Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics


US Republican-libertarian senator and unofficial presidential candidate Rand Paul has been castigated by true-blue Zionists for insufficient vigour in applauding Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent address to Congress. “I gave the prime minister 50 standing ovations,” Paul said, and that should really settle the matter.

I was reminded of this passage from The Gulag Archipelago:

A district Party conference was under way in Moscow Province… It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ovation.” For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy applause, rising to an ovation,” continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be the first to stop?… After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that ob- scure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! … Nine minutes! Ten! . . . Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved!…

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!” (And just what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to stop?)

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