The World on a Page

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YES WUKAN! A Chinese village, Wukan, conducted the first free public political election in Communist China. Authorities offered the ballot box to placate insurrectionary villagers who were angered by the death in police custody of one of their leaders. The scale of the voting may be microscopic—at stake is a handful of councilors’ posts—but the effect could be tectonic. Is Wukan the ground zero of Chinese democracy?

GIANT FIGURE: To mark the 33rd anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s return from exile to Tehran, Iran’s regime reenacted the iconic moments when Khomeini alighted from airplane onto tarmac, using a vast cardboard cutout as a stand-in for the revered imam. Iran’s “blogistan,” predictably, embraced this God-given opportunity for satire. Others wondered how a Shiite state could permit itself this exercise in idolatry.

A SYRIAN VALHALLA: As Syria’s ambassador to the U.N. fought a forlorn fight at the Security Council, he invoked an A-list of figures from history, all of whom, he suggested, were role models for Bashar al-Assad. Mussolini, Stalin, Mobutu, Saddam? Nothing so predictable. The Syrian regime, we learned, takes its cue from Bolívar, Gandhi, Mandela, de Gaulle, and—clearly a naked play for American sympathy—George Washington.

BENIGHTED KINGDOM: On the advice of that most British of inventions, a government committee, Fred Goodwin, the famously cocksure CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland, was stripped by Her Obedient Majesty of the knighthood awarded in 2004 for “services to banking.” Fred had turned RBS into a behemoth; but in 2008, the Year of Banking Dangerously, British taxpayers were walloped with a £45 billion bill to save RBS from collapse. Was it right to de-knight him, a punishment hitherto reserved for traitors (the spy Anthony Blunt), tyrants (Mugabe), and some, though scarcely all, convicted felons? Should honors be awarded revocably, with a guarantee-of-good-conduct attached? Discuss.

WISLAWA SZYMBORSKA: The grand old Polish poetess—a rare uncontroversial Nobel laureate for literature—died last week. A small fragment of her work, proof of why the Poles adored her: “I prefer the earth in civvies./I prefer conquered to conquering countries./I prefer having some reservations./I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order./I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.”

TWEET OF THE WEEK: At a closed-door meeting with his party’s parliamentarians, Nicolas Sarkozy, alluding to concerns about his preelection proposal to hike the sales tax, paid himself a lavish compliment: “On me dit suicidaire. Je suis le suicidaire le plus en forme de France” (“They’re saying I’m suicidal. There’s no suicidal man in France in better shape than me”). Thank you, @SebastienHuyghe, member of the French National Assembly, for letting the boast out of the bag—on Twitter.

NOVELIST NON GRATA: Do you regard Brooklyn novelists as effete, otherworldly creatures? If so, consider Paul Auster, now locked in a feud with Recep Erdogan, Turkey’s P.M. In an interview with the Turkish daily Hürriyet, Auster—a particular favorite, for some reason, with Turkish readers—said that he refuses to set foot in Turkey “because of imprisoned journalists and writers.” This so incensed Erdogan that he denounced Auster as an “ignorant man.” “If you come, so what? If you don’t come, so what? Will Turkey lose prestige?” He then berated Auster for visiting Israel, which “rained bombs down on Gaza.”

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