The World on a Page

Article excerpt

Byline: Tunku Varadarajan

Cardboard Khomeini, suicidal Sarkozy--and dear old Wislawa Szymborska.

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 Bolivar, 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 [pounds sterling]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? …