‘Bad blood,’ &c.

In St. Petersburg on May 5, 2018 (Anton Vaganov / Reuters)
Russia and the United States, Rubio and Cuba, Cosby and us, and more

All over Russia, the opposition held rallies, protesting Putin’s continued undemocratic rule. They rallied peacefully — but some 2,000 of them were arrested, some of them violently. Some of them were children or adolescents. The pictures are horrifying.

Why does the government do this? Because they know, I think, that they are illegitimate. And they are scared of the people, as dictatorships often are. Foreigners say that Putin is popular among Russians. Funny, but he doesn’t act like it. A leader confident of his popularity would allow peaceful rallies. He would not ban a free press, or rig elections, or imprison critics (or exile them or murder them).

Dictators know how vulnerable they are — they know better than we know.

“Keep your eye on the corpses,” said Elie Kedourie to David Pryce-Jones, many years ago. Let’s talk about just two of them. An investigative journalist, Maksim Borodin, fell from the window of his fifth-floor apartment. He had been investigating the role of Russian mercenaries in Syria. Funny how careless Russian journalists are, around windows.

Then there is Valeri Pshenichny, an inventor and entrepreneur known as “the Elon Musk of Russia.” He got crossways with the Kremlin. A headline in the London Times was to the point: “Valeri Pshenichny raped and tortured to death in Russian jail.”


Last month, the American president, Donald Trump, tweeted, “Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama.”

If there is “bad blood” between the United States and Russia, it is because Russia is a murderous dictatorship, and an anti-American murderous dictatorship at that. A dictatorship that invades its neighbors, rehearses nuclear attacks on NATO countries, kills journalists, etc.

A dictatorship, by the way, that tries to undermine U.S. elections.

Trump likes to say that his predecessors lacked “chemistry” with Putin whereas he himself has the “chemistry” to get along with Putin. Well, fine. The United States has to get along, or come to an understanding, with all sorts of bad actors in the world. But America is still America — and if there is “bad blood” with this murderous and anti-American dictatorship, it has nothing to do with Robert Mueller and other Trump bogeymen.

• Last month, Senator Marco Rubio attended the Summit of the Americas in Lima. He was questioned by a reporter about the NRA and campaign contributions he has received from that organization. He asked the reporter where he was from: Granma, the Cuban state newspaper.

Rubio is a Cuban American, as you know. He said to the Granma man, “I’m glad you can come here and freely express yourself, and I welcome you.” Rubio then made a statement about freedom of the press, free elections, and the difference between liberal democracies and dictatorships.

A moment seized, admirably. To read more about it, go here.

• About Bill Cosby, I am sad — sadder about his victims than for him, but still. He was an American hero (in addition to a very popular entertainer). The country had need of him. And he turns out to be — a sex criminal.

Many, many men would do what he did, were they in his position. Cosby’s impulses were common as dirt. But not many are in a position to act on them (fortunately).

After the verdict, Cosby’s wife lashed out at the jury, saying that her husband was a race victim, like Emmett Till (the 14-year-old who was lynched in 1955 after being accused of flirting with a white woman). Some spouses are loyal to villains. Some spouses are disloyal to saints. Crooked, crooked is the timber of humanity.

• This is a headline I could not have foretold — how about you? “Miss America 2005 marries same-sex partner in Alabama.” (Article here.) I mean, there is so much packed into that sentence, that headline. Holy Moses.

• I saw an article that said, “The most recent air pollution data from the World Health Organization gives India a dubious lead. The world’s ten most polluted cities are Indian.” Damn. I sent this article to Kevin Williamson, who once worked in India. He said, “I lived in Delhi when it had the worst air quality in the world, having recently edged out Mexico City.” I couldn’t help thinking about the most challenged states in our South. “Thank God for Mississippi,” Alabamians used to say. Or was it the other way around? Or both?

Kevin also said, “Amazing what you can get used to and how quickly you can get used to it.” That is so true. I’ll give you another example (besides air pollution): People come to New York to live in small apartments, after living in large homes elsewhere. They think they will never get used to it. How will they live without their stuff (now in storage, or disposed of)? Very soon, they realize they have more than enough stuff in the apartment.

• Reading an obit, I thought of life now and life then. Let me quickly illustrate what I mean. The obit was of Steven Marcus, an English professor at Columbia. “Steven attended William Howard Taft and DeWitt Clinton High Schools, graduated when he was 15 and won tuition-free scholarships to Harvard and Columbia. He rejected Harvard because his family could not afford the room and board. To save money when he attended Columbia, he lived at home and carried his lunch to school.”

And just think of the money showered on so many now.

• A couple of weeks ago, I did a Q&A podcast with Jeb Bush. We discussed a slew of issues, but began with his mother, who had recently passed on. Here in Impromptus, I want to tell you about one of my favorite Barbara Bush moments.

She once said, “I have four sons, and they are all good-looking — but nothing like their father.” I thought that was an amazing thing for a mother to say, and a wife to say. Amazing.

• My most recent Jaywalking is a music program, really — “Fantasyland,” I call it. Go here. You might like it, for a break away from politics and all that. Feel like a little reading about music? Well, my “New York Chronicle” for May, published in The New Criterion, is here. And here is a little post about Cendrillon, the Massenet opera, at the Met. And here’s another little post, about Christoph Eschenbach, conducting the New York Philharmonic.

More music? Here is a Q&A with Manfred Honeck, the great Austrian conductor who works most regularly in Pittsburgh (where Mariss Jansons, Lorin Maazel, André Previn, Fritz Reiner, and other greats preceded him).

If you’d like to write me, about anything, try

• Give you a little anecdote from a concert hall — not having to do with music. I’m at the ticket window, behind a young woman. The staffer says, “Are you together?” She says, “No.” I remark, “Did you notice how emphatically she said that? As if to say, ‘Not in a hundred years.’” She laughs and says, “Sorry! I’m just irritated about my tickets . . .”

• The Death of Stalin is one of the best movies I have ever seen in my life. Its director and co-writer, Armando Iannucci, must be a genius. Though a comedy — a dark one — it captures the spirit of the time and place brilliantly.

There are liberties with facts, of course. And I don’t mind them. But I wonder why a few of them have to be. For example, Stalin’s guys exile his daughter, Svetlana, to Vienna (as I recall). Never happened. Also, Beria says — I think sincerely — that her first and forbidden beau, Aleksei Kapler, died in 1949. In reality, he lived into old age. (I write about this, and lots of other things, in Children of Monsters.)

Never mind — the movie is a triumph, in conception and execution.

• Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to see a story, an Associated Press report out of Harare. The story is both horrible and wonderful. I’m not sure what the ratio is. You can decide for yourself. The headline: “Zimbabwe couple weds after crocodile bites off bride’s arm.” Go here.

• I was saddened to see an obit last month: of J. D. McClatchy, known as Sandy. He was a poet, an editor, a librettist, etc. A man of letters. He was a friend of mine, though I never met him. We e-mailed. Always about music. He knew a lot about music, and he asked me to write for The Yale Review, which he edited. I imagine that his politics were very different from mine. The subject never came up, and I imagine he didn’t care. I valued his friendship. What a gent, and what a talent.


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