The freedom-haters, &c.

Yoani Sánchez


Speaking of life normal and abnormal: In Greece, the unemployment rate is nearly 30 percent. That is something many did not expect to see, ever, in a modern Western country. How long can life go on like that? Until it can’t, I guess . . .

I confess, I smiled when I saw this headline: “Minnesota congressman arrives in Mogadishu.” Just struck me as funny. Minnesota has a big Somalian population, and that is particularly true of Minneapolis-St. Paul, I think.

For the article — the article below the headline — go here.

(A junior-high math teacher of mine, in Michigan, was a Somalian immigrant. And remember what a big deal Iman, the model, was? Beautiful woman. And not atypical of her country.)

Speaking of headlines, here is one I thought was a little off: “Saudi withdraws Sri Lanka envoy in execution tiff.” The article began, “Saudi Arabia says it has called back its ambassador to Sri Lanka following a similar move by the South Asian nation to protest the kingdom’s beheading of a Sri Lankan domestic worker last month.”

The words “tiff” and “execution” don’t go together, in my judgment.

Like you, maybe, I’ve been reading Boris Johnson for a long time. And I have long had a thought — intensified by his two most recent columns for the Telegraph. The first is on eating horsemeat; the second is on a proposed “mansion tax.”

And the thought is this: Isn’t it kind of weird that one of the most beautiful prose stylists in the English language is a politician? Is mayor of London? I’m not sure you’d want him as a moral example for your children (although, the way parenting is going, who knows?). But the sumbitch can certainly write.

Of course, they do that in Britain: write, and enter politics, and both. Think of Michael Gove and Daniel Hannan: Officeholders though they may be, they are writin’ fools, like Boris.

Anyway . . .

I heard something that may make you laugh. I was having dinner with an artist friend in Greenwich Village. And he was talking about someone who was relatively “square,” in this milieu: “For one thing, he is the same gender he was at birth. For another . . .”

I think you’ll like a letter too. It responds to an item I had in Impromptus about Jalen Rose, the hoops star. Years ago, a few kind souls called me “Jalen” on the basketball court. I couldn’t live up to the name, obviously, but I did love it. (Its first syllable is the same as my name, as you know.)

A reader writes, “I was never referred to as Jalen — but when I made a turn-around fade-away, I’d holler ‘E,’ for Elvin Hayes. And if I made a nice acrobatic drive to the hole, I’d say, ‘The Doctor makes a house call!’”

That refers to Julius Erving, of course. I saw Dr. J once — at a political event, a fundraiser for Bill Bradley. Smoove. One of the most athletic-looking people I ever saw, just walking, or rather, gliding in his business suit.

You may ask, Was I ever called Dr. J? Yes, of course. And — equally of course — could not live up to that one either.

I think I’ll end with another letter — this one concerning a different type of performer, Elton John. I had an item about him in a column last week. He dedicated a concert in Beijing to Ai Weiwei, the artist who has been hounded, and was once disappeared, by the Chinese rulers. They didn’t like the dedication so much.

A reader in Jerusalem writes,

Elton John is a mensch of the highest order.

In the summer of 2010 he was scheduled to give a concert in Israel, and all the usual suspects tried to pressure him to cancel the concert and boycott Israel. But Elton stood his ground and made the appearance.

For our family this was personal, since our number-two son asked for two tickets to the Elton John concert for his high-school graduation. We gave them to him. He took a girl from his class, and the two of them had a great time. It was a very big deal for our son.

A few months later he was inducted into the army and while still in basic training was diagnosed with leukemia. He’s okay now, but it was touch-and-go for a while.

I don’t know why, but it occurred to me at the time that the Elton John concert was the last big fun event in our son’s life before he became ill, and if things had worked out differently it would have been the last big fun event in his young life, period.

It’s hard to overstate how much it means to people here in Israel when someone of the stature of Elton John comes here to perform. For young people, especially, attending such a performance can be a tremendous and unforgettable experience (like the Simon and Garfunkel concert I attended 30 years ago).

And when someone like Elton John defies the critics and the boycotters and makes a stand for culture and for decency? That takes on almost heroic proportions.

Thanks for joining me, dear readers, and catch you soon.

To order Jay Nordlinger’s book Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.