Impromptus

The way we’re living now, &c.

In the Times Square subway station, New York City, March 19, 2020 (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)
On masks, AR-15s, Bill Gates, ‘truthers,’ giraffes, Karens, and more

I was having trouble getting into my phone. I kept having to punch in the code, which I seldom do. What the . . .? Oh, yeah: I was wearing a mask. And my phone is set up for “face recognition.”

I guess the masks are working. And the smartphones, too.

• Now and then, you witness someone’s psychotic moment. In public. It can be very embarrassing — even for you, the witness, I mean. In a park, a man rode by me very fast, on a bike. He was screaming at Siri. I mean, screaming, psychotically, and calling her the worst names in the book. One, in particular: the C-word.

That is the worst word in the English language — although you could argue that the N-word is (at least in America, given our history).

A few months ago, I read about a father who encouraged politeness in his children. Who, in fact, demanded it. This extended to saying “please” and “thank you” to Siri, which I loved.

• You have read about Captain Brett Crozier, who was relieved of his command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier. Everyone is talking about him, including officials. Bad-mouthing him. I would like to hear his side of the story.

Did he sacrifice his career in order to get help to his crew? To sailors who were under attack from the coronavirus?

I have heard Crozier talked about. I would like to hear from the officer himself, as soon as he is free to talk, which may not be soon.

Defenders of the administration tend to be very tough on him. These are the same people, by and large, who defend Eddie Gallagher, the ex–Navy SEAL (who has hit the #MAGA circuit, to rapturous applause).

These are all signs of our times.

• Paul Broun is a Republican from Georgia who once served in Congress. He is running again. To that end, he is giving away an AR-15. “Whether it’s looting hordes from Atlanta or a tyrannical government in Washington,” says Broun, “there are few better liberty machines than an AR-15.” And he is giving away such a liberty machine to “one lucky person” who signs up for e-mail updates from the candidate’s website.

I think back to the early 2000s, when “liberty fries” replaced French fries in the mouths of some. (“Liberty kissing,” instead of French kissing?) (Sounds pretty good, actually.)

What do you think of “looting hordes from Atlanta”? Legitimate concern? Or . . . something else?

• It is in the interest of various parties to sweep the Khashoggi murder under the rug. President Trump recently referred to the Saudi boss as “my friend MBS.” One person who is not having it is Fred Hiatt, who edited Jamal Khashoggi at the Washington Post. Good for Hiatt. To see his column on the matter, go here.

Here, incidentally, is a podcast I did with Ben Hubbard, the Beirut bureau chief of the New York Times. He is the author of the new book MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman.

• I have talked about veepstakes before and don’t mean to bore you, but . . . A lot of people are bullish on Senator Kamala Harris as a running mate for Biden. This article in the Post is headed “The 11 most logical picks for Joe Biden’s vice president, ranked.” The No. 1 pick is Harris.

She has political assets, to be sure. But I also think of this: How did she fare in her presidential campaign? Not very well, despite big expectations for her campaign at the outset. She did not even make it to Iowa. She could not even limp to the starting gate.

So, what does that say about her appeal on the campaign trail?

(True, running mates seldom make a difference anyway. The year 1960 — Kennedy-Johnson — is the exception that proves the rule.)

• I have been reading about “Covid-19 truthers.” I suppose there will always be “truthers,” for every big and bad thing: the Kennedy assassination, 9/11. Have truthers always been with us? In antiquity, let’s say? I should consult Gibbon et al.

• Speaking of which, or speaking of whom: On Tuesday, I published a piece called “Staggering Cornucopias: On books to read and music to listen to — or not.” Let me quote a quick bit, then quote you something else:

Moving to non-fiction, have you ever read the Decline and Fall? By acclamation, one of the greatest works of history ever written? For decades, I have owned an abridged, one-volume edition. I have read in it, but not through it. Someday?

George Will says that we should not miss Gibbon. Read his history, “including the footnotes, where his wit shines.” Exhibit A: the footnote on giraffes.

So, I looked it up:

Commodus killed a camelopardalis or Giraffe, the tallest, the most gentle, and the most useless of the large quadrupeds. This singular animal, a native only of the interior parts of Africa, has not been seen in Europe since the revival of letters; and though M. de Buffon (Hist. Naturelle, tom. xiii.) has endeavored to describe, he has not ventured to delineate, the Giraffe.

Ha, that is good.

• A phrase occurs to me: “heroic philanthropy.” Did you see this news about Bill Gates? I’ll do a little quoting:

Bill Gates said his foundation will spend billions of dollars to fund the construction of factories for the most promising efforts to develop a vaccine to combat the novel coronavirus.

Mr. Gates . . . said [the foundation] will work with seven makers of a possible vaccine to build these factories. Mr. Gates . . . acknowledged that billions of dollars would be wasted on vaccines that won’t pan out.

“Our early money can accelerate things,” Mr. Gates said. “Even though we’ll end up picking at most two of them, we’re going to fund factories for all seven, just so that we don’t waste time in serially saying which vaccine works and then building the factory.”

I was thinking Presidential Medal of Freedom. But Gates has already received it — from Obama. And yet a person can receive more than one Presidential Medal of Freedom. Colin Powell has, and so did Ellsworth Bunker.

Maybe Gates needs, or deserves, another one.

This obit is headed “E. Margaret Burbidge, Astronomer Who Blazed Trails on Earth, Dies at 100.” (Excellent title, right?) The subheading is, “She was denied access to a telescope because of her sex, but Dr. Burbidge forged ahead anyway, going on to make pathbreaking discoveries about the cosmos.”

The whole obit is highly interesting, but let me excerpt a single part:

Dr. Burbidge made headlines in the early 1970s when she refused a prize, the Annie Jump Cannon Award. Presented by the American Astronomical Society, it is earmarked for women.

“If my strong feeling is against any kind of discrimination,” she told Science magazine in 1991, “I have to stretch that to include discrimination for women too.”

I think of Edward MacDowell from time to time. He was an American composer of the late 19th century — when classical music in our country was first getting going. His most famous piece, probably, is “To a Wild Rose.” (Played at my first piano teacher’s wedding!)

Once, MacDowell was invited to participate in a concert of American music. In other words, the organizers wanted to have a piece or two by him performed. He said no. He was happy to have his music performed, of course. What composer wouldn’t be? But he did not want it to be performed on the basis of its composer’s nationality. That made him uncomfortable.

(I have written about this issue at slightly greater length at The New Criterion, here.)

• I learned something last year, and have relearned it in recent days. It kind of shocks me. The name “Karen” has become a terrible putdown. “Karen” stands for a middle-aged lady, I guess, who is judgmental and altogether dislikable.

What the [rhymes with luck]? Why pick on the name Karen? I have known wonderful Karens and feel defensive of them. To turn someone’s name into a slur is pretty rotten.

• Tell you something funny — or possibly funny. The other day, I looked up someone on Twitter. Wanted to cite him, or “tag” him. Found that I had blocked him. Could not remember why. Went to unblock him. But then I thought of Chesterton’s fence . . .

(Men come across a fence, erected long ago. They’re about to knock it down. But then they realize that their predecessors must have put it up for a reason. Think twice, before knocking it down!)

• Walked past a man who was talking on his phone. Must have been talking to a high-school senior, or perhaps a senior’s parent. The man was saying, “What you don’t want to do is go to MIT and get a C average.”

I thought this was flat wrong (not that anyone asked me). (Yes, go to a great and exacting institution and get a C average.) (I’d do it myself, if MIT let me in, which they shouldn’t.)

• End with a little music? I don’t know a more wonderful video — not at the moment — than this one. A very small boy grooves to the music, big-time. Thank you for joining me, everyone, and talk to 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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