On China and Hong Kong; the shifting reputation of George W. Bush; a new infrastructure marvel; an Impromptus anniversary; and more
China has a legislature — the National People’s Congress. Did you know that? One of those pretend parliaments. Anyway, this congress rubber-stamped new laws saying that only “patriots” may participate in Hong Kong’s government.
And who will determine the patriotism and non-patriotism? A new vetting panel, composed of “patriots,” i.e., loyal servants to the Communist Party.
Until now, said China’s state media, “anti-China, destabilizing forces and radical localists in Hong Kong have manipulated the electoral system to enter the governance structure.” I will offer a translation: Hong Kong’s government has been democratic, or largely so.
More and more, I think that “patriot” is one of the most abused words in the world. I wrote about this several times two or three months ago — both before the assault on the Capitol and after.
Over and over, President Trump spoke of “the 75 million great patriots who voted for me.” Are we sure that all 75 million are patriots, to say nothing of “great patriots”? Did any other voter qualify as a “patriot”?
On January 5, a planeful of Trump ralliers shouted at Mitt Romney: “Traitor! Traitor!” They called themselves “patriots.” In his rally speech the next day, Trump had a little comment about Romney: “I wonder if he enjoyed his flight in last night.”
Charlie Kirk, the young Republican leader, said that his organization was proud to have sent “80+ buses full of patriots to DC to fight for this president.”
Etc., etc. A lot of people call themselves “patriots” and wear American-flag lapel pins and the like. Better, I think, simply to be patriotic, and act that way.
You have, no doubt, known genuine patriots in your life. Did any of them ever go around saying how patriotic he was?
• Last December, the European Union adopted a Magnitsky act. You recall what such an act is. It allows a country — or, in the recent case, a union of countries — to impose sanctions on individual human-rights abusers. These sanctions usually take the form of asset freezes and travel bans.
These abusers like to park their money in nice, stable countries. They like to vacation there, too. And send their children to colleges there.
“Magnitsky” was Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian tax lawyer and whistleblower who was murdered in prison in 2009. He worked for William Browder, who has dedicated his life to the cause of Magnitsky acts. (I wrote about Browder and his extraordinary family three years ago, here.)
It took the EU a long, long time to adopt a Magnitsky act. Why? Because one government, Viktor Orbán’s in Hungary, blocked it. He relented, however, when pressured by a U.S. senator, Roger Wicker. Wicker is a Mississippi Republican, and an advocate of Magnitsky acts. Orbán prizes his support on the American right. Wicker said, in effect, Cut it out, or I will make a public stink.
To read about this, consult a report in the Wall Street Journal, here.
Orbán can still block specific sanctions, however, because the EU requires unanimous consent. Every government has a veto. In recent days, Orbán has blocked sanctions on Russian officials responsible for Sergei Magnitsky’s death. But — other sanctions went through, including on Chinese officials involved in the persecution of the Uyghurs.
These Magnitsky sanctions are really an inspired tool. They target individual wrongdoers, rather than peoples generally. I hope they have an important effect on the world, and they may have already.
• One more Magnitsky note. There is a man named Dan Gertler, an Israeli billionaire who made his pile through crooked dealings with the Congolese dictatorship. He and Joseph Kabila, the longtime dictator, were friends and partners in crime.
In December 2017, the Trump administration imposed Magnitsky sanctions on Gertler. But just before the inauguration last January, the administration lifted those sanctions, after lobbying by Alan Dershowitz and others working for Gertler. Those who keep an eye on such things were shocked.
The new administration has now restored the sanctions, which is a relief.
• In 1985, Richard Nixon published a book called “No More Vietnams.” It is a good book, as I recall. Nixon wrote a lot of those, from Six Crises onward. They very much include his memoirs (“I was born in the house my father built”).
I thought of No More Vietnams when reading a tweet from Richard Haass. He is president of the Council on Foreign Relations. After 9/11, he held the position of “U.S. coordinator for the future of Afghanistan.”
In that tweet, Haass wrote that our policy in Afghanistan is “increasingly resembling” our policy toward Vietnam 50 years ago: signing a pact “that was more about U.S. withdrawal than peace” and “now pressuring our government partner more than the adversary.”
• For reasons I could get into, I was perusing a history of the Nobel Peace Prize — and I was reminded of something. These days, especially on the right, George W. Bush is thought of as an internationalist, U.N.-lovin’ “globalist.” But back when . . .
When Obama was elected, many people said that, after an eight-year hiatus, America would rejoin the world. In their view, Bush was an insular, nationalistic, chest-thumping cowboy who had turned his back on the world. Obama would be just the opposite. In the weeks before the election, I debated a professor at Yale, who stressed that “the world” wanted Obama to be president. Polls had shown that “they,” “the world,” would elect Obama in a landslide. What more was there to say? Well, you could say this: that the election, for better or worse, was national.
I could cite chapter and verse (and did, in that history). What a strange trip it has been, these last ten or fifteen years.
• In an interview with a friend at Fox this week, Trump said, “Our Supreme Court and our courts didn’t have the courage to overturn elections.” I appreciated his use of that word “overturn.”
• In December 2015, Joe Scarborough questioned Trump about Putin. Scarborough mentioned, among other things, that Putin kills journalists who annoy him. Trump answered, “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe.”
Shortly after the inauguration in 2017, Bill O’Reilly said the same thing: “Putin is a killer.” Trump answered, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?”
This week, George Stephanopoulos said to President Biden, “So, you know Vladimir Putin. You think he’s a killer?” Biden answered immediately, “I do.”
In my estimation, this is realism — and non-slander of one’s own country.
• Shift to infrastructure — where there is big news. Exciting news, even.
Construction of the world’s first shipping tunnel will soon get underway in western Norway . . .
The 1.7 kilometer (1.06 miles) tunnel will be large enough to allow cargo vessels and most ships in the coastal voyage fleet to pass through. It will allow vessels to bypass the dangerous waters of Stad, an exposed area of ocean along the Norwegian coastline with a notorious reputation.
How long has this been going on?
According to the Norwegian Coastal Administration, the Vikings pulled their ships over land to avoid sailing around Stad in bad weather.
(To read this story in full, go here.)
I don’t know anything about engineering, but I like to think I know enough to be awed by it.
• I am awed by Zoom, too. I know we’re all down on it — too much Zoom, especially in education. But when I was a kid, there were TV shows and movies — futuristic — that imagined things like Zoom. Talking to people thousands of miles away, while looking at them, on a screen.
And here we are. Routine.
• The New York Times obituarized Norton Juster, the children’s author. I loved a couple of things, including this:
As a child Norton particularly enjoyed the “Wizard of Oz” book series, but he also dived into the books he found in his parents’ collection.
“They had several shelves of huge Russian and Yiddish novels all translated into English,” he told the children’s literacy site Reading Rockets, “but, you know, 1,200, 1,500 pages. And I would read them and have no idea what I was reading, but I just loved the language and the way you read it and how the words sounded.”
Norman Podhoretz was a similar kind of kid. He loved words — their sounds, the way they looked on a page. When he was about seven, his parents bought a portable typewriter for his older sister. She was taking a “commercial” course in school. Norman was forbidden to play around with the typewriter, but, as he recounts, “I just couldn’t keep my hands off it.”
In a stroke of inspiration, his parents forced his sister to teach him to type. That way, he would not destroy the machine. Norman typed and typed, copying items out of the newspaper, for example. Eventually, when he got bored with that, he started writing poems and stories.
Okay, the final two paragraphs from the Norton Juster obit:
Mr. Juster would sometimes be faulted for his use of big or unfamiliar words in his children’s books, but he thought that challenging young readers was part of the point.
“To kids,” he said, “there are no difficult words, there are just words they have never come across before.”
• On Twitter, Dan Amira of The Daily Show wrote, “‘Pastime’ is spelled wrong.” This reminded me of an old friend of mine, who always had trouble with “threshold.”
When I pointed this out, someone said, “I’m withholding judgment.” Ha, perfect.
Which reminds me: On the North Fork of Long Island, N.Y., there is a village called “Southold.” Would that be South-old or South-hold? People say the latter.
• A little sports? When Stan Van Gundy was coach of the Detroit Pistons (my NBA team), I loved listening to him. I loved hearing his remarks to the press after games. He was amazingly candid. I mean, amazingly so. I learned a lot about basketball.
But I always wondered, “What if I played for him? He is so blunt about the team, talking to the press. Would I resent it? This ‘coaching in public,’ to borrow an old phrase? Is such coaching counterproductive?”
Today, SVG is the coach of the New Orleans Pelicans. He is unchanged: utterly — but rightly? — candid. Check him out, here. Refreshing? Inappropriate? Both?
Anyway, I like that Stan is Stan.
• Let’s have a little music. For a post on a chamber concert — livestreamed — by members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go here. If you can’t give orchestral concerts, you can give chamber ones — masked and “socially distanced.”
By the way, the Indiana University music school is staging operas. The singers are masked, in rehearsals, performances, everything. Word is: There is, remarkably, no difference in sound.
Go figyah (and go ahead and make jokes involving Un ballo in maschera — A Masked Ball — the Verdi opera).
• My friend Vivek forwarded me an article from the Detroit Free Press, saying, “Found your Ann Arbor home.” (I mean, Vivek said that, not the article.) The headline: “$2.5M Ann Arbor home’s landscape is replica of famous golf course grounds.” That would be Amen Corner, at Augusta National.
• I can’t remember the exact date — it’s probably findable, somewhere, by someone — but Impromptus began in March 2001. So, the column is now 20 years old. Happy anniversary to us, dear Impromptus-ites, and thank you. See you later.
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