Subscription required.)

Disinviting Harvey Mansfield from speaking on the Great Books is like … disinviting Dr. Feynman from speaking on physics, or John Wooden from speaking on basketball, or me from speaking on milkshakes and Web-surfing.

Insanity, and mean, too. (The greatest injury done is to the students who would have heard Mansfield.)

• I have never watched Game of Thrones, and I have never read a Stephen King novel. Regardless, I was impressed by a tweet — from King: “GoT: As a long-time storyteller, I’m in awe of how perfectly the minds behind this show brought all the major characters together at Winterfell. They made it look easy. Constant Readers, it is not.”

That is high praise. I think King was right to invoke his authority as “a long-time storyteller” — he did it, not in service to self, but in service to the GoT people. Also, don’t you like that old-style rendering of “long-time,” with the hyphen? (For years, the word has been “longtime.”) I do.

(And yet, he went “storyteller,” right?)

• One of my friends, when he was in college, or maybe before, read a Stephen King novel twice. That was The Stand. A very long novel, too. I remember thinking, “What high praise, for a book — to have read it twice, when there is so much else to read.” Since that time, I have thought about reading The Stand. Maybe I will.

• In an Evelyn Waugh novel, Brideshead Revisited, a character peruses the newspaper and sighs, “Another naughty Scoutmaster.” I thought of this when seeing a headline: “Boy Scouts could be hit with more sex abuse claims.” (Article here.) Will it ever end? Apparently not.

• Once, Bill Buckley couldn’t remember Evelyn Waugh’s name. He was just blanking, as we all do. He said to me, with annoyance, “Who is my hero, the author of Brideshead?”

• I was talking with a friend last week who went to Penn Law School, some years ago. One of his teachers was Elizabeth Warren. She was superb, he said, admired by everybody. She was also attractive, admired by many a male student. Further, she was conservative — a defender of free markets, for example.

She has had an interesting journey, I would say.

• It wasn’t very long ago that Tiger Woods thought he might never play golf again. Forget competitive golf, professional golf: What about playing nine holes with his children and grandchildren? He was not sure that this would come to pass.

Earlier this month, he won the Masters. Was it the greatest comeback in the history of golf? Of sports? Last September, he won the Tour Championship. Some said that this was the greatest comeback in history — in the history of sports.

Let me do a little reviewing.

Tiger Woods was the greatest junior golfer and the greatest amateur golfer of the modern era, by a long shot. Second place is nowhere to be seen. He won three U.S. Juniors in a row and three U.S. Amateurs in a row. (Then he won the NCAA tournament.) It’s possible that nothing he has done as a pro is more impressive. Tiger Woods himself is of this view.

He turned pro in 1996 — and, in what seemed like a flash, won 71 tournaments. Including 14 majors. Including four majors in a row (though not in the same season). The crash came in 2009, when he was 33: a moral, mental, and physical crash.

He had a comeback in 2012 and ’13, winning eight tournaments. Consequently, his win total stood at 79, bettered only by Sam Snead, whose number is 82. (Jack Nicklaus is third, with 73. Nicklaus leads in majors, with 18.) But Woods went south again, with injury after injury, and surgery after surgery.

At times, he couldn’t walk. Couldn’t even practice his putting, to say nothing of his swing.

And then, a comeback, another one. In 2018, he led the British Open on Sunday, before falling back to sixth place. At the next major, the PGA, he finished second. Then, in September, he won the Tour Championship.

The next major to be played was the 2019 Masters — which he won.

He did not do it with histrionics or heroics. He did it with dull (frankly), competent, solid golf. He “plodded around” the course, as he later said. He hit greens in regulation and two-putted — except when he sneaked in a birdie here or there. For years, he was a human highlights reel. There were really no highlights at Augusta from him this time. Sure, the tee shot on 16 on Sunday was great, but — Woods was no highlights reel. You don’t need to be.

At some level, the game takes place between the ears. (This is why golf is so hard to depict in movies. There has practically never been a good golf movie.) Tiger won the Masters, as he has other tournaments, with his mental game.

His putting was amazing. When you get older, your putting is supposed to falter, even if you remain good between tee and green. Tiger is putting like a confident, unflappable, devil-may-care 20-year-old. (An old, grizzled pro once told me, “All young people have good short games.”)

Woods was playing with relative youngsters — in their 20s and 30s — who had grown up watching him and imitating him. He was playing with his own progeny, so to speak — and schooling them, on this occasion.

The course was benign, virtually defenseless. The old Tiger would have blown away the field at 20 under or something. (He once won the Masters by twelve shots; he won the U.S. Open by fifteen shots.) The new Tiger, “playing within himself,” to borrow the cliché — using the resources he had, including the mental — won by a stroke, at 13 under.

What a day, what a week, what a thing to witness.

Woods is now 43. Nicklaus won his last tournament — the Masters — at 46. Snead won his last tournament at 52. These next few years for Woods should be interesting. This very summer should.

Allow me a trip down Memory Lane (not to be confused with Magnolia Lane, although, for me, they sometimes blend). I watched the Sunday round of the 1986 Masters in my dorm room. That was a victory for all of us — for all mankind. It defied the odds. It rebuked mortality. The very next Sunday — same dorm room — I watched Horowitz return to Moscow. This was exhilarating in a similar way.

And now, Woods’s latest. People can do fantastic things, you know?

• Let me give you a picture from Dallas — where Christmas lingers, at least for some:

• How about this glorious Plymouth? A rock.

And here’s another view, complete with American flag in the background:

• This is a picture from DeLand, Fla. In the 1970s, we in Detroit had a manager — a manager of the Detroit Tigers — named Les Moss. In Central Florida, they have more moss.

• Is Stetson University, founded in DeLand in 1883, a power in beach volleyball? Yes, they are:

• Let’s have a little music — a couple of reviews. For the New York Philharmonic under Simone Young in the Mahler Sixth, go here. For Yefim Bronfman in recital — he is a Russian-Israeli-American pianist — go here.

• Paul Hollander did a lot of good in his life. He tried to tell sleepy people in the Free World about Communism — with which he had had some experience. He had some experience with Nazism, too.

He was born in 1932, in Hungary. In 1944, his family (Jewish) went into hiding. Twelve-year-old Paul, anticipating his death, wondered what it was like to be shot. He discussed it with his father, who had been wounded in World War I.

When the Soviets came in, Paul welcomed them as liberators and allied himself with Communism. As for many, that did not last long. When the Soviets and other Communists crushed the rebellion of 1956, Hollander escaped to America.

He earned his Ph.D., in sociology, at Princeton. For most of his career, he taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He wrote many books, including Political Pilgrims (1981), which tells about the travels of Western intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba.

He was authoritative on a range of subjects, which can be seen in a collection called “Discontents: Postmodern and Postcommunist,” published in 2002. I reviewed it — taking the occasion to write about Paul — here.

He died a couple of weeks ago, having made excellent use of his experience, both good and bad, and of his exceptional intellect.

• Hollander, I knew. Mona Lee Brock, I did not — but I wish I had. I read her obit in the New York Times. What a woman.

She was a farmwoman, and she helped people — many people — during the farm crisis of the 1980s. A lot of family farms went under, and there was a rash of suicides. Mrs. Brock manned a suicide hotline, day after day, night after night. Sometimes, she had to hear the gunshots over the phone.

Asked what kept his mother going, her son said, “The Bible and the Constitution.”

Thank you for joining me, everyone. Thank you, Mona Lee. See you later.

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