The Corner


Dots and Men

Orson Welles as Harry Lime in The Third Man

In Impromptus today, I begin with Putin’s Russia and Ukraine, then go on to Castro’s Cuba, Orbán’s Hungary, Xi Jinping’s China, and so on. Along the way, I have some observations on General Motors and the U.S. presidency.

According to his own account, the incumbent president said to GM, “You’re playing around with the wrong person.” A reader took a (short) walk down Memory Lane, sending me an article from 2009. it begins, “The Obama administration asked Rick Wagoner, the chairman and CEO of General Motors, to step down and he agreed, a White House official said.”

Very polite — but are we more like America or more like Argentina under Evita’s husband?

Let’s have some mail. A reader says, “Jay, I was catching up on your podcasts and had been unaware of Gromyko’s comments about ‘microscopic dots.’” The Soviet foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, had a meeting with President Carter. Carter was pressing him on Anatoly Shcharansky, the refusenik in the Gulag. Gromyko was nonplussed. He said approximately the following: “Mr. President, we have all these important issues to discuss — and you’re worried about one prisoner, a microscopic dot?”

Our reader recalled The Third Man, the 1949 movie written by Graham Greene. The bad guy, Harry Lime, is up in the Ferris wheel with the good guy, Holly Martins (yes, a boy named Holly). Martins says, “Have you ever seen any of your victims?” Lime responds with classic cynicism:

“Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me: Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you 20,000 pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax — the only way you can save money nowadays.”

(To see this scene, go here.)

There are those who think of people as dots (Mao was one of the most gruesome of such thinkers); and those who think of them as something bigger. This is a major dividing line of mankind.

In an Impromptus on Monday, I wrote about our forces in South Korea and our alliance with that nation. A wise lady — a longtime correspondent — sent me a note about deterrence:

I have a rescue dog named Thelma who is half Great Pyrenees and half Golden Retriever. At 112 pounds, think a Golden on steroids for looks. She has a friendly Golden personality but a Pyrenees brain. Her guard-dog heritage tells her that if you bark as a show of force, not many things will step forward to challenge you, so you bark a good deal, but you seldom have to fight.

Finally, a note about names. In Tuesday’s Impromptus, I spoke of Krysten Sinema, the incoming senator from Arizona. And I wondered at the numerous variations on “Kristin,” let’s say, and also on the related “Kirsten.” There are so many spellings, you almost have to learn them person by person.

A reader says,

My wife’s name is Lee Ann — two words (and never “Lee”). In this world, you got

Lea Ann
Lea Anne
Leigh Ann
Lee Anne

At least.

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