Elon’s trampoline, &c.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk celebrates after the launch of his spacecraft at Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 30, 2020. (Steve Nesius / Reuters)
The space launch, protests, Bible stunts, WFB, decency, and more

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE O n Monday, I began my Impromptus with the recent space launch. “Let’s light this candle,” said Doug Hurley, one of the astronauts. He was echoing the words of Alan Shepard, who in May 1961 became the first American in space.

Well, how about another comment? As his rocket sped upward, Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, said, “The trampoline is working!” What did he mean by that? This delightful article from Space.com explains.

From 2011 to 2014, U.S. astronauts hitched rides on Russian spacecraft in order to get to the ISS — the International Space Station. But in 2014, the United States sanctioned Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. The deputy prime minister at the time said that, henceforward, the U.S. could get its guys to the space station by trampoline.

So, Musk was exulting.

The deputy PM, by the way, was Dmitry Rogozin, who today heads the Russian space agency.

• Marshal Pétain said that his German friends would wring Britain’s neck like a chicken. In due course, Churchill said, “Some chicken! Some neck!”

• On Tuesday evening, a police car rolled slowly through my neighborhood (New York). From the car’s loudspeaker, an announcement was made, repeatedly: Curfew was 8 o’clock, and everybody had to be off the streets.

I must say, I had never experienced this. It was like out of a movie about South America or something.

• Speaking of South America: At 8 o’clock almost exactly, a big crowd marched under my window. Most of them were dressed in black. They were chanting, “The people united will never be defeated!” That is the old lefty slogan that began in Chile, in the early 1970s.

There was a song in Chile too, incorporating the slogan. And Frederic Rzewski composed 36 variations for piano on that song. Rzewski is a lefty American composer who has written many pieces of a political bent.

How are his “people united” variations? Skillful, I must tell you. And Rzewski — who has made his living as a composer, not as a performer — is a very good pianist.

• You know these times are bad when Donald J. Trump has turned to the Bible. At least, he held one up, outside a church, in a stunt.

I thought the stunt was grotesque. Others, of course, lapped it up, as they do things Trump. The divide never ends, or narrows.

On Twitter, I said something about Trump and the Bible, and a woman sent me a picture of President Clinton, holding one up — a Bible, that is. She said, “It’s only a ‘Stunt’ if it’s President Trump right! Pathetic Hypocrite.”

Funny. I wrote about Clinton and his Bible-waving a lot. I wrote about it during the Lewinsky scandal and I have recalled it many times since. In 2010, for example, I had this snippet:

Remember when, during the Lewinsky scandal, President Clinton would attend the Foundry United Methodist Church, the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, presiding, and wave his big ol’ floppy Bible at the cameras? I’m sure that one of the best things about surviving impeachment, for Clinton, was not having to do that anymore . . .

Come to think of it, I interviewed Reverend Wogaman, during those Lewinsky days. Good times . . .

When I rap Trump for his softness on dictators, his fans say, “You never said anything about Obama and Castro!” Recently, a guy said, “I bet you have (or want) a Che t-shirt.” Another said, “Your friends are CCP.”

I’m kinda-sorta famous for my writings against the Cuban and Chinese dictatorships. Indeed, I have won awards for them. So, why do people talk this way?

I addressed this issue in a column last month. First, you’ve got to be carefully taught, as the song says. (South Pacific.) People learn to talk this way, perhaps from their favorite TV and radio shows. Second, when people are tribalists, they expect you to be one too — just like them.

Which is very human, and unfortunate.

• Here is a good tweet, from Robby George — Professor Robert P. George, of Princeton: “A head full of Ideology ensures that one has canned explanations for everything. ‘We’ are always right. ‘They’ are always wrong. ‘They’ never have valid points or legitimate concerns. ‘Our’ motives are pure but ‘theirs’ are corrupt. ‘They’ are evil so ‘we’ must destroy ‘them.’”

I thought of Bill Buckley, and a passage from Up from Liberalism, his 1959 book. Why did I think of it? Do I hold the passage in my head, or the whole book? No, I’m afraid I don’t. But the National Review Institute Book Club had just read the book and discussed it. (I served as moderator.)

In any event, Robby reminded me of, “No one is more tedious than the totally ideologized man, the man who forces every passing phenomenon into his ideological mold . . .”

No one is more tedious. Well put.

• About two weeks ago, I had to call a company, to get something straight. The agent I was talking to asked for my e-mail address. He said, “‘National Review’? Like the magazine?” One and the same, I answered. He said that he was not a conservative but had liked WFB very much, had learned a lot from him, and missed his presence.

I hear that pretty often. I wish I could tell Bill (but he would not be surprised).

• Anne Applebaum, the historian of Communism and other phenomena, has written a piece called “History Will Judge the Complicit.” I have much to say about it — this is an extraordinary piece — but will confine myself to two points. The first has to do with Czeslaw Milosz, on whom she spends a paragraph.

Milosz, recall, was the Polish writer who won the Nobel Prize in 1980. A few years later, he was at my university, and I stared at his office door, without ever knocking on it.

“An active member of the anti-Nazi resistance during the war,” Anne writes about Milosz, “he nevertheless wound up after the war as a cultural attaché at the Polish embassy in Washington, serving his country’s Communist government.” Only in 1951 “did he defect, denounce the regime, and dissect his experience.”

Have some more:

In a famous essay, The Captive Mind, he sketched several lightly disguised portraits of real people, all writers and intellectuals, each of whom had come up with different ways of justifying collaboration with the party. Many were careerists, but Miłosz understood that careerism could not provide a complete explanation. To be part of a mass movement was for many a chance to end their alienation, to feel close to the “masses,” to be united in a single community with workers and shopkeepers.

Yes. And the rest — the rest of a long paragraph:

For tormented intellectuals, collaboration also offered a kind of relief, almost a sense of peace: It meant that they were no longer constantly at war with the state, no longer in turmoil. Once the intellectual has accepted that there is no other way, Miłosz wrote, “he eats with relish, his movements take on vigor, his color returns. He sits down and writes a ‘positive’ article, marveling at the ease with which he writes it.” Miłosz is one of the few writers to acknowledge the pleasure of conformity, the lightness of heart that it grants, the way that it solves so many personal and professional dilemmas.

Oh, yes.

Readers of my columns and pieces are well familiar with Jianli Yang, the Chinese democracy activist, intellectual, and former political prisoner. Today, he runs Citizen Power Initiatives for China, based in Washington, D.C.

I first met him in 2001, when he came to my office. In the course of our conversation, I asked whether he could describe the condition of the intellectual in China. He said, “You know The Captive Mind, by Milosz? It’s all there. The book could have been written about today’s China.”

One more paragraph from Anne Applebaum, her concluding one:

. . . I leave anyone who has the bad luck to be in public life at this moment with a final thought from Władysław Bartoszewski, who was a member of the wartime Polish underground, a prisoner of both the Nazis and the Stalinists, and then, finally, the foreign minister in two Polish democratic governments. Late in his life — he lived to be 93 — he summed up the philosophy that had guided him through all of these tumultuous political changes. It was not idealism that drove him, or big ideas, he said. It was this: Warto być przyzwoitym — “Just try to be decent.” Whether you were decent — that’s what will be remembered.

This put me in mind of a conversation I had with David Pryce-Jones, long ago. I remember the tone of his voice and the look in his eye. He was talking about Robert Stolz, the Austrian composer, best known for operettas. Stolz risked his neck to help Jews during the Nazi years. “He wasn’t Jewish,” said David, “he was just a decent guy.”

Just a decent guy.

• My latest Q&A podcast is with Elaina Plott, a national political reporter for the New York Times. She started out here at National Review. She is an excellent writer and a delightful person. You will enjoy hearing from her, as I did. Go here.

• A little music? Here is a blogpost, about Igor Levit, the Russian-German pianist. He played a little piece by Satie, called “Vexations.” Took him 15 and a half hours to do it. Seriously.

• A little language? Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, made a common mistake. Was his first language English? Or French? In any case, he made a common mistake, in English.

He was opposing the readmission of Russia to the G-7 (which Trump has long pushed for). He said that Russia’s “continued disrespect and flaunting of international rules and norms is why it remains outside of the G-7.”

I appreciate the sentiment — very much — but he meant “flouting.”

Got it? Well, flaunt it! (Sorry, lame joke, or lame attempt at a joke.)

Have a good day, my friends. 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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