Impromptus

Cruise blues, &c.

German tourists disembark for sightseeing from the cruise ship Mein Schiff 2 in Málaga, Spain, June 15, 2021. (Jon Nazca/Reuters)
On vax-and-mask debates; Edward Said; a Russian human-rights hero; an NBA star turned college golfer; and more

The headline out of St. Petersburg — not Russia — reads, “Masks ordered for most Florida students, defying DeSantis.” Sometimes, we like defiance of government. Yay! Red-blooded Americanism! Sometimes we don’t. It all depends, right? I think of a saying in golf: “Every shot pleases somebody.”

(For the article under the headline quoted above, go here.)

As a rule — and there are exceptions to rules, of course — I favor local control of education. Oh, sure, I’d like my education gurus — my education favorites — to craft a national curriculum. Papa want his way. But one doesn’t get one’s way. So — let a thousand flowers bloom, I say, in a garden of pluralism (weeds and all).

• Businesses of many, many types have been stymied, or ruined, by the pandemic. But I am thinking, right now, of cruise lines. Here is an article, out of Miami. Cruise lines have had it rough, and the waters have not yet stilled.

Should cruise lines be allowed to require vaccination of its passengers? There is a debate about this. I say yes. For one thing, I think businesses ought to have broad leeway. For another, I have — well, experience. National Review has been going on cruises, with reader-passengers, for a long time. I think I’ve been on close to 30 of them. Although our cruising days might be over, I’m not sure.

I think many people, on a cruise, would feel better, knowing that everyone else was vaccinated. And if you don’t want to be vaccinated? Well, you can wait a while, before booking your next cruise. No great hardship, I wouldn’t think.

A friend said to me recently — she is an American living abroad — “I hear that the Metropolitan Opera will require proof of vaccination from its patrons! How can Americans put up with this?” Well, they don’t have to. I mean, they don’t have to go to the Met. Only a tiny percentage of people desires to attend an opera. I imagine that most of these are willing to be vaccinated, seeing that everyone sits cheek by jowl. And if you don’t want to be, or can’t be — you can watch livestreams at home or whatever.

Life can’t be utterly normal during a pandemic, I wouldn’t think. There are adjustments to be made, including inconveniences.

I know people who think it’s outrageous that colleges require their students to be vaccinated. “It’s a personal choice.” Okay — but you don’t have to go to a college requiring vaccination. If you were a student, or a parent, would you feel better knowing that everyone else was vaccinated?

Such are the questions that many are pondering — and fighting about — today.

• One Republican governor, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, has decided not to prevent her state’s businesses from mandating vaccines. “Some business leaders may make decisions that we disagree with, and that happens every single day,” she said. “But bringing government into those decisions is not the solution.”

Sounds a bit like the Republicans of old.

• “New NY governor adds 12,000 deaths to publicized COVID tally” (article here). My guess is, precise numbers are hard to arrive at. Impossible, even. But, really, government officials ought to provide the most honest numbers they can.

• A lot of people don’t want to read stories about police brutality, especially if they have a racial angle. And these same people definitely don’t want to watch video. But I find this story, from Monroe, La., unignorable. Savage.

• Of Edward Said, and his new biographer, Theodore Dalrymple has written an elegant demolition. He says something about Said that I have believed for a long time: Said was caught in a conflict between his great taste for Western culture and his felt need to be a spokesman for the suffering Middle Eastern masses — masses who were victims, Said contended, of colonialism.

I have often quoted something that Paul Johnson, the British historian and journalist, said about Professor Said. He called him a “malevolent liar and propagandist, who has been responsible for more harm than any other intellectual of his generation.”

People vote with their feet, I think. Edward Said could have lived in any Arab country, welcomed as a hero. But he chose to live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and he attended concerts at Carnegie Hall. I would see him there. (Said was a pianist and a music critic.) Fine by me, of course.

In any event, Said was a person to reckon with, in our books, essays, and even little jottings like the ones I’m doing now.

• A headline in the New York Times asks, “Could Gen Z Free the World From Email?” And the subheading: “‘It’s actually crazy how outdated it is.’ People born after AOL Mail was invented seem to prefer to communicate in almost any other way.” (Article here.)

I can report this: The young people around me are very, very reluctant to e-mail. They consider e-mail absurdly formal. I might as well ask them to use a fountain pen. Even texts are becoming — or have become — fuddy-duddy, I believe. Recently, a young friend said to me, “The only people who text me are you and my mother.”

There you go.

• A story out of Canberra, which begins, “An Australian farmer couldn’t go to his aunt’s funeral because of pandemic restrictions so he paid his respects with a novel alternative: dozens of sheep arranged in the shape of a love heart.” It is really wonderful, this heart, this gesture: odd, creative, and beautiful. A photo appears atop the story.

• A little language? “The modern pentathlon is one of the most unique events on the Olympic schedule . . .” (Article here.) But unique is unique, right? Something can’t be more or less so.

• A little music? Two seconds ago, Martha Argerich, out of Argentina, was the hot young pianist — a pin-up and an artist, both. These days, she is playing duets with her grandson. So wonderful.

• More music? I have a new episode of my podcast Music for a While: here.

• A little golf? J.R. Smith played in the NBA 16 seasons. Made $90 million. He never went to college — but now he’s going. He is studying at North Carolina A&T, and he has qualified for the golf team.

So, so great.

• Bill Davis, an important Ontario politician, has died at 92. To see his obit in the New York Times, go here. He was tagged as bland, even if he was successful. He liked to say — particularly in moments of triumph — “Bland works.”

• This is one hell of an obit-opener: “Ilona Royce Smithkin, who as an orange-haired nonagenarian with matching two-inch eyelashes caught fire in the world of fashion . . .” Later in the obit, you get this:

Smithkin was born Ilona Rosenkranz on March 27, 1920. Her father, Mordko, was an engineer; her mother, Frida (Lubinski) Rosenkranz, was a homemaker.

That information comes from immigration documents. In April 1938, the family moved from Berlin, where Ilona had grown up, to New York. They listed their race as “Hebrew.”

As an adult, Ms. Smithkin avoided discussing her background, saying when prompted that she had few recollections. But in a 2004 documentary about her, “Ilona, Upstairs,” she attributed the way her head shook sometimes involuntarily to experiences she had as an 11-year-old when the Nazis began their rise to power.

“It’s not Alzheimer’s, it’s not Parkinson’s,” she said of her shaking. “That is that terrible, repressed fear.”

• Let me recommend — highly recommend — a column by Vladimir Kara-Murza, the Russian democracy leader: “Remembering Sergei Kovalev, a giant of human rights.” The man in question has passed away at 91. Like Andrei Sakharov and other dissidents-to-be, Kovalev was a distinguished scientist: a biophysicist at Moscow State University. But he gave up his career in order to stand up for human rights. “At some point you realize that it is shameful to remain silent,” he later explained.

Kovalev was imprisoned for seven years, followed by three years of internal exile. His trial took place behind closed doors. Sakharov stood outside, keeping a kind of vigil.

In the new Russia, Kovalev was elected to parliament, four times. (You remember that there was a period of democratic hopes.) Then he was a dissident again. As Kara-Murza writes, “Kovalev spent the last part of his life as he did the first: in opposition to a regime increasingly intolerant of domestic dissent and increasingly aggressive toward others.”

His funeral was held at the Sakharov Center, labeled by the Kremlin a “foreign agent.” Several Western diplomats paid their respects; no Russian official attended. The world depends on men and women such as Sergei Kovalev — for our freedom and dignity — probably more than we know.

Thank you for joining me today, everyone. See you next week.

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

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