Aug 12th 2015

Opening up a reporter’s notebook that spans seven decades

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

Sol Sanders is among the last of a dying breed, an international journalist with access to a range of senior sources, some of them national leaders, some scoundrels, some both. Finally, at age 89, he has put the highlights of his life and career down on paper, pulling no punches. 

Sol Sanders

People!: Vignettes gathered along the way through a long life (Deeds Publishing) is a freshly written and often self-deprecating memoir told in 55 short chapters, each focused on a character or an incident from his well-thumbed reporter’s notebook. 

Sanders warns readers to be “mindful of my sometimes unconventional (conservative) views of geopolitics, human conduct and general historical trends”.  But, he adds, “hopefully it will be amusing, if nothing else.” 

This book has its comic moments but it is much more than amusing. Sanders always had the chutzpah to penetrate high places as he reported for a range of media, including Business Week, U.S. News and World Report and The Christian Science Monitor, while writing five books and contributing op-ed pieces to The Wall Street Journal. He has lately been a columnist for The Washington Times where he now writes anonymous editorials.


Sanders is strongest in his pen-portraits of prominent global players he came to know, including the mercurial Ayub Kahn of Pakistan, Ne Win of Burma and Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore. On the American side he provides warm memories of Jeane Kirkpatrick and William Casey and some prickly snippets on Robert McNamara, all of whom he knew personally.

His memories of Singapore stand out as the best in the book.

“I was not going to be intimidated by the prime minister of Singapore,” Sanders recalls, “as he bullied everyone else in the old British colonial city.” Kwan Yew was famous for his irascibility “but no, dear reader, he was not the founder of modern Singapore”. Such an honorific would belong to “my old friend David Marshall, the first elected chief minister of the city-state.” Marshall negotiated the formation of Malaysia and it was Kwan Yew’s “arrogance,” Sanders recalls, “which blew the federation apart, separating the overwhelmingly Chinese Singapore from the Malay-majority states, and deepening the racial divide which always threatens to explode in both areas.”

Singapore has just celebrated 50 years of independence (Aug. 9) but Sanders does not approve. “(Kwan Yew’s) authoritarianism created a model new society but stifled freedom and much of the incredible ingenuity of the Overseas Chinese. Indeed, the Singapore of Kwan Yew was a near police state.”

As his tenure rolled on, Kwan Yew “had to admit that the old formulas were not working.” Many bright young Singaporeans departed for opportunities that awaited them in the US, the UK and Australia, “creating a talent shortage, and indeed a population problem for the island republic”. He concludes ruefully: “My friend David, of course, has become a footnote, if that, for historians.”

Sanders maintained a personal friendship with Muhammed Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s second president (1958-1969), a “quintessential product of the British Indian Army, and a Sandhurst granduate. He recalls the relationship fondly: “The routine was that I would conduct a fairly formal interview … and then Ayub would say, ‘Okay, now let’s talk.’  He was interested, of course, in my gossip, serious and some not so serious, that I brought from the Indian capital of New Delhi and other parts of Asia.” 

Turning to Burma, Sanders labels dictator General Ne Win as “something of a monster” who wanted to move the country toward socialism. Among his public tantrums, he is reported to have beaten a partner to death with a golf club on the Rangoon golf course. “We all wondered,” Sanders writes, “whether he would hang on to his sanity”. But his reign continued for four decades “to almost destroy the country”.

His memories of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Ms. Kirkpatrick, in the chapter titled “Jeane”, are the most poignant in the book. They had been friends as students at the University of Missouri (both on the left). She was “rather shy and knobby-kneed” at the time. They hooked up later in New York while he was doing his “International Outlook” column at Business Week and she served as the “somewhat flamboyant” ambassador to the United Nations (both on the right). 

Sanders admired her analytical skills and her commitment to conservatism. Ultimately, however, Ms. Kirkpatrick began to show signs of drift. At their last meeting, “Jeane’s rather sweet and thoughtful minder told me the doctors believed her condition was part physical and part mental.” She had lost her appetite for the political joust, and as they spoke, she looked out the window and remarked on how beautiful was a tree outside. “It was a strange experience to see that wonderful mind, not gone, but parked on life’s roadside at a dead end.” She died nine years later, in 2006, of congestive heart failure.

His memories of William Casey are equally personal and absorbing. “We should put our networks together!” Sanders remembers Casey half shouting at him across his desk at Langley, Virginia, where he was director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The two men met almost weekly. Sanders carried a load of professional credentials, with his long reporting career, mainly in Asia, plus a two-year stint with McNamara’s World Bank in Tokyo, and finally a stint as a visiting professor at the Chinese University in Hang Kong.

“With those connections, it was not at all hard for me to see and exchange views with Casey”, he writes. Casey welcomed the visits “as an alternative to wrestling with the career spooks that bitterly resented his political smarts and tried to thwart him at every turn.” They swapped information freely, Sanders recalls, concluding that their friendship was not that unusual. “(T)he line between espionage and news reporting can be a very thin one, as some foreign regimes have correctly maintained when they wanted to nail a visiting reporter.” (For the record, this was not my experience as a Moscow correspondent for Associated Press. The spooks never trusted me. They knew I had far too big a mouth.) 

Sanders gives U.S. intelligence the brush-off by noting that after Casey left, it became a more and more bureaucratic institution, “bereft of the kind of eccentrics who have always characterized successful intelligence organizations.”

He shows no more patience for McNamara, who became president of the World Bank in 1968 “leaving behind his disaster at the Pentagon”. “Perhaps beginning his long apology for his role in Vietnam, he began a transformation of the bank … into a social welfare institution exploring everything from community development to birth control”. In the end, Sanders writes, the bank ended up “like the corrupted UN itself,” taking on causes “for which it is as ill-fitted as most of the other corrupt UN organizations”.

Sanders’ writing was always crisp, analytical journalese, but in this book he loosens the bonds and begins to enjoy himself. Describing Dutch colonials as their time ran out in Indonesia, he remembers their meals “in large Teutonic quantities”. “And the Dutch drank huge quantities of their own famous gin, Bols, which to our American whiskey taste was close to motor oil. It was enough to fuel the almost always more-than-plump Dutch who danced the cooler nights away like huge elephants on a trampoline.”

Sol Sanders has captured here a lifestyle now almost forgotten, the adventures of the globe-trotting journalist in a day when foreign editors in the U.S. and Europe had the budget for and the interest in the exotic and often crucial stories that affect us all. His perspective covers more wars, more eras, and more scoundrels than most of his fellow-scribes managed to report.

Sanders’ career is all the more remarkable for his refusal to shut up as he pushes 90. 




 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Jul 16th 2024
EXTRACTS: "Trump joins tens of thousands of Americans treated for non-fatal gunshot wounds each year. Such experiences can shatter people’s assumptions that they are living in a safe, understandable and controllable world, leaving them feeling unworthy, unsafe and unsure. As a result, survivors of non-fatal gun violence face increased risks of depression, anxiety, substance use and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can feel overwhelming." ---- ".... some trauma survivors experience post-traumatic growth. They may develop greater empathy, stronger relationships, deeper spirituality and find new meaning in life. After being shot in 1981, the then president Ronald Reagan’s trauma seemed to deepen his sense of empathy and humility. He felt God had spared him for a reason, spurring him to reduce nuclear tensions with the Soviet Union."
Jul 15th 2024
EXTRACTS: "Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose are not metabolised by the human body so they are excreted – this is what makes them low-calorie sugar alternatives. And that’s where the environmental problem begins. Current wastewater treatment plants are unable to remove these sugar mimics, meaning they end up in our environment – in our water, rivers and soil." --- "Forever chemicals are increasingly present in our streams, rivers and oceans – most notably per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that don’t degrade. PFAS are synthetic chemicals found in many consumer products, including skincare products, cosmetics and waterproof clothing. PFAS can remain in the human body for many years, and some present significant risks to our health – potentially causing liver damage, thyroid disease, obesity, infertility and cancer."
Jul 3rd 2024
EXTRACTS: "Psychologist, James Hillman had concerns about what I like to call the 'loneliness-as-pathology' "---- "....Hillman went on to argue...: 'If loneliness is an archetypal sense built into us all from the very beginning, then, to be alive is also to be lonely. Loneliness, therefore, will come and go as it chooses in the course of a lifetime, quite apart from our efforts to deny or avoid this reality.' "
Jul 3rd 2024
EXTRACT: "How can we be at least 15 times richer than our pre-industrial Agrarian Age predecessors, and yet so unhappy? One explanation is that we are not wired for it: nothing in our heritage or evolutionary past prepared us to deal with a society of more than 150 people. To operate our increasingly complex technologies and advance our prosperity, we somehow must coordinate among more than eight billion people."
Jun 25th 2024
EXTRACTS: "What’s interesting about the entire Russia-North Korea showy display of camaraderie is China’s response: silence. China has misgivings about how things are unfolding, which reports suggest prompted Chinese president Xi Jinping’s call to Putin to call off the latter’s visit to Pyongyang. Obviously, Putin didn’t heed Xi’s request." ----- "The Sino-Korean animosity dates back centuries and took shape when Korea was a vassal state of imperial China. Unfortunately, this animosity extended to modern times when Mao Zedong decided to station Chinese troops in North Korea even after the conclusion of the Korean war, and when Beijing did not aid Pyongyang in its nuclear ambitions. It didn’t help either that the founding leader of North Korea, Kim Il-sung, was suspected of espionage and was nearly executed by the Chinese Communist party in the 1930s."
Jun 19th 2024
EXTRACT: "Ultra-processed foods (such as packaged snacks, sugary drinks, instant noodles and ready-to-eat meals) often contain emulsifiers, microparticles (such as titanium dioxide), thickeners, stabilisers, flavours and colourants. While research on humans is limited, studies on mice have shown that these ingredients alter the gut microbiome (the community of microorganisms living in the intestines) in several ways. These many microbiome changes can in turn affect the way the immune system functions."
Jun 9th 2024
EXTRACT: "Alzheimer’s disease can be split in two subgroups, familial and sporadic. Only 5% of patients with Alzheimer’s are familial, inherited, and 95% of Alzheimer’s patients are sporadic, due to environmental, lifestyle and genetic risk factors. Consequently, the most effective tactic for tackling Alzheimer’s is preventative and living a healthy lifestyle. This has led researchers to study risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s."
Mar 8th 2024
EXTRACT: "This study suggests that around 10% of people diagnosed with dementia may instead have underlying silent liver disease with HE causing or contributing to the symptoms – an important diagnosis to make as HE is treatable."
Jan 28th 2024
EXTRACT: "Health disparity is a powerful weapon in the savage class warfare otherwise known as neoliberalism. (In 2020, the RAND Corporation did a study of the transfer of wealth over the last several decades from the working-class and the middle-class to the top one percent. Their estimate is a staggering $47 trillion – that is how much the “upward redistribution of income” cost American workers between 1975 and 2018.) Neoliberalism is a brutal form of labor suppression, which uses health as a means of maintaining and reproducing a condition in which wealth is constantly being redistributed upwards, and the middle-class is kept in a constant state of fear of sinking into the ranks of the poor. Medical expenses are the leading cause of bankruptcies in America – and that’s according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. The ballooning costs of healthcare serve to maintain a system marked by morally unacceptable health inequity and injustice."
Jan 28th 2024
EXTRACT. "But living longer has also come at a price. We’re now seeing higher rates of chronic and degenerative diseases – with heart disease consistently topping the list. So while we’re fascinated by what may help us live longer, maybe we should be more interested in being healthier for longer. Improving our “healthy life expectancy” remains a global challenge. Interestingly, certain locations around the world have been discovered where there are a high proportion of centenarians who display remarkable physical and mental health. The AKEA study of Sardinia, Italy, as example, identified a “blue zone” (named because it was marked with blue pen),....."
Jan 4th 2024
EXTRACT: ""Tresors en Noir et Blanc" presents 180 prints from the collection of the Musee des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, also known as the Petit Palais.  The basis of the museum's print collection is 20,000 engravings amassed by a 19th-century collector, Eugene Dutuit, " ----- "This wonderful exhibition, the tip of a great iceberg, serves to emphasize how unfortunate it is that the tens of thousands of prints owned by the Petit Palais are almost never seen by more than a handful of scholars who visit them by appointment.  Nor is the Petit Palais the only offender in this regard,....."
Jan 4th 2024
EXTRACTS: "And that is the clue to Manet’s work. He paints painting, regardless of his subject: he paints the medium itself, it as if he is constantly reminding us that this is a painting," ..........."This is a new conception of painterly truth at play here, a new fidelity to truth. Manet is the Kant of painting because he initiates a similar kind of “Copernican revolution” – we do not see the world as it is but as we are. " -------- " Among the most remarkable but unfamiliar of Manet’s work on display are those depicting the bloody aftermath of the Paris Commune of 1871.There is no question regarding Manet’s condemnation of the Versailles government’s actions following the defeat of the Commune, when some 25,000 Parisians were gunned down, including women and children."
Dec 27th 2023
EXTRACT: "Think of our brain like a map. When we’re young, we explore all corners of this map, sending out connections in every direction to make sense of our environment. Before long, we figure out basic truths – such as how to secure food, or where we live – and the neurological paths that make up these connections strengthen. Over time, a network emerges that reflects our unique experiences. Regions we re-visit often will develop established paths, whereas under-used connections will fade away. ---- Conditions such as addiction, chronic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are characterised by processes such as repetitive negative thinking or rumination, where patients focus on negative thoughts in a counterproductive way. Unfortunately, these strengthen brain connections that perpetuate the unfavourable mental state."
Dec 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "While no one was looking, France has become a melting pot of European peoples. Its neighbors have traditionally been welcomed, and France progressively turned them into French boys and girls in the next generation."
Dec 4th 2023
EXTRACTS: "Being rich is essentially about having more stuff in general, including bigger houses." "..... if SUVs had not become widely adopted largely as a status symbol for the global middle classes, emissions from transport would have fallen by 30% over the past ten years. For the largest class of SUVs, six of the ten areas of the UK registering the most sales were affluent London boroughs like Kensington and Chelsea."
Nov 11th 2023
EXTRACT: "By using these “biomarkers”, researchers have discovered that when a person’s biological age surpasses their chronological age, it often signifies accelerated cell ageing and a higher susceptibility to age-related diseases." ----- "Imagine two 60-year-olds enrolled in our study. One had a biological age of 65, the other 60. The one with the more accelerated biological age had a 20% higher risk of dementia and a 40% higher risk of stroke."
Nov 6th 2023
EXTRACT: "We are working on a completely new approach to 'machine intelligence'. Instead of using ..... software, we have developed .... hardware that operates much more efficiently."
Nov 6th 2023
EXTRACTS: "When people think of foods related to type 2 diabetes, they often think of sugar (even though the evidence for that is still not clear). Now, a new study from the US points the finger at salt." ...... ".... this type of study, called an observational study, cannot prove that one thing causes another, only that one thing is related to another. (There could be other factors at play.) So it is not appropriate to say removing the saltshaker 'can help prevent'." ..... "Normal salt intake in countries like the UK is about 8g or two teaspoons a day. But about three-quarters of this comes from processed foods. Most of the rest is added during cooking with very little added at the table."
Oct 26th 2023

 

In 1904, Emile Bernard visited Paul Cezanne in Aix.  He wrote of a conversation at dinner:

Sep 11th 2023
EXTRACT: "Many people have dipped their toe into the lazy gardener’s life through “no mow May” – a national campaign to encourage people not to mow their lawns until the end of May. But you could opt to extend this practice until much later in the summer for even greater benefits. Allowing your grass to grow longer, and interspersing it with pollen-rich flowers, can benefit many insects – especially bees. Research finds that reducing mowing in urban and suburban environments has a positive effect on the amount and diversity of insects. Your untamed lawn won’t only benefit insects. It will also encourage more birds, such as goldfinches, to use your garden to feed on the seeds of common wildflower species such as dandelions."