Impromptus

Stopping life, &c.

by Jay Nordlinger

This week, I was to be reporting to you from the Oslo Freedom Forum. So were some of my colleagues, I think. The forum, as you may know, is the annual human-rights conference in the Norwegian capital. It was canceled, however — because the hotel workers were striking. And it was impossible to hold the conference, logistically.

I have not gone on an anti-union rant lately — since October, I think. Let me go on one now. You and I have grievances at work, I’m sure. But we don’t stop life for other people, because of those grievances. Hundreds of people were to participate in the Oslo Freedom Forum — including people who have suffered horrible persecution. Former political prisoners, torture victims, with testimonies to give. But union members decided, in effect, that the event could not occur.

Last October in New York, the grandees of the stagehands’ union decided that Opening Night at Carnegie Hall would not take place. They’re all rich: The head guy makes 530 grand, and the rest of them all make over 400. That was back then; they probably make more now.

But they had a grievance, so they decided the show would not go on. The orchestra, the conductor, the soloists, the ticket-buyers — they had no say. Only the almighty union had a say — and the almighty union said no.

Let me repeat: We all have grievances from time to time. But it would not occur to us, unless we were a certain kind of unionist, to stop life for other people. I hope that some of these guys have enough conscience to be ashamed.

Daniel Hannan, the British intellectual and politician, had a brilliant column. Another one, I should say. They are routine for him. This one began,

Would you rather live in a 1000 square foot house where everyone else’s was 800, or a 1200 square foot house where everyone else’s was 1400? I sometimes think it’s the most elemental question in politics. Where we stand on equality versus prosperity depends, more than we usually admit, on personality traits rather than logic. We start with an intuitive feel for what makes sense, and we elevate that instinct into a principle.

This reminded me of something I thought about long ago, when I was figuring out what I believed, politically. It was during the Reagan years. Reagan and his people had proven that, with a lowering of tax rates, revenues could increase.

I said to people, “If you knew that the lowering of tax rates would increase revenue, would you favor the lower rates?” They said, “Lower rates would not produce more revenue. That’s ridiculous.” I said, “I know you believe that. But just play a hypothetical game with me: If you knew, to a certainty, that the lowering of rates would lead to more revenue, would you favor the lowering?” They could not say they would.

They did not want the revenue. They just wanted the higher rates, revenue be damned. I was not like that — which is one reason I joined the conservative side.

In the current National Review, I have a piece called “Pipelines, Wind Farms, and Gods: A snapshot of our energy debate from rural Nebraska.” I traveled to the southeast corner of Nebraska, near the Kansas line. Jefferson and Gage counties. The Keystone XL pipeline is supposed to run through there. But President Obama has blocked it, of course. Meanwhile, one of these ghastly wind farms has gone up — blighting the land, causing some people to want to pick up and move.

Our national energy debate can be positively screwy.

Some experts believe that wind power, inefficient and senseless as it is, could not survive the loss of a government subsidy. We will see, possibly. But here in Impromptus, I wanted to point out something Warren Buffett said. You will find it in a Wall Street Journal editorial. He said, “. . . on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

In my NR piece, I have a small section on birds — and what wind turbines do to them. Let me copy it here, and then make some additional points:

This corner of Nebraska is rich in birds, rife with birds — including waterfowl. Not just geese but such exotica as pelicans. The skies above are a “flyway,” a path for migrating birds. Wind turbines are no friend of birds. James Delingpole, the British writer and anti-wind crusader, refers to them as “bat-chomping, bird-slicing eco-crucifixes.” Turbines kill something like half a million birds a year in the United States.

In December, the Obama administration issued a telling ruling: Wind farms would be permitted to kill eagles with impunity for 30 years. One congressman, Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican, called these permits “licenses to kill.” A senator, the Louisiana Republican David Vitter, said that the permits seemed “unpatriotic.”

Wind power is held to be almost sacred by some Americans. In 2011, the Obama administration brought suit against several oil companies in North Dakota. The reason: A handful of birds — between 25 and 30 — had died in reserve pits. But wind power can do no wrong, apparently, even where our national emblem, the bald eagle, is concerned.

While I was in Nebraska, a friend of mine said, “Where is the Audubon Society on this?” I thought that was a good question. So I looked up the answer, finding it on the Audubon website. Reading between the lines, I think the society knows the turbines are terrible. But these dear people can’t bring themselves to dissent from the environmentalist Left. We have a clash of pieties here: birds versus wind farms. And the birds are going to have to sacrifice.

The society says, “Audubon strongly supports properly sited wind power as a renewable energy source that helps reduce the threat posed to birds and people by climate change.” Ay, caramba!

Do you want a little music? I don’t have a review for you, but I have a letter from John Derbyshire. We went to La cenerentola, the Rossini opera, at the Met the other night. (My review forthcoming.) Derb’s letter is highly interesting:

I have tracked down the Wagner quote I half-remembered. The following is from Francis Toye’s 1934 biography of Rossini. (Which, by the way, has the most disarming opening line of any biography I know: “To the best of my belief there is no demand whatever for a life of Rossini in English.”)

“Wagner visited Paris in March 1860 and paid courtesy visits to all the resident composers, of which Rossini was one. The two of them got along famously. Going down the stairs with his companion Michotte afterwards, Wagner said: ‘But I must say here and now that of all the musicians I have met in Paris he alone is truly great.’”

Toye, an upper-class Brit, believes that if Rossini had endured the rigors of an English boys’ boarding-school education instead of the easy-going Bologna liceo, “the world might have gained an addition to its dozen composers of the first rank.”

As Dr Johnson said on being told that boys at Eton were being flogged less than formerly: “What they have gained at one end, they have lost at the other.”

Care for some sports? I tuned in to the Kentucky Derby, and there was Bob Costas, doing the emceeing. These big sportscasters should be welcome, reassuring figures: national brothers or fathers. But I’m afraid the sound of Costas’s voice is annoying to me now.

I think of his behavior during the Olympics, before the Fall of the Wall: how he delighted in calling East Germany “the German Democratic Republic.” (Three lies in one, people used to say: East Germany was not democratic and no republic. It was not even fully German, given rule by Moscow.) I remember his mocking of Sarah Palin. And his periodic political sermons.

I’m sure I need to lighten up, but Costas is a bit of a spoiler for me now, rather than an enhancer.

Some more sports? Well, I was thinking this: Ben Crenshaw finished dead last in the Masters this year. I don’t mean after the cut — I mean before. Dead last. And he has finished first, twice. It must be a helluva feeling, to have finished first, and then last.

A little language? My friend Martha sent me this — from “the diary of a pre-school teacher”:

My five-year-old students are learning to read. Yesterday one of them pointed at a picture in a zoo book and said, “Look at this! It’s a frickin’ elephant!” I took a deep breath, then asked, “What did you call it?” “It’s a frickin’ elephant! It says so on the picture!”

And so it does: “African Elephant.”

I wanted to say something about Efrem Zimbalist Jr., the actor. He died the other day. He was the son of two important musicians: Efrem Zimbalist Sr., the violinist, and Alma Gluck, the soprano. Efrem Jr. had a long, distinguished, and varied career, and he was a political conservative. He was also a music lover. And he took great pleasure, I know, in reading The New Criterion.

I wish I had met him, though I never did. Anyway, thanks, everybody, and see you soon.