Impromptus today opens with Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader in Russia, now a political prisoner. When Navalny was arrested last month, Amnesty International declared him a “prisoner of conscience” (a specific term, coined by Amnesty many years ago). Now, Amnesty has rescinded that designation. A puzzling case.
When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, Amnesty could not declare him a prisoner of conscience. But the organization helped him anyway, and it remains to be seen whether it will help Navalny.
I also have memories of Ion Mihai Pacepa in my column. General Pacepa died earlier this month. A top adviser to Ceausescu, he was the highest-ranking intelligence official ever to defect from the Soviet bloc.
Over the years, I corresponded with Pacepa — he signed himself “Mike” — and I quote a little of that correspondence in my column. Three years ago, he wrote,
Yes, I am relatively well, considering my methusalemic age. I hope you are also well — we need your energy to fight dezinformatsiya, which has become the bubonic plague of our days.
As it happens, I published a piece last October called “Dezinformatsiya: On Russia’s (one-sided) disinformation war.”
Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.) had occasion to use that word, “disinformation,” this week. He was reacting to Senator Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), who is pushing the idea that the January 6 attack on the Capitol was the work of leftist anti-Trump forces. Said Kinzinger, “It’s disgraceful for a sitting senator to spread disinformation so blatantly.”
This is a subject of my column too.
In recent days, I have done two Q&A podcasts. One of them is with Steven B. Smith, the famous political scientist at Yale. He has written a new book, Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes. The germ of the book was a lecture he gave after 9/11: “In Defense of Patriotism.” Today, of course, we have a robust debate over patriotism, nationalism, etc.
In our podcast, Professor Smith and I talk of many things. He discusses some 20th-century political philosophers who mean a lot to him: Berlin, Oakeshott, Strauss, and Aron. He also talks about how a kid from South Shore, Chicago (him) came to be a die-hard New York Yankees fan.
For my Q&A with Steven Smith, go here. For my Q&A with Claire Berlinski, go here. She is another fabulous guest. Claire is an American writer and intellectual who studied at Oxford and now works from Paris. We have a freewheeling conversation, involving France, anti-Semitism, conservatism, the plague, vaccination — lots.
Shall we have a touch of mail, before I get out of the Corner? In a column last week, I mentioned sports nicknames. (Rich subject.) A reader and friend now writes me about Doug Gwosdz, who played catcher for the Padres in the 1980s. They called him “The Eyechart.” I had to think about that one for a second. But then I stared at his last name.
Another reader tells me I make her feel “less alone.” That is a high compliment — maybe the highest — for a writer. Over the years, many writers have made me feel less alone. Charles Krauthammer was one of them; Mona Charen is another. I think we should all find writers we disagree with but who challenge us or better us in some way. Still, a writer who makes us feel less alone is a priceless thing. May everyone have one, or ten.