Culture

The power of a hummingbird egg, &c.

Anna’s hummingbird (Photo: Birdiegal717/Dreamstime)
On abortion, Putin, Trump, grub, and more

It’s not every day that you see a hummingbird in the headlines. But I did a few days ago, when the Associated Press reported a story out of San Francisco:

A tiny unborn hummingbird is getting in the way of a big bridge project in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The discovery of a nest and egg in a tree is stalling the start of upgrades on the Richmond / San Rafael Bridge about 30 miles north of San Francisco, officials said Tuesday.

The species, Anna’s hummingbird, is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that forbids the removal of the egg and offers other protections to birds. 

The nest — about half the size of a fist — was discovered about a week ago when work was set to begin. 

I thought of abortion. Really? Why did I think of abortion? Let me paste an excerpt from something I wrote last fall. I was writing about my embrace of an anti-abortion position, a long time ago:

Another memory from my teens: I was a great watcher of a new political show on CNN, Crossfire. One evening, they had a pro-lifer on. … He said that it was illegal to destroy an eagle’s egg. You could go to jail for it. Everyone knew that whatever was inside the egg would become an eagle. Therefore, it was precious. At the same time, we denied the personhood of the human fetus. You could destroy it without penalty. It was your right.

What a moron, I thought. … Eagle’s eggs and babies! I was a very sophisticated teenager. Yet I found that I could not really answer the man. Who was the moron now?

An inky-dinky hummingbird — unborn, in an egg — has caused the stoppage of a major construction project. Something to ponder, I think.

‐Readers of this column may remember Vladimir Kara-Murza, whom I met last year. He was a speaker at the Oslo Freedom Forum, the annual human-rights gathering in Norway. Here are a few lines I wrote about him:

He is the head of Open Russia. It’s particularly gratifying to see him — because they almost killed him. They poisoned him last year. He fell into a coma. He came out of it. He is still working in Russia, though his family is in safe keeping, elsewhere.

It’s hazardous work, criticizing the Kremlin, advocating democracy for Russia. Just ask Boris Nemtsov, with whom Kara-Murza worked closely. Actually, you can’t ask him, because they shot him dead.

Kara-Murza talks of a time after Communism and before Putin. Russia had many problems, says Kara-Murza. But it also had diverse media, multiple parties, and regular elections. There are people who say that Russia is not suited to democracy, Kara-Murza notes. “But if a Slavic and Orthodox country like Serbia can do it, then a Slavic and Orthodox country like Russia can.”

It’s a “lie,” says Kara-Murza — an outright lie — that Russians are unsuited to democracy. “We are suited, just like you, and we will get there.”

I had lunch with Kara-Murza. An elegant and learned man, with a British accent. (Cambridge grad.) Also exceptionally brave.

I bring him up now because he has returned to the hospital with similar symptoms — similar to the ones he had before. He is in critical condition. To read a news story, go here.

‐Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia, has gone to see Viktor Orbán, the leader of Hungary. (Article here.) They have a lot in common, those two. Big Putin and Little Putin — that’s what some people call them. These leaders are at the forefront of illiberalism. A lot of people on the American right like them, a lot. Because Putin and Orbán stand for nationalism, patriotism (as some people conceive it), strength.

This debate will go on in America. A Trump champion told me last year, “There is no more liberal versus conservative or Left versus Right. There is only nationalist versus globalist.” I have a feeling that the fundamental debate may be between liberal and illiberal — “liberal” meaning, not Phil Donahue, but 1776.

France may elect Madame Le Pen. Then the illiberals will truly be on a roll. They already are.

‐Two years ago, I went to Macedonia and did a story for National Review. Also a series here on the site. An interesting and troubled country.

Is there a country in the world that is not interesting and troubled? Well, some countries are more interesting and, unfortunately, more troubled than others.

One trouble in Macedonia is this: George Soros and his network are a powerful influence. A guy like Soros is just another donor, and influencer, in the United States. You have a right, I have a right. The Kochs have a right. Soros has a right.

All God’s chillen have rights.

But when the field is as small as Macedonia — you can do a lot. You can wield outsize leverage.

Consider this as well: The Right in Macedonia believes that American policy, and the American embassy in particular, is tilted in favor of the Left in Macedonia. This is a serious problem. I know some conservatives in Macedonia who love the United States. Love it like the most pro-American Americans do. And they are upset, not to say heartbroken, that our country is acting as a partisan for the Left in their country.

(Again, this is as they see it. And I suspect they are right, certainly to a degree.)

I bring up all this now because Congressman Chris Smith, that champion of liberty from New Jersey, has been looking into the matter. For a write-up on it, go here.

‐When President Trump praises one of his appointees, he tends to use the word “star.” The guy or gal will be a “star.” The latest is Rex Tillerson. “He will be a star!” tweeted Trump.

What I find interesting is that the language of the entertainment world has been imported into politics. Stars are great, I guess. Competent public servants? Pretty great too.

‐This is what President Trump said about his speech — his own speech — at the CIA, with the memorial wall as a backdrop:

“That speech was a home run. See what Fox said. They said it was one of the great speeches. They showed the people applauding and screaming. … I got a standing ovation. In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl, and they said it was equal. I got a standing ovation. It lasted for a long period of time.”

President Obama did not lack for self-esteem. I think Trump may actually have him beat in that department.

‐We all have go-to phrases, and one of Trump’s is “World War III.” In 2013, upset at Obama, he tweeted, “Be prepared, there is a small chance that our horrendous leadership could unknowingly lead us into World War III.”

Speaking to a rally last summer, he said, “Do you know that if Japan is attacked, we have to get involved probably with World War III, right? If we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to do nothing. They can sit home and watch Sony television. Right? It’s true.”

More recently, he was upset at Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. They were objecting to his executive order on refugees, saying they feared it would “become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.” Trump took to Twitter, scolding that the senators “should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III.”

The charge that your political opponents want to start a war is old and smelly. It should be possible to disagree with McCain (for example) without accusing him of warmongering. It is also possible to acknowledge that McCain, for very good reason, hates war more than most.

Maybe even more than Donald J. Trump.

‐I have seen my favorite Twitter exchange ever. A Trump man fired at J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books. He tweets as “Frogulus Pepe,” using the image of Pepe the Frog, the alt-Right symbol. Referring to Trump, he said to Rowling, “He stands up for something very very good and you are his enemy Mrs Shitty Writer.”

Rowling answered, “sighs* Well, who knows? If I try harder, I might be reincarnated as a lonely virgin hiding behind a cartoon frog.”

‐Yesterday, I e-mailed a friend, “I know you’re busier ’n a one-armed paper hanger.” He answered, “Let me be clear that I denounce your insensitive comment about the disabled.” (He was kidding, I should say.) I wrote back, “‘Busier ’n a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest’?” My friend responded that, long ago, he shared this phrase with a high official of the United States — very high. (Not drugged.)

Kind of fun.

‐Feel like a little music? Let me throw some posts and reviews at you, published at The New Criterion. Here is one on the other Tchaikovsky piano concerto — No. 2 (with a focus on a performance by Yefim Bronfman). Here is one on Mozart, Bruckner, and Daniel Barenboim — plus a post-concert speech by the third of these.

This post is about a concert of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. On the bill: Rota (yes, the film composer), Poulenc, and Zemlinsky. Finally, here is a post about the new piano concerto by HK Gruber.

Unlike Ms. Rowling, Herr Gruber eschews periods in his initials.

‐Let me tell you about the glory — one of them — of the Austin airport. Salt Lick is a venerable Austin institution. A barbecue place. Amy’s is another venerable institution. An ice-cream parlor.

At the airport? There are little branches of them, cheek by jowl. I mean, right next door to each other. So you can have a pulled-pork sandwich from Salt Lick and a Mexican-vanilla milkshake from Amy’s — as I did last week.

Heaven. Heaven, I tell you.

Thanks, dear readers — in Texas or not — and I’ll see you.

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