In Short

Kudos to the delegation of Iceland to the United Nations. It's not just that scofflaw representatives of other countries, with Cuba at the top of the latest annual list, have been ignoring thousands of New York traffic tickets under diplomatic immunity. It's not just that the Icelanders remain at the bottom of the list, with no scofflaw record at all. It's that the Icelanders don't claim any special virtue; they simply regard it as common courtesy to observe the laws of a country in which one is a guest.

A little more courtesy, Cuba, please. As a matter of fact, which of the United Nations couldn't find new ways, whether at home or abroad, to act in Iceland's spirit? There must be an equivalent for nations of what Tennyson saw for individuals: "The greater man the greater courtesy."

"The degree of criticism should be appropriate," said Chinese leader leader Deng Xiaoping. He was reportedly trying to distinguish criticism from the old harsh persecution of dissenters against the Communist Party line. And the more persecution gives way the more the West can feel comfortable doing business with the Peking it used to condemn so roundly.

Still it is sad to read that the targets of a new campaign of criticism against "bourgeois liberalism" should include free speech, the questioning of authority, and a film script that dares to confront a patriotic character with the question: "You love your country, but does your country love you?" It's a question whose answer in any country depends on what leaders do as well as say.

The other arts have their fund-raising and coordinating centers, why not America's own indigenous jazz? Especially now when federal arts support is dwindling and the competition for what remains in the public and private sector requires expert squeaky-wheelsmanship. The new American Jazz Alliance, based in New York, has set out to help in any way it can, and it is reported to have a friend in the National Endowment for the Arts. At first glance the spontaneity of jazz and the machinery of organization may seem like a contradiction in terms. But note America's heightened free-enterprise mood for releasing individual energies and talents within an orderly society. It just might be ripe for an art of improvisation within a framework to which all the players agree.

The air bag for automobile safety continues to bring controversy in the United States. The latest dispute involves allegations that automakers told the government they could install the devices for about a tenth of the cost cited in public efforts to keep them from being mandatory equipment. Discussion of the disparity involves the possibility that the lower figure was for mass production and the higher for making relatively few. Then comes the alternative of mandatory "passive restraint" provided by automatic seat belts -- and the inevitable automaker's plea not to make any restraint mandatory but to promote the voluntary use of seat belts by the individual.

It is one of those cases where, whatever the government eventually decides, the individual dan't very well do nothing until being passively strapped in, protected by an air bag, or none of the above. Even the most automatic mechanisms need to be accompanied by the careful driving and safe and sane attitudes of accident prevention that are represented by -- but not limited to -- buckling up.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.