Impromptus

Jarring scenes, &c.

An emergency field hospital set up by Samaritan’s Purse in the East Meadow of Central Park in New York City, April 4, 2020 (Jeenah Moon / Reuters)
On field hospitals, poems, the Census, George W. Bush, Al Kaline, and more

There are people who get very upset if you compare the current situation to war. There is nothing like war, they say, and fair enough. Still, there are dislocations, sacrifices, heroics — and corpses.

Also field hospitals. It can be very jarring to see a field hospital in a place that you know as something else. Two days ago, I walked by one in Central Park. (It is run by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief organization.) A friend of mine in Ann Arbor, where I grew up, told me that a field hospital had been established in an athletic facility of the University of Michigan — a facility in which I once worked.

Jarring, as I say. Kind of “brings it home,” if you know what I mean.

• Some friends were circulating via e-mail an appeal for poems — favorite poems that console, encourage, etc. Is it cheating to say the 91st Psalm? No, I don’t think so.

• I mentioned Central Park. Let me share a couple of quick photos. In this one, you see how New York can be downright bucolic?

What do you think of this little fellow?

Just one more. You can see that seasons are no respecters of plagues. Spring has well and truly sprung:

• These days, people veer away from you or shrink from you, as if you were leprous. It can be important to remember not to take offense. (Don’t you agree?!)

• In former times, people used to speak of a “good war.” This especially applies to World War II. “He had a good war,” people would say. In a similar spirit, I believe that some people will come out of this time of corona in better shape, mentally and physically. And some, needless to say, won’t.

• Not to bring up the olfactory, but . . . do you think the nation has ever been funkier? I mean, at least from the mid 20th century, let’s say, on?

• I knew a lady whose husband had eyebrows that sometimes got thick and prominent. If they did, she would refer to them as “Brezhnevs.” Do you remember the visage — and, in particular, the eyebrows — of that Soviet leader? Well, I wonder if many, around the world, are now sporting, or sprouting, “Brezhnevs.”

• On Monday, President Trump called Jonathan Karl a “third-rate reporter” who “will never make it.” Karl is the White House correspondent of ABC News.

Trump tends to do this: call “third-rate” someone who has incurred his displeasure. The other week, he tweeted that Rep. Thomas Massie (R., Ken.) was “a third rate Grandstander.” During the 2016 Republican primaries, Trump called Hugh Hewitt a “third-rate radio announcer.”

So, that’s what he does. It’s his go-to move (one of them).

• Earlier this week, I was filling out the Census questionnaire. It almost killed me to answer the race question — a question that goes against what I believe — but I did it, thinking of Stephan Thernstrom.

Thernstrom, the famed historian, and a former professor of mine, once said something like this: “Say what you will about race-and-ethnicity questions, but they help out the social scientists” — it aids them in their work, to have such data.

So, that’s a measure of comfort . . .

• You may have seen this story, about George W. Bush. Early in his second term as president — 2005 — he read a book about the 1918 flu pandemic. He became quasi-obsessed with the issue. He demanded that the government prepare for such an eventuality — which perplexed many in the government, who had bigger fish to fry (or at least more immediate fish).

In a speech, Bush said, “A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire. If caught early, it might be extinguished with limited damage. If allowed to smolder, undetected, it can grow to an inferno that can spread quickly beyond our ability to control it.”

A fascinating story, the one I have linked to, above.

Two weeks ago, President Trump was asked whether he had “any interest in reaching out” to former presidents. He said, “I don’t think I’m going to learn much.” Kind of a shame.

• I jotted a note about Bush, and pandemic preparedness, on Twitter. Looking at the responses, I thought of Lincoln — not for the first time, in connection with Bush. In a letter, Lincoln said, “I have endured a great deal of ridicule without much malice, and have received a great deal of kindness, not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it.”

So, so Lincolnian.

• Speaking of presidents, let me spend a moment on Mitch Daniels — who is the president of Purdue University (and was governor of Indiana). I was talking with a Purdue parent about the way Daniels is handling the corona situation. He is, as you would expect, calm, clear, humble, and leader-like. For some of us, it’s hard to suppress sighs.

• In Britain, the Labour party has a new leader — and none too soon. It matters that the Labour party be decent, because it is a major party, in an important country. Everyone who cares about Britain — of whatever political stripe — should want Labour to be non-hateful.

Sir Keir Starmer, the new chief, said, “I will tear out this poison by its roots.” He was speaking of anti-Semitism. The Daily Mail reported, “The 57-year-old made a fulsome apology to British Jews as he was confirmed as Jeremy Corbyn’s replacement . . .”

A quick language note. Almost no one uses “fulsome” correctly. It means “offensive to good taste,” “overdone or gross,” “disgusting,” “excessively or insincerely lavish.”

I have been quoting Dictionary.com, here.

• Stephanie Grisham is out as Trump’s press secretary. I remember her for one comment, in particular. General John Kelly, the former White House chief of staff, said something critical of Trump in late 2019. Grisham said, “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president.”

I was reminded of Ceausescu, the Communist boss in Romania — whose party hailed him as “the Genius of the Carpathians.”

• Trump has fired Michael Atkinson, the intelligence-community inspector general. This was retaliation for what Atkinson did last September: alert Congress to a whistleblower complaint. Republicans will defend Trump, of course. But if a Democratic president acted similarly — Republicans would be screaming bloody murder.

If there weren’t double standards in politics, there’d be no standards at all.

• Yesterday, I had a piece called “Staggering Cornucopias: On books to read and music to listen to — or not.” I said,

There are a number of things we might do at home (besides worrying about financial or physical survival, of course). Physical fitness? In the form of weightlifting, or jump-roping? Learning a language, probably with the help of the Internet? Repairing or building something? Cleaning?

Reading?

A reader tweeted, “With all due respect to Mr Nordlinger, perhaps a lot of this ‘found time’ is being spent raising children.”

One thing I’ve learned in a lifetime of writing is that, no matter what you write, on whatever topic, in whatever way, someone will take offense. You can’t say everything. You will leave something out. You can’t account for every possible objection. And someone will object.

If you mention something favorable about hot-fudge sundaes, someone will say, “But they’re starving in Burundi!”

You can’t win, chillen — so don’t even try. Just say your piece.

• “Patricia Bosworth, Actress-Turned-Author, Dies at 86.” That was a headline in the New York Times. Her father was a lawyer, “who attracted celebrity clients,” said the obit.

He represented Rita Hayworth, for one, in her divorce from the playboy Prince Aly Kahn. Ms. Bosworth, then a star-struck teenager, met another client, Montgomery Clift, lounging in the family living room. She kept one of his cigarette butts for the rest of her life.

I thought of Franz Liszt, the composer and pianist. He was a rock star, so to speak, in Europe during the middle of the 19th century. When I was a kid, I read that a woman once recovered one of his cigar butts. She kept it tucked in her bosom (somehow) ever after.

That’s fandom!

• A little more, on a musical front? In this time of social isolation, many people are using Zoom, an online conferencing service. Which puts me in mind of Aretha Franklin: “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

• ’Retha was a Detroiter, and so was Al Kaline, by adoption. He was a Baltimorean by birth and upbringing. He played for our Detroit Tigers from 1953 to 1974. Thereafter, he was a commentator for Tiger games on television. Kaline was a prince of our state — one of the most admired and beloved people in the state. He died on Monday at 85.

Years ago, the father of a young man who worked at National Review gave me a baseball card — one he knew I would like, a lot. I’ve snapped a little picture.

Thank you for joining me, everyone, and see you soon.

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

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