Impromptus

The problem with Made in China, &c.

A policeman leads inmates near Emei Mountain in Sichuan, China, in 2012. (Stringer/Reuters)
On the PRC, Iran, anti-Semitism, James Harden, Indiana, and more

At the top of this New York Times article, you will see a picture of Florence Widdicombe, age 6. She lives in London and she is standing in front of the family Christmas tree.

She was making out cards for her classmates — Christmas cards that her mother had bought for her at the supermarket. And Florence came upon an unexpected message: from the Chinese prisoners who were forced to make the cards. They asked for help.

I immediately thought of Charles Lee, whom I interviewed in 2006. He is a Chinese-born U.S. citizen — a Harvard-trained physician and a Falun Gong practitioner. He was a political prisoner in China for three years: 2003 to 2006. Naturally, he was tortured, as he detailed to me, and I detailed in my piece.

But here are a couple of paragraphs related to those Christmas cards:

At other times during the three years, he was made to work in prison sweatshops. He assembled Christmas lights. “The room was small, and it was crowded with about 60 people. The temperature was over 42 degrees centigrade” (108 degrees Fahrenheit). He also made bedroom slippers with Homer Simpson’s image on them. (Homer is the father on the TV cartoon The Simpsons.) You put your foot where Homer’s mouth is.

I ask, by the way, what he thinks of people in the Free West who buy those slippers. He says, “Oh, they just want the cheapest product. But I feel that, if they knew about my situation, it would bother them.”

For many years, I have wished that products made in China could be labeled as follows: “Free Labor” or “Prison Labor.” That would be a service to the buying public, wouldn’t it?

• Farhad Manjoo, of the New York Times, wrote this column in October, but it did not come to my attention until yesterday. It is superb. It is also disturbing. It delivers some truths that many — and I don’t exclude myself — would rather not hear.

The heading of the column is “Dealing With China Isn’t Worth the Moral Cost.” The subheading is “We thought economic growth and technology would liberate China. Instead, it corrupted us.”

I thought of an interview I had with Condoleezza Rice, way back in 1999 (when she was advising the governor of Texas, George W. Bush). Here is a slice of my write-up:

On the critical issue of China, Rice favors strengthening the hand of the “liberalizers” in Beijing — those who suppose (erroneously, according to Rice) that economic liberalization can proceed without a political loosening: “I don’t care if they believe that. Economic liberalization is ultimately going to lead to political liberalization — that’s an iron law.” . . . The Chinese Communists, she is convinced, are “are living on borrowed time.”

For the last 15 or so years, I have wondered whether the law is more like rubber than iron. The ChiComs seem to have suspended the law, if they have not repealed it altogether.

But you know what the response is to people like me? Don’t judge these things in years and decades. Judge them in longer stretches, for history is long.

True, true. And yet I can’t help thinking of what Keynes said about the long run . . .

• The recent protests in Iran started out as a response to increased fuel prices but — as these things do — became a revolt against the dictatorship generally. Putting it down, the dictatorship killed about 1,500.

To my knowledge, we said nothing in favor of the protesters: we the government, we President Trump. We said nothing about human rights, democracy, and freedom. If we did, it was awfully quiet.

I thought of 2009, of course, and Iran’s “green movement.” Many fewer people were killed in that period: 50 to 100? In any case, President Obama stayed pretty quiet. Maybe he thought he would hurt the protesters’ cause, I don’t know. To some of us, Obama seemed more interested in striking a nuclear deal with the regime than supporting democracy.

Finally, he said the following, about Iranians at large: “The world continues to bear witness to their powerful calls for justice and their courageous pursuit of universal rights.”

Okay — but what did “bear witness” mean? We conservatives clobbered Obama for his words, and for what appeared to be his indifference. In 2011, Natan Sharansky gave an interview, much quoted by us. He said that Obama’s stance in 2009 was “maybe one of the biggest betrayals of people’s freedom in modern history.”

Well, what about today? What about 2019?

This is a big subject, about which I will be writing more later . . .

• Here in New York and the surrounding area, we’ve had a spate of violent attacks on Jews. I have seen these attacks described as “senseless.” Are they? They are senseless in that Jew-hatred is senseless. But people are maiming and killing Jews because — whaddaya know? — they hate Jews.

And why do they hate them? Because they are taught to do so. Remember the lyric from South Pacific: “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Jews have been scapegoats from time immemorial. They have been scapegoats for all sorts of people, in every corner of the earth. When people work out their grievances, they often “work them out” against the Jews.

I treasure something that Churchill wrote, about England’s King Edward I: He “saw himself able to conciliate powerful elements and escape from awkward debts, by the simple and well-trodden path of anti-Semitism.” That was in the 13th century, mind you.

(Churchill always chose the right words, didn’t he? “. . . the simple and well-trodden path of anti-Semitism.”)

There is nothing that Jews can do to win the world’s favor. That would have happened a long time ago. Don’t even bother. Don’t even bother trying to understand anti-Semitism (although there are good books on the subject, such as George Gilder’s). The effort will just make you dizzy.

There is no alternative — none — to eternal vigilance. Wearying though it may be, unfair though it may be, there is no alternative. You can’t let your guard down for a second, in this nasty world.

I don’t mean to be cynical and defeatist. I’m for all the hope and prayer and good will in the world, trust me. I wish you the best in any “reaching out” you care to do. But be alert. (And armed.)

• Okay, I’d better lighten up. Wanna talk Chinese restaurants? This was a highly interesting piece in the New York Times: “Chinese Restaurants Are Closing. That’s a Good Thing, the Owners Say.” Why is it a good thing? Because the owners’ children are becoming doctors and computer programmers and whatnot, and do not want the grind of the restaurant business. Their parents are hard-working and model immigrants. (I’m generalizing here.) Thanks to the parents’ hard work, the kids are free to pursue other things.

An old story, right? And a wonderful one.

I noticed something when I moved to New York more than 20 years ago: In Italian restaurants, there were damn few Italians (workers, I mean). Like, none. All the workers were Hispanic or Eastern European. The Italians had moved up and out of the restaurant business . . .

• I loved something that Lloyd Pierce said, about the miraculous James Harden. Pierce is the coach of the Atlanta Hawks; Harden is the scoring machine on the Houston Rockets. After a game, Coach Pierce said this:

“We tried to do what you have to do against James, which is throw a lot of bodies at him. Try to put him under duress. He just didn’t feel us. He didn’t feel us with the doubles. He didn’t feel us with the blitz. He didn’t feel us with the extra defender running out at him. . . .”

He just didn’t feel us. Amazing.

• Allee Willis is a co-writer of “September,” the Earth, Wind & Fire song. She died the other day. I will quote from her obit in the New York Times:

Of all of her hits, Ms. Willis seemed most awed by the enduring power of “September.” “I’m someone that absolutely loves writing very joyful music,” she told the website Songfacts in 2008. When people learn she co-wrote “September,” she said, “they just go, ‘Oh my God,’ and then tell me in some form how happy that song makes them every time they hear it. For me, that’s it.”

Yes. “September” will make people happy for years and years to come. One of the happiest, most spirit-raising songs I know.

• Ever been to West Lafayette, Indiana, the home of Purdue University? You see a sign on the outskirts of campus that is rather startling: “Triple XXX.” This is Triple XXX Root Beer, a family restaurant. (Yes, family.) They even have root-beer cake — damn good. I didn’t taste the root beer in the root-beer cake, but it was excellent regardless.

Also, there is a pizza-and-pasta joint called “Puccini’s Smiling Teeth.” One of my favorite restaurant names ever.

• About 20 miles northeast of West Lafayette is Delphi, whose population is just under 3,000. Have a picture of a school — Compromise School. There, disputing parties had better come to an agreement.

• Another shot of local color:

• I love the acronym HOPE: “Honor over peer pressure everyday.” (True, the last word should be two words: “every day.” “Everyday” is an adjective, as in “my everyday jeans.”)

• You notice how they try to make the French word “chic” Frencher? (I do like the rhyme in the store’s name: “Urban Chique Boutique.”)

• Once, there were establishments like the below. (I wonder what an impractical horse shoer is.)

• This concept, I find perfectly beautiful:

• As I walked through the streets of Delphi — a residential neighborhood — a man on a porch said to me, “Hello, neighbor.” Yes, he did. How you like them apples?

Thanks for joining me, my friends, and I’ll catch you soon.

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

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