Commentary Magazine


Topic: Peru

More on Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa

I wrote about the new Nobel Literature laureate here yesterday, and add more today in the New York Post. And with thanks for the archival help provided by the library at the Washington Times, here’s a chunk of a profile I wrote of Mario Vargas Llosa in 1990:

The losing candidate in Peru’s last presidential election – the one who advocated free markets and an end to socialism – found himself on Rockville Pike in Borders Book Shop on a Wednesday evening in October. But he wasn’t out there among the Burger Kings and the K marts and the I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurts to discuss his political career in Latin America. No, Mario Vargas Llosa had come to read aloud from the brand-new English translation of his shocking and highly experimental novel about the sexual liaison between a 40-year-old woman and her pre-adolescent stepson.

One of the world’s most distinguished writers and thinkers, peddling an erotic novel called “In Praise of the Stepmother” in a Rockville bookstore? The same day he appeared on the “Today” show in New York with Bryant Gumbel? It’s all too strange for words: Mario Vargas< Llosa, sandwiched between Willard Scott’s weather and the results of Deborah Norville’s latest sonogram.
“Well, you know, those interviews are so short that you can’t really express yourself,” he says with a touch of impatience when asked about the “Today” show in his suite at the Sheraton-Carlton. But, as if fearful to give offense, he adds, “I suppose it’s important for a book to be mentioned on a much-watched program, no?”

Here’s another irony: Mr. Vargas Llosa probably only got booked on the “Today” show because his publishers have linked “In Praise of the Stepmother” and its disturbing subject matter to Sexy Topic No. 1 in the arts this year: Censorship. “I’ve been asked about this since I arrived,” the startlingly good-looking and surprisingly slight 53- year-old writer says in his lilting, hesitant English. “It has been a surprise for me because, on the one hand, the United States seems so free. . . . On the other hand, I can’t understand that in a country so open and so free, these old and obsolete issues of censorship can still become a national issue. But I suppose it is inevitable.”

It was certainly inevitable that “In Praise of the Stepmother” would discomfit people, because it is a genuinely discomfiting book. This is no funny and playful erotic romp, like the novel that made him famous in the United States, “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.” No, the sex in “Stepmother” is powerful, primal and frightening. It is, well, dirty. “I wouldn’t say ‘dirty,’ ” Mr. Vargas Llosa corrects. “I disagree. I don’t think sex is dirty. It may be dirty, but I don’t think it’s dirty in the story I tell. Threatening, yes.” The novel has four characters – an angel-faced boy named Fonchito, his passionate and beautiful stepmother, his blissfully happy father and the inevitable chambermaid. The stepmother is slowly and unwillingly seduced by her seemingly innocent stepson…

Writing the book may have had catastrophic consequences for its author. It was published in the midst of his two-year campaign for the presidency of Peru, which ended in June when Alberto Fujimori defeated Mr. Vargas Llosa in a surprise upset. “It was used against me by my adversary in the campaign,” he recalls. “I don’t know if that had any effect, but, oh, yes, it was read on the national television, as if to say, “Look at the kind of man that is this candidate!’ ” He laughs….

Mr. Vargas Llosa is thrilled that Mexican poet Octavio Paz recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature because, he says, “they are giving the prize to someone who has been fighting for democracy.”

“Things have changed so much in the world that even the Swedish Academy is accepting that there can be a very good Latin American writer who is not a communist, not a socialist.”

He pleases himself with this crack and explodes in machine-gun laughter…

I had forgotten that Vargas Llosa had discussed Octavio Paz and his Nobel; interesting, given that Vargas Llosa is the first Latin American since Paz to win the prize.

I wrote about the new Nobel Literature laureate here yesterday, and add more today in the New York Post. And with thanks for the archival help provided by the library at the Washington Times, here’s a chunk of a profile I wrote of Mario Vargas Llosa in 1990:

The losing candidate in Peru’s last presidential election – the one who advocated free markets and an end to socialism – found himself on Rockville Pike in Borders Book Shop on a Wednesday evening in October. But he wasn’t out there among the Burger Kings and the K marts and the I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurts to discuss his political career in Latin America. No, Mario Vargas Llosa had come to read aloud from the brand-new English translation of his shocking and highly experimental novel about the sexual liaison between a 40-year-old woman and her pre-adolescent stepson.

One of the world’s most distinguished writers and thinkers, peddling an erotic novel called “In Praise of the Stepmother” in a Rockville bookstore? The same day he appeared on the “Today” show in New York with Bryant Gumbel? It’s all too strange for words: Mario Vargas< Llosa, sandwiched between Willard Scott’s weather and the results of Deborah Norville’s latest sonogram.
“Well, you know, those interviews are so short that you can’t really express yourself,” he says with a touch of impatience when asked about the “Today” show in his suite at the Sheraton-Carlton. But, as if fearful to give offense, he adds, “I suppose it’s important for a book to be mentioned on a much-watched program, no?”

Here’s another irony: Mr. Vargas Llosa probably only got booked on the “Today” show because his publishers have linked “In Praise of the Stepmother” and its disturbing subject matter to Sexy Topic No. 1 in the arts this year: Censorship. “I’ve been asked about this since I arrived,” the startlingly good-looking and surprisingly slight 53- year-old writer says in his lilting, hesitant English. “It has been a surprise for me because, on the one hand, the United States seems so free. . . . On the other hand, I can’t understand that in a country so open and so free, these old and obsolete issues of censorship can still become a national issue. But I suppose it is inevitable.”

It was certainly inevitable that “In Praise of the Stepmother” would discomfit people, because it is a genuinely discomfiting book. This is no funny and playful erotic romp, like the novel that made him famous in the United States, “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.” No, the sex in “Stepmother” is powerful, primal and frightening. It is, well, dirty. “I wouldn’t say ‘dirty,’ ” Mr. Vargas Llosa corrects. “I disagree. I don’t think sex is dirty. It may be dirty, but I don’t think it’s dirty in the story I tell. Threatening, yes.” The novel has four characters – an angel-faced boy named Fonchito, his passionate and beautiful stepmother, his blissfully happy father and the inevitable chambermaid. The stepmother is slowly and unwillingly seduced by her seemingly innocent stepson…

Writing the book may have had catastrophic consequences for its author. It was published in the midst of his two-year campaign for the presidency of Peru, which ended in June when Alberto Fujimori defeated Mr. Vargas Llosa in a surprise upset. “It was used against me by my adversary in the campaign,” he recalls. “I don’t know if that had any effect, but, oh, yes, it was read on the national television, as if to say, “Look at the kind of man that is this candidate!’ ” He laughs….

Mr. Vargas Llosa is thrilled that Mexican poet Octavio Paz recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature because, he says, “they are giving the prize to someone who has been fighting for democracy.”

“Things have changed so much in the world that even the Swedish Academy is accepting that there can be a very good Latin American writer who is not a communist, not a socialist.”

He pleases himself with this crack and explodes in machine-gun laughter…

I had forgotten that Vargas Llosa had discussed Octavio Paz and his Nobel; interesting, given that Vargas Llosa is the first Latin American since Paz to win the prize.

Read Less

Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Laureate

The Nobel Prize for Literature, given to as many horrible writers as worthy ones, is now of value only for two reasons: It makes its recipient rich (now up to $1.5 million), and it causes people to take account of the careers of some notable authors. Such is the case with this year’s Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa. He achieved a broad international reputation in the 1980s and 1990s–indeed, for a time, he was probably one of the world’s best-known writers–but that has faded somewhat over the past decade. He is, quite simply, wonderful–a novelist and essayist of great wit, range, sagacity, playfulness, and high seriousness.

He first came to prominence in the United States with the late-1970s translation of his hilarious, joyful, and wildly original blend of novel and memoir, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a study of the unique circumstances that led to his first marriage to a much older distant cousin; he draws a comic parallel between his life and the crazed plots devised by Peru’s leading soap-opera writer, a monastic lunatic who seems nonetheless to embody the creative process itself. The next work of his to appear in English was extraordinarily different and extraordinary in every sense of the word: The War for the End of the World, a highly realistic historical novel about a millenarian cult in fin-de-siecle Brazil. It offered a portrait, unparalleled in our time, of the way in which radical ideas can seize hold of ordinary people and drive them to suicidal madness.

This was the first of his novels to reveal Vargas Llosa’s mature world view: Almost alone among Latin American intellectuals of his time, he had become a liberal in the classic sense of the word, a believer in and advocate for Western-style free speech, free markets, and free inquiry. This was the result of an ideological journey not unlike the one taken by neoconservatives in the United States, except that in Vargas Llosa’s case it was even more remarkable given the lack of any kind of liberal culture in South America and especially in the world of Latin novelists, who were, to a man, radical Leftists either aligned with or entirely joined at the hip with Marxist-Leninist-Castroist activism. He made his decisive spiritual break with the Left plain with a short novel called The Real Life of Alejandro Meyta, which specifically linked radical Leftist thinking to the impulse to terrorism.

The same year he published that book, he became head of a commission in Peru examining the devastation wrought by a terrorist group called the Shining Path. He wrote one of the great essays of our time for the New York Times Magazine on the matter, called “Inquest in the Andes.” Alas, it appears to be unavailable on the Times website, suggesting Vargas Llosa withheld rights to its electronic distribution. That is a shame, but you can read the astounding essay he wrote for the same magazine entitled “My Son the Rastafarian,” about grappling with his teenager’s rebellion and the horror of being a judge at the Cannes Film Festival. (That son, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, became the editorial-page editor of the Spanish language edition of the Miami Herald and an even greater rarity among South Americans, a libertarian.)

It is important to note that Vargas Llosa really is a liberal, not a conservative in any sense of the word. His work is often frankly libertine, as his powerful erotic novel In Praise of the Stepmother demonstrates. He doesn’t have a populist bone in him, and suffered from his inability to connect with ordinary people when he ran for president of Peru — offering sensible austerity measures that caused him to lose to a dangerous populist named Alberto Fujimori who drove the country into chaos and then fled to Japan ahead of corruption charges. Imagine Saul Bellow as president of the United States and you get some sense of what it might have meant for Vargas Llosa actually to have won his race. He wrote a remarkable book about that too, called A Fish in the Water.

He is one of the most interesting men of our time and I’m glad he got the Nobel money. Doesn’t wash the Nobel clean by any means, but at least the proceeds will be spent by someone who deserves it. Vargas Llosa wrote a visionary essay for COMMENTARY in 1992 called “The Miami Model,” which we’re making available from our archives today. Sample:

This profession of faith—hatred for the United States disguised as anti-imperialism—nowadays is actually a rather subtle form of neocolonialism. By adopting it, the Latin American intellectual does and says what the cultural establishment of the United States (and by extension, elsewhere in the West) expects of him. His proclamations, condemnations, and manifestoes, with all their grace notes and glissandos, serve to confirm all the stereotypes of the Latin American universe cherished by much of the North American cultural community.

It’s an honor to have published it, and a pleasure to congratulate our contributor on his award.

The Nobel Prize for Literature, given to as many horrible writers as worthy ones, is now of value only for two reasons: It makes its recipient rich (now up to $1.5 million), and it causes people to take account of the careers of some notable authors. Such is the case with this year’s Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa. He achieved a broad international reputation in the 1980s and 1990s–indeed, for a time, he was probably one of the world’s best-known writers–but that has faded somewhat over the past decade. He is, quite simply, wonderful–a novelist and essayist of great wit, range, sagacity, playfulness, and high seriousness.

He first came to prominence in the United States with the late-1970s translation of his hilarious, joyful, and wildly original blend of novel and memoir, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a study of the unique circumstances that led to his first marriage to a much older distant cousin; he draws a comic parallel between his life and the crazed plots devised by Peru’s leading soap-opera writer, a monastic lunatic who seems nonetheless to embody the creative process itself. The next work of his to appear in English was extraordinarily different and extraordinary in every sense of the word: The War for the End of the World, a highly realistic historical novel about a millenarian cult in fin-de-siecle Brazil. It offered a portrait, unparalleled in our time, of the way in which radical ideas can seize hold of ordinary people and drive them to suicidal madness.

This was the first of his novels to reveal Vargas Llosa’s mature world view: Almost alone among Latin American intellectuals of his time, he had become a liberal in the classic sense of the word, a believer in and advocate for Western-style free speech, free markets, and free inquiry. This was the result of an ideological journey not unlike the one taken by neoconservatives in the United States, except that in Vargas Llosa’s case it was even more remarkable given the lack of any kind of liberal culture in South America and especially in the world of Latin novelists, who were, to a man, radical Leftists either aligned with or entirely joined at the hip with Marxist-Leninist-Castroist activism. He made his decisive spiritual break with the Left plain with a short novel called The Real Life of Alejandro Meyta, which specifically linked radical Leftist thinking to the impulse to terrorism.

The same year he published that book, he became head of a commission in Peru examining the devastation wrought by a terrorist group called the Shining Path. He wrote one of the great essays of our time for the New York Times Magazine on the matter, called “Inquest in the Andes.” Alas, it appears to be unavailable on the Times website, suggesting Vargas Llosa withheld rights to its electronic distribution. That is a shame, but you can read the astounding essay he wrote for the same magazine entitled “My Son the Rastafarian,” about grappling with his teenager’s rebellion and the horror of being a judge at the Cannes Film Festival. (That son, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, became the editorial-page editor of the Spanish language edition of the Miami Herald and an even greater rarity among South Americans, a libertarian.)

It is important to note that Vargas Llosa really is a liberal, not a conservative in any sense of the word. His work is often frankly libertine, as his powerful erotic novel In Praise of the Stepmother demonstrates. He doesn’t have a populist bone in him, and suffered from his inability to connect with ordinary people when he ran for president of Peru — offering sensible austerity measures that caused him to lose to a dangerous populist named Alberto Fujimori who drove the country into chaos and then fled to Japan ahead of corruption charges. Imagine Saul Bellow as president of the United States and you get some sense of what it might have meant for Vargas Llosa actually to have won his race. He wrote a remarkable book about that too, called A Fish in the Water.

He is one of the most interesting men of our time and I’m glad he got the Nobel money. Doesn’t wash the Nobel clean by any means, but at least the proceeds will be spent by someone who deserves it. Vargas Llosa wrote a visionary essay for COMMENTARY in 1992 called “The Miami Model,” which we’re making available from our archives today. Sample:

This profession of faith—hatred for the United States disguised as anti-imperialism—nowadays is actually a rather subtle form of neocolonialism. By adopting it, the Latin American intellectual does and says what the cultural establishment of the United States (and by extension, elsewhere in the West) expects of him. His proclamations, condemnations, and manifestoes, with all their grace notes and glissandos, serve to confirm all the stereotypes of the Latin American universe cherished by much of the North American cultural community.

It’s an honor to have published it, and a pleasure to congratulate our contributor on his award.

Read Less

New Report on China Leaves Out the Good Stuff

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

Read Less

Still Spying After All These Years

One thing the emerging Russian spy scandal demonstrates is that America really is one heck of a melting pot. Where else would you find neighbors referring to a couple whose names are Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills as “the Russian parents” because of their Russian accents? Hey, it could happen. If a Russian ends up going by the name Patricia Mills for a legal or logical reason, America is where she’ll do it.

This is all to the good for social harmony, but it does make it easier for Russian agents to hide in plain sight. That’s one lesson from the spy incident. Another is the very basic lesson that the espionage is ongoing. It hasn’t stopped; it isn’t going to. Russia has never ceased being one of the two most espionage-invested nations in the world (the other is China). Significant infiltration by Russian spies has been reported over the past two years by Britain, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and the Netherlands. The NATO headquarters in Belgium had to remove Russian spies in 2008 and 2009. Japan and Australia have dealt with influxes of Russian spies in the last several years. Smaller-scale incidents have occurred in Canada and India.

But there are two other things we should pay attention to in the break-up of this spy ring. One is that the Russians considered it worthwhile to cultivate agents in interactive occupations that facilitate logistics, and from which access might be gained to individuals with primary knowledge of political and defense topics. People in real estate, travel planning, and opinion journalism fit this role. I see a lot of bloggers today poking fun at this method — and at the conduct of the ring in general — but this is classic, professional intelligence craft. Several of the 11 who have been arrested would more correctly be called agents than spies, but that is really the point: what we are seeing the outlines of is not a single, targeted campaign but a routine modus operandi.

The other aspect of interest is the alleged participation in the Russian ring of El Diario writer Vicky Pelaez and her husband Juan Lazaro. Latin American media are reporting that Pelaez is Peruvian and Lazaro is from Uruguay; Pelaez was reportedly a well-known TV reporter in Peru in the 1980s. She, at least, seems to be a person with a valid history, using the name she was born with. That makes her unusual in this group. It suggests her choice to act as an agent for Russia was prompted by political motivations.

Others have noted the very left-leaning tendency of her positions. She was quoted at length in a recent press release by Fidel Castro; in 2003, she penned an explanation of the putative  “Trotskyist roots of neoconservatism” that sparked furious debate among serious socialists over her invocation of Trotsky’s concept of “permanent revolution.” This is an ideological leftist who knows the theory and lingo.

And when she accepted a spying assignment, she accepted it from Russia. Her arrest certainly doesn’t implicate other left-wing journalists in espionage. But this echo from the Cold War ought to give us pause. Russia is no longer the global standard-bearer of Marxism, but it appears Marxists from elsewhere are still spying for Russia.

One thing the emerging Russian spy scandal demonstrates is that America really is one heck of a melting pot. Where else would you find neighbors referring to a couple whose names are Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills as “the Russian parents” because of their Russian accents? Hey, it could happen. If a Russian ends up going by the name Patricia Mills for a legal or logical reason, America is where she’ll do it.

This is all to the good for social harmony, but it does make it easier for Russian agents to hide in plain sight. That’s one lesson from the spy incident. Another is the very basic lesson that the espionage is ongoing. It hasn’t stopped; it isn’t going to. Russia has never ceased being one of the two most espionage-invested nations in the world (the other is China). Significant infiltration by Russian spies has been reported over the past two years by Britain, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and the Netherlands. The NATO headquarters in Belgium had to remove Russian spies in 2008 and 2009. Japan and Australia have dealt with influxes of Russian spies in the last several years. Smaller-scale incidents have occurred in Canada and India.

But there are two other things we should pay attention to in the break-up of this spy ring. One is that the Russians considered it worthwhile to cultivate agents in interactive occupations that facilitate logistics, and from which access might be gained to individuals with primary knowledge of political and defense topics. People in real estate, travel planning, and opinion journalism fit this role. I see a lot of bloggers today poking fun at this method — and at the conduct of the ring in general — but this is classic, professional intelligence craft. Several of the 11 who have been arrested would more correctly be called agents than spies, but that is really the point: what we are seeing the outlines of is not a single, targeted campaign but a routine modus operandi.

The other aspect of interest is the alleged participation in the Russian ring of El Diario writer Vicky Pelaez and her husband Juan Lazaro. Latin American media are reporting that Pelaez is Peruvian and Lazaro is from Uruguay; Pelaez was reportedly a well-known TV reporter in Peru in the 1980s. She, at least, seems to be a person with a valid history, using the name she was born with. That makes her unusual in this group. It suggests her choice to act as an agent for Russia was prompted by political motivations.

Others have noted the very left-leaning tendency of her positions. She was quoted at length in a recent press release by Fidel Castro; in 2003, she penned an explanation of the putative  “Trotskyist roots of neoconservatism” that sparked furious debate among serious socialists over her invocation of Trotsky’s concept of “permanent revolution.” This is an ideological leftist who knows the theory and lingo.

And when she accepted a spying assignment, she accepted it from Russia. Her arrest certainly doesn’t implicate other left-wing journalists in espionage. But this echo from the Cold War ought to give us pause. Russia is no longer the global standard-bearer of Marxism, but it appears Marxists from elsewhere are still spying for Russia.

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Grudgingly on the Side of Democracy

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of – the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of – the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

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Isn’t Big Labor A Special Interest Group?

As the Democratic presidential candidates jostle for the title of most subservient to the whims of Big Labor, there are some pushback efforts. Not by John McCain, but by independent groups and individuals. On the moribund Colombia free trade agreement, James Baker chides Congress:

As recently as December, Congress displayed the type of bipartisan leadership that Americans desire when it ratified a free trade agreement with Peru that is very similar to the one proposed for Colombia. And yet, this spring, the world is watching to determine if the United States will remain committed to embracing a free-market global economy, or display a growing isolationist attitude that can befuddle and vex our allies around the world.

And what about the pet project of Big Labor–doing away with secret ballot elections in unions–which both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton support? Not much from the McCain camp on this one. However, there is a very vivid and funny ad by the business group Coalition for a Democratic Workplace that pushes back on the notion that secret ballots are good enough for politicians but not unions.

What is the lesson here? For a candidate like Barack Obama who rails about special interests (which, in his taxonomy, kill all the good ideas), it might be worth pointing out that helping a democratic ally and promoting free trade and secret ballots are “good ideas.” Which this particular interest group is, through its supplicants in Congress, seeking to kill.

As the Democratic presidential candidates jostle for the title of most subservient to the whims of Big Labor, there are some pushback efforts. Not by John McCain, but by independent groups and individuals. On the moribund Colombia free trade agreement, James Baker chides Congress:

As recently as December, Congress displayed the type of bipartisan leadership that Americans desire when it ratified a free trade agreement with Peru that is very similar to the one proposed for Colombia. And yet, this spring, the world is watching to determine if the United States will remain committed to embracing a free-market global economy, or display a growing isolationist attitude that can befuddle and vex our allies around the world.

And what about the pet project of Big Labor–doing away with secret ballot elections in unions–which both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton support? Not much from the McCain camp on this one. However, there is a very vivid and funny ad by the business group Coalition for a Democratic Workplace that pushes back on the notion that secret ballots are good enough for politicians but not unions.

What is the lesson here? For a candidate like Barack Obama who rails about special interests (which, in his taxonomy, kill all the good ideas), it might be worth pointing out that helping a democratic ally and promoting free trade and secret ballots are “good ideas.” Which this particular interest group is, through its supplicants in Congress, seeking to kill.

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Rice Signals Iran

In her year-end press conference last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice touched on many subjects: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet despite this wide variety of issues, media coverage of Rice’s address focused on one sentence buried deeply in the Q/A session: “Look, we don’t have permanent enemies; the United States doesn’t,” she said, referencing North Korea and Iran. “What we have is a policy that is open to ending conflict and confrontation with any country that is willing to meet us on those terms.”

Of course, that the U.S. doesn’t have “permanent enemies” is self-evident—in foreign affairs, an enemy is largely defined by what it does, rather than what it is. When it comes to post-revolutionary Iran, the U.S. has been overwhelmingly concerned with the taking of hostages, financing of terrorist organizations, and pursuit of nuclear power; its theocratic regime and human rights abuses are, realistically, secondary concerns, with similarly repressive features hardly encumbering relations with Saudi Arabia, among other states.

But in the game of international relations, even the most obvious remarks—particularly when they are plastered in international headlines—hold tremendous value. Indeed, Rice’s statement that the U.S. has no “permanent enemies” is consistent with a clear shift in approach towards Iran that she has been signaling since the release of the National Intelligence Estimate earlier this month. According to this shift, Rice is prepared to negotiate with Iranian leaders if they agree to suspend uranium enrichment; as Rice told Jonathan Beale of BBC News last Thursday:

. . . I’ve said we would reverse 28 years of American policy. I would sit down with my counterpart, anyplace, anytime, anywhere to talk about anything. They only have to do what two Security Council resolutions told them to do.

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In her year-end press conference last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice touched on many subjects: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet despite this wide variety of issues, media coverage of Rice’s address focused on one sentence buried deeply in the Q/A session: “Look, we don’t have permanent enemies; the United States doesn’t,” she said, referencing North Korea and Iran. “What we have is a policy that is open to ending conflict and confrontation with any country that is willing to meet us on those terms.”

Of course, that the U.S. doesn’t have “permanent enemies” is self-evident—in foreign affairs, an enemy is largely defined by what it does, rather than what it is. When it comes to post-revolutionary Iran, the U.S. has been overwhelmingly concerned with the taking of hostages, financing of terrorist organizations, and pursuit of nuclear power; its theocratic regime and human rights abuses are, realistically, secondary concerns, with similarly repressive features hardly encumbering relations with Saudi Arabia, among other states.

But in the game of international relations, even the most obvious remarks—particularly when they are plastered in international headlines—hold tremendous value. Indeed, Rice’s statement that the U.S. has no “permanent enemies” is consistent with a clear shift in approach towards Iran that she has been signaling since the release of the National Intelligence Estimate earlier this month. According to this shift, Rice is prepared to negotiate with Iranian leaders if they agree to suspend uranium enrichment; as Rice told Jonathan Beale of BBC News last Thursday:

. . . I’ve said we would reverse 28 years of American policy. I would sit down with my counterpart, anyplace, anytime, anywhere to talk about anything. They only have to do what two Security Council resolutions told them to do.

Rice similarly promised to meet with her counterparts in a December 10 address at the Women’s Foreign Policy Group’s annual luncheon, and made similar remarks in a December 18 interview with al-Arabiya. For its part, Iran has acknowledged Rice’s signal, with state-run Iranian television reporting that she might visit Tehran in the coming year if certain preconditions are satisfied.

Rice’s shift is both pragmatic and disappointing. Insofar as Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power represents its greatest threat to the international community, Rice is correct in offering considerable carrots for the cessation of Iran’s nuclear program. But Iranian support for terrorism is also a major concern, and Rice’s offer to “talk about anything” with her Iranian counterparts opens the possibility that Iranian support for Hizballah and Hamas will become legitimate bargaining chips in forthcoming U.S.-Iranian negotiations.

For this reason, Rice should be reminded of her December 11 interview with the USA Today editorial board, in which she argued that the NIE indicated that Iran “is apparently responsive to international pressure and scrutiny.” As the Bush administration pursues Israeli-Palestinian peace and urges anti-Syrian lawmakers to choose a President in Lebanon, the cessation of Iran’s sponsorship of Hamas and Hizballah must remain a precondition for top-level U.S.-Iranian talks.

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Iran in Latin America

On Sunday, Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s President, met with Ezzatollah Zarghami, director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Zarghami’s visit is just one of a series from lower-level Iranian officials, who have fanned out across Latin America in search of friends. In recent years, Tehran has worked hard to strengthen contacts in the region—and it has accomplished much while Washington has neglected the countries south of its border. The world is full of threats, and Washington is paradoxically ignoring the ones closest to the American homeland. Says Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins, “Since there has been no coherent United States policy toward Latin America, there’s a window of opportunity for the Iranians to come fill the vacuum.”

Tehran has missed no opportunities to do so. In addition to building relations with Ortega’s Sandinistas, Iran has nurtured ties with new leftist governments in Bolivia and Ecuador. And of course there is the combination of Iran and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, what Tehran calls the “axis of unity.” Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also reaching out to moderate Latin American governments, most notably Brazil’s. “Iran is trying to create a geopolitical balance with the United States,” according to Bill Samii of the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia.

Yesterday, the San Antonio Express-News reported how the mullahs in Tehran intend to achieve this “balance.” Friendly Latin American governments are giving the Iranians bases of operation in their countries to carry out covert activities. Iran-supported Hizballah, through front organizations, already operates in the region, and the presence of even more Iranians will undoubtedly enhance its capabilities. Americans, unfortunately, can expect Tehran-supported terrorism: Argentina, contending that Iran was behind bombings in Buenos Aires of Israeli and Jewish community targets, last month obtained Interpol approval for arrest warrants against five Iranians.

There is nothing left to the Monroe Doctrine. If the Bush administration is not going to abandon Latin America to Iran and that country’s terrorist allies, then it will have to tie the region to America in some fashion. At this moment, the fastest way to do so is to erect a network of free trade deals. Yet these agreements are controversial in Washington. Although President Bush signed the FTA with Peru on Friday, similar ones with Colombia and Panama are languishing in Congress. There are many problems with Washington’s free trade agreements with less developed economies, but Ortega’s meetings with junior Iranians like Zarghami suggest that this might be the time to consider dropping technical quibbles and to start looking at the bigger picture.

On Sunday, Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s President, met with Ezzatollah Zarghami, director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Zarghami’s visit is just one of a series from lower-level Iranian officials, who have fanned out across Latin America in search of friends. In recent years, Tehran has worked hard to strengthen contacts in the region—and it has accomplished much while Washington has neglected the countries south of its border. The world is full of threats, and Washington is paradoxically ignoring the ones closest to the American homeland. Says Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins, “Since there has been no coherent United States policy toward Latin America, there’s a window of opportunity for the Iranians to come fill the vacuum.”

Tehran has missed no opportunities to do so. In addition to building relations with Ortega’s Sandinistas, Iran has nurtured ties with new leftist governments in Bolivia and Ecuador. And of course there is the combination of Iran and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, what Tehran calls the “axis of unity.” Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also reaching out to moderate Latin American governments, most notably Brazil’s. “Iran is trying to create a geopolitical balance with the United States,” according to Bill Samii of the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia.

Yesterday, the San Antonio Express-News reported how the mullahs in Tehran intend to achieve this “balance.” Friendly Latin American governments are giving the Iranians bases of operation in their countries to carry out covert activities. Iran-supported Hizballah, through front organizations, already operates in the region, and the presence of even more Iranians will undoubtedly enhance its capabilities. Americans, unfortunately, can expect Tehran-supported terrorism: Argentina, contending that Iran was behind bombings in Buenos Aires of Israeli and Jewish community targets, last month obtained Interpol approval for arrest warrants against five Iranians.

There is nothing left to the Monroe Doctrine. If the Bush administration is not going to abandon Latin America to Iran and that country’s terrorist allies, then it will have to tie the region to America in some fashion. At this moment, the fastest way to do so is to erect a network of free trade deals. Yet these agreements are controversial in Washington. Although President Bush signed the FTA with Peru on Friday, similar ones with Colombia and Panama are languishing in Congress. There are many problems with Washington’s free trade agreements with less developed economies, but Ortega’s meetings with junior Iranians like Zarghami suggest that this might be the time to consider dropping technical quibbles and to start looking at the bigger picture.

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Against Navarrette the Nativist

Should the armed forces be free to enlist foreign-born recruits who are not already U.S. citizens or permanent residents? I’ve argued so on multiple occasions (see here, here, and here) because I think this would be a terrific way to expand the pool of high-quality, eligible soldiers and provide a new path toward citizenship for many aspiring Americans, while also expanding the foreign-area expertise of our armed forces.

Ruben Navarrette, Jr., a member of the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, disagrees. He has written a column, posted on CNN’s website, which argues against “turning illegal immigrants into cannon fodder.” To make his case, he cites Jose Carranza, an illegal immigrant from Peru who has been accused of crimes ranging from child rape to murder. “If half the things they say about this creep are true,” Navarrette writes, “Carranza belongs on death row. But guess what? He sure doesn’t belong on an Army recruitment poster, or handling heavy artillery.”

I was thinking of replying to this specious argument when I received an email from Margaret Stock, a military reservist and attorney who is an associate professor at West Point, pointing out the flaws with Navarrette’s logic better than I could. She agreed to let me share her letter with contentions readers:

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Should the armed forces be free to enlist foreign-born recruits who are not already U.S. citizens or permanent residents? I’ve argued so on multiple occasions (see here, here, and here) because I think this would be a terrific way to expand the pool of high-quality, eligible soldiers and provide a new path toward citizenship for many aspiring Americans, while also expanding the foreign-area expertise of our armed forces.

Ruben Navarrette, Jr., a member of the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, disagrees. He has written a column, posted on CNN’s website, which argues against “turning illegal immigrants into cannon fodder.” To make his case, he cites Jose Carranza, an illegal immigrant from Peru who has been accused of crimes ranging from child rape to murder. “If half the things they say about this creep are true,” Navarrette writes, “Carranza belongs on death row. But guess what? He sure doesn’t belong on an Army recruitment poster, or handling heavy artillery.”

I was thinking of replying to this specious argument when I received an email from Margaret Stock, a military reservist and attorney who is an associate professor at West Point, pointing out the flaws with Navarrette’s logic better than I could. She agreed to let me share her letter with contentions readers:

Dear Mr. Navarrette,

I was shocked and appalled to read your column on CNN today, I cannot fathom the misplaced stereotypes about the military (and immigrants serving in the military) that went into this column.

Believe it or not, the Army actually has standards for enlistment. The Army does not take just anyone. Criminals who cannot speak English and rape 5 year olds are not permitted to enlist in the Army, even if they are native-born US citizens.

Non-citizens have been permitted to enlist in the United States Army for decades, and on the whole, they have been better behaved than their native-born US citizen counterparts. There’s a study on this issue, found on the Center for Naval Analyses website (Non-citizens in the Military, April 2005). But all non-citizens who enlist must meet stringent enlistment requirements, including passing background checks, being fingerprinted, and undergoing physical, medical, and psychological exams.

During wartime, undocumented immigrants have been permitted to enlist in the U.S. military—provided they meet the standards that every other recruit must meet. If they serve honorably, they can obtain expedited US citizenship. Please note the requirement that they serve honorably–which includes not being convicted of crimes while they are serving. And they are not permitted to enlist at all if they are criminals.

Your suggestion that the Army would enlist someone with a record like Jose Carranza’s is nothing short of insulting.

Frankly, I am surprised that someone of your caliber would suggest than the Army has no standards for recruiting soldiers. I’m equally appalled that you would refer to people like me as “cannon fodder.” In fact, today’s Army soldier must be physically fit, highly intelligent, skilled in the complexities of modern warfare, law-abiding, and able to work successfully as a member of a team under conditions of incredible stress and in diverse climates and cultures. “Cannon fodder” is a derogatory term that shows a deep ignorance of the requirements of the modern Army.

Sincerely,
Margaret D. Stock
Lieutenant Colonel, Military Police Corps, US Army Reserve
Harvard College ’85, Harvard Law School ’92, Kennedy School of Gov’t ’01)

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Is It Any Wonder?

The new Seven Wonders of the World, which were announced last week with great fanfare in Lisbon, are a droll affair. Two are from pre-Columbian America (the citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru and the temples of Chichén Itzá, Mexico), two from Asia (the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China), and one from the Middle East (the rock tombs of Petra, Jordan). The modern world comes up rather short (the mountaintop statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro), as does European civilization in general (represented only by the Coliseum in Rome). Is this list something to take seriously? Does its comprehensive global sweep give it an authority that the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—mostly huddled around the Mediterranean—lacked?

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The new Seven Wonders of the World, which were announced last week with great fanfare in Lisbon, are a droll affair. Two are from pre-Columbian America (the citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru and the temples of Chichén Itzá, Mexico), two from Asia (the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China), and one from the Middle East (the rock tombs of Petra, Jordan). The modern world comes up rather short (the mountaintop statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro), as does European civilization in general (represented only by the Coliseum in Rome). Is this list something to take seriously? Does its comprehensive global sweep give it an authority that the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—mostly huddled around the Mediterranean—lacked?

The new list was created by the New7Wonders Foundation, whose own website proclaims—and without apparent irony—that it “was created in 2001 by Swiss adventurer Bernard Weber.” Weber has certainly been enterprising. Rather than forming a panel of experts, he allowed the public to vote for its favorite monuments. It is no surprise, then, that countries with large populations (China, Brazil, and India) dominate the list, and that monuments without constituencies (one thinks of the Stone Heads of Easter Island) do not figure. How Weber tabulated the votes, or what measures he took to prevent multiple voting, is unclear. The Vatican has speculated, according to the (London) Times, about the systematic exclusion of Christian monuments. As the Times reported,

Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, who heads the Vatican’s pontifical commission for culture and archeology, said that the exclusion of Christian works of art such as Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel was “surprising, inexplicable, even suspicious.”

One can no more quarrel with such a list than with television ratings. Still, as a thought exercise, one might speculate as to how a contemporary list of wonders might be drawn up—one not dependent on the erratic wisdom of the internet electorate. For one thing, one might turn for guidance to the original Seven Wonders. Several were noteworthy for their bold engineering, such as the Lighthouse of Alexandria and the Colossus of Rhodes, which showed their cultures building to the limits of their structural acumen. A contemporary list might recognize structures of similar engineering audacity. Three obvious candidates would be the Panama Canal, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Channel Tunnel between Britain and France. One might also note that landscape art was represented by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Would it be too chauvinistic to suggest Yosemite National Park as a wonder, one shaped and organized by human intervention?

Whether or not the Vatican is correct about bias, the list certainly ignores one of the wonders of western civilization, the poetic shaping of interior space. Weber’s list of wonders consists of photogenic exteriors—which look good on computer screens, unlike architectural interiors, which need to be experienced. The organized spatial poetry achieved in such buildings as Hagia Sophia, Istanbul; St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome; and Cologne Cathedral is indeed a wonder, and one or more of these monuments certainly belong on such a list. After all, one of the principal reasons for having such a list is educational.

In the end, the new Seven Wonders of the World have less to do with Herodotus than with David Wallechinsky, whose bestselling Book of Lists (1977) ranked the “worst places to hitchhike” or “people suspected of being Jack the Ripper.” Weber’s new list is at best a bit of harmless conversation fodder—although nowhere near as diverting as Wallechinsky’s “famous people who died during sex.”

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