I believe the first time I ever wrote for National Review Online — ever wrote for the Web, period — was in 2000, during the Republican convention in Philadelphia. In those days, writing for the Web did not seem like real writing. At least some of us felt that way. We would soon change our minds. (Maybe some still haven’t? Some of a very, very traditional cast of mind?)
Jonah Goldberg was a pioneer, online. Lewis and Clark combined.
Speaking of Jonah, the first time I ever wrote for the Corner, I believe, was in April 2001. Mirabile dictu (as Bill Buckley would say), Google has this item: here. I wrote about Armando Valladares, recalling an experience I had had with him when I was a student. Valladares, you remember, is a former political prisoner from Cuba. He spent 22 years in that gulag. At the end of it, he wrote a memoir, Against All Hope, published in 1986. Valladares has sometimes been referred to as “the Cuban Solzhenitsyn.”
I mention him in a piece today: “A Revolt in Cuba.” I mention various other Cuban dissidents I have encountered too. My piece is about the Cuban present — and the Cuban past and future.
Around the time his book was published, Valladares appeared at Harvard. I could tell you a lot about that. But let me excerpt that little post I wrote in April 2001:
After Valladares’s speech, the students came after him: Hadn’t Castro “done some good things for his people”? Hadn’t he delivered universal health care? Hadn’t he brought about universal literacy? They echoed the standard propaganda line . . .
Valladares gave an answer I will never forget. He said it gently, earnestly, yearning for the students to understand. I will paraphrase it: Say all those things are true. They’re not, but just say they are. Can’t you have those things without torturing people? Can’t you have them without wrongly imprisoning them? Can’t you have them without killing them? Without denying them rights? . . . Why is material well-being — not that Cuba has it, or anything remotely like it — but why is material well-being incompatible with freedom?
He was magnificent.
In 1987, President Reagan made Valladares the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. That was a classic Reaganite move.
I think it was reading Against All Hope, and seeing Valladares on campus, and talking with him afterward, that really started my interest in Cuba. I was lucky to get to know Armando, in later years. I have been writing steadily about Cuba since the late ’90s, I guess. I have been mocked for this interest — including by people you might have expected to be supportive. Don’t care.
Much of what I have learned has gone into my piece today. Again, here.
Before I leave the Corner today, I would like to throw one more link at you — very different. Here is the latest episode of my music podcast, Music for a While. This episode is devoted to the amazing Moritz Moszkowski, a composer-pianist who lived from 1854 to 1925. Horowitz made him famous — or perpetuated his fame — all over the world. The title of this episode is “Sparks,” after what may be Moszkowski’s best-known piece: Étincelles (French for “Sparks”). A sparkling guy, Moszkowski, of whom there are wonderful tales, as well as wonderful pieces.
See you later.