Did you see this dose of news? “Chinese authorities have hardened their line on foreign musicians, after Elton John infuriated them by dedicating a performance to outspoken artist and activist Ai Weiwei.” (For the full article, go here.) Good for Elton John. Best news I’ve heard since Bjork, the Icelandic singer. Do you remember? At the end of a concert in Shanghai, she sang a song called “Declare Independence” — and yelled “Tibet!” several times. Afterward, the Ministry of Culture declared, “We shall never tolerate any attempt to separate Tibet from China and will no longer welcome any artists who deliberately do this.”
Oddly enough, I cited Elton John — Sir Elton — just the other day. Cited him approvingly, too. For National Review, I did a piece on lip-synching (as I think I mentioned in a column last week). I quoted what Sir Elton said at a 2004 awards ceremony. His colleague Madonna had been nominated in a “live act” category. And Sir Elton ripped her: “Since when has lip-synching been live? Anyone who lip-synchs in public onstage, when you pay 75 pounds to see them, should be shot.”
Now, that sounds like something the Chinese Communist Party would do (although torture, over a period of weeks or months, seems to be their preferred method). But Sir Elton was not speaking literally, rest assured.
This headline caught my eye last week: “Women’s Unclean Breasts Cause Diarrhoea, Says Egypt Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.” (Story here.) Say what you will about the old regime, its prime minister was a Ph.D. in computer science from McGill. He specialized in “imaging,” or something like that. “A beautiful science,” was the way he described it to me.
Anyway . . .
Get this: “The powerful Soviet Union may still exist after all — at least on paper.” The article continues, “Former Belarusian leader Stanislav Shushkevich says a historic 1991 document that proclaimed the death of the Soviet Union is missing from the archives.”
Shushkevich — the name rang a loud and glorious bell. I once had the opportunity to ask Lech Walesa, “Who deserved the Nobel Peace Prize who did not get it?” He gave me one name: “Shushkevich.” This man, in multiple ways, is a hero of freedom and democracy.
I have been terribly name-droppy in this Impromptus, haven’t I? I’ll cut it out, at least for a second or two.
A headline: “Grammy Awards feature plenty of skin.” (Article here.) Well, no kidding: The porn culture and the strip culture have gone totally mainstream. Do you watch Super Bowl halftime shows? Do you watch TV at all? It’s the way America likes it. As Americans are responsible for their politics, they are responsible for their culture — and the two are hard to separate.
James DePreist represented something different, something better. DePreist, an American conductor, died last Friday. He overcame significant odds. For one thing, he was black (the nephew of Marian Anderson, in fact). For another, he got polio, when he was in his twenties — and he was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. DePreist was a magnificent spirit. (For an obit by my friend Allan Kozinn, the brilliant music critic, go here.)
One of the things I most appreciated about him was his good sense on race. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra approached him about its music-director job. He realized that they wanted him for his race — and he said, Nothing doing. Specifically, he said, “It is impossible for me to go to Detroit, because of the atmosphere. People mean well, but you fight for years to make race irrelevant, and now they are making race an issue.”
What a man.
A little language? I sort of like “Manichean” up — capitalized — and other such words up. I had never seen “quixotic” up, until this Associated Press report: “Sinn Fein party leader Gerry Adams appealed Friday to Irish Republican Army die-hards to stop their violence and to support his seemingly Quixotic campaign for a vote in Northern Ireland . . .”
Looks wrong, that Q, but I sort of admire it.
I’ll tell you what’s a strange phrase, to me: “assault weapon.” Every gun is an assault weapon, isn’t it? Every weapon is an assault weapon (except maybe Dr. Teller’s shield?). The purpose of a gun is to assault — or to get the other guy to back down, thereby avoiding assault, from either party.
You’ll often hear, from a gun-controller trying to sound moderate, “Well, I think hunting’s okay. It’s in the American tradition.” Hunting, schmunting: The main reason to have a gun is to defend oneself against an aggressor. To be responsible for one’s own safety, because one cannot always count on a community organization such as the police.
You know? (I know you do.)
I think this is remarkable news: National Review is now free to college students — all college students — in our digital edition. For information, go here.
This is remarkable news too — Isabelle Huppert plays the mother superior in a new film called The Nun. (Article here.) Two seconds ago, we were all in love with this red-haired starlet. Now she’s playing a mother superior? Cripe.
(There were two Isabelles: Huppert and Adjani.)
Some years ago, I was playing golf in Georgia. As I was preparing a shot, a bird called out, “Uh-uh.” I thought this was quite rude. As my friend Hersh pointed out, it was as though the bird were saying, “No way. Not this time.”
Since then, I have heard the “uh-uh” bird many times — in Florida and in the Caribbean, mainly. I heard it again over the weekend, when I was in Florida. This time, I got a good look at the sucker — looked like a crow, but maybe smaller.
Google is a wonderful thing (most of the time). I believe the uh-huh bird is a fish crow.
Is this obvious? Well, no one died and made me Roger Tory Peterson.
While in Florida, I saw an old friend of mine, who grew up in Sanford. Unfortunately, Sanford has been in the news for a bad reason: It is where the Trayvon Martin shooting took place. Sanford is now a suburb of Orlando, basically. When my friend was growing up, it was a little town of 10,000 people. He said that it was the home of an air-training base, during the war.
One day, a pilot crashed his plane. He could have parachuted and saved himself, but he risked hitting houses. He maneuvered the plane to bury its nose elsewhere. He was the only one who died. He was 23.
What a man. I wish I knew his name.
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.