Impromptus

A professor and the pandemic, &c.

The Arch at the University of Georgia in Athens (SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images)
Georgia Bulldogs, a Cuban hero, Daniel Pearl, a horse drug, Ashli Babbitt, a high pianissimo, and more

Irwin Bernstein is a retired professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, 88 years old. He unretired in order to help out the department and its students. He was known as a “retiree-rehire.” But as this report tells us, he is retired again — presumably for good. Why? Because a student refused to wear her mask properly. Bernstein explained to her that he had diabetes, hypertension, and other health concerns, and wanted to be prudent about COVID-19. On his blackboard was “No mask, no class.” Two students were absent on this day because they had tested positive for COVID.

At any rate, the student ignored the professor’s pleas. Apparently, she just didn’t care. So the professor resigned, on the spot. He simply gathered his things and walked out. Before leaving, he said to the students that he had risked his life for his country while in the Air Force — but he would not risk his life to teach a class with an unmasked student during a pandemic.

The professor was forbidden to require his students to wear masks. He was powerless. He had no leverage — except to plead, which was unsuccessful. I know that mask debates are complicated. We all know that individual rights must be balanced with communal responsibilities — and respect for other people’s rights.

In any event, I can’t help thinking, with some asperity, of a coinage of a friend of mine (also a professor, as it happens): the “right-to-infect states.”

• “Leading Cuban dissident ordered to serve four-year prison sentence.” That is a headline from Reuters, over this article. The dissident in question is José Daniel Ferrer, one of the best — one of the bravest, clearest, and most persistent. There ought to be monuments to such people, when such monuments can be built, in a free, or freer, Cuba.

• Bari Weiss is to receive the Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism. Pearl, as you remember, was a Wall Street Journal reporter, beheaded by terrorists. His last words, his murderers forced him to say: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” On Twitter last week, Bari Weiss wrote, “Daniel Pearl’s last words are true for me, too.”

I thought of Ed Koch. After Pearl was murdered, Koch directed that those words be etched into his tombstone (his own, I should be clear): and they are.

• A headline reads, “Demand Surges for Deworming Drug for Covid, Despite Scant Evidence It Works.” The subheading is, “Prescriptions for ivermectin have jumped to more than 88,000 per week, some pharmacists are reporting shortages and people are overdosing on forms of the drug meant for horses.” The article is here.

In addition, there’s this: “GOP Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert Draws Applause for Praising Ivermectin as COVID Treatment.” (Article here.) The congressman was speaking at a Texas youth summit.

I can understand reluctance to take a vaccine — anyone can. But the enthusiasm for taking this other thing instead — that is much harder for me to understand. Perhaps others are in the same boat.

• You may have seen news about a man named Daniel Darling. I will quote from a piece by David French:

On Friday the National Religious Broadcasters, an umbrella association of roughly 1,100 member associations, abruptly fired its senior vice president of communications, my friend Daniel Darling, because Darling appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss why he got vaccinated and to try to allay Christian fears about the vaccine. He lost his job even though he was remarkably gracious in his comments. He defended Evangelical distrust of institutions and merely urged Christians “to talk to their doctor and really consider [the vaccine], just because we just don’t want to see anyone else unnecessarily die of this lethal virus.”

Dan was fired for violating an alleged NRB policy of “neutrality” towards the COVID vaccine. Yes, neutrality.

Things are getting so very weird, I think.

• Another headline: “Officer who shot Ashli Babbitt during Capitol riot breaks silence: ‘I saved countless lives.’” Article here. I will quote a little.

He has been in hiding for months after he received a flood of death threats and racist attacks that started when his name leaked onto right-wing websites.

But in his interview with Holt, Byrd said he has no doubt that he made the right decision in light of the circumstances.

“I know that day I saved countless lives,” Byrd said. “I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger. And that’s my job.”

Reading the article, I thought, What would I have done? If I had been in the officer’s shoes, wearing his badge, what would I have done? His job is thankless, I think.

Ashli Babbitt is held to be a martyr in TrumpWorld. You hear her name a lot, including from Trump. But a name you never hear, or seldom hear, is that of Rosanne Boyland. A 34-year-old Trump supporter from Georgia, she was trampled by the mob — by her fellow rioters — on January 6. Her story is worth knowing too, I think.

There are so many. So many stories.

• On Twitter, linking to one of its articles, The Hill said, “Cawthorn calls jailed Jan. 6 rioters ‘political hostages,’ ‘political prisoners.’” (Madison Cawthorn is a Republican congressman from North Carolina.) J. D. Vance, a GOP Senate candidate in Ohio, responded, “Correct.”

This is very serious, very consequential.

I have spent a fair amount of my career interviewing and writing about political prisoners — past, current, and future. To hear the January 6 rioters held out to be “political prisoners” is jarring.

• Something a little lighter? “Don Poynter, Who Made Toilets Talk and Golf Balls Walk, Dies at 96.” (The obit is here.) “His line of novelty items was wide-ranging. Jayne Mansfield posed for him so that he could make a shapely, sexy hot-water bottle.”

Yup. Such an interesting guy, who led such an interesting life. He had a lot of stories to tell. At the end, while in hospice care, he was apparently telling some of them. A social worker called up his daughter. The daughter knew exactly what she, the social worker, was going to ask. “She said, ‘I was worried he was hallucinating.’ And I said: ‘They’re true. They’re all true.’”

• Josephine Baker, born in 1906, died in 1975. As this article says, she “was buried in Monaco, dressed in a French military uniform with the medals she received for her role as part of the French Resistance during the war.” Now she is to be re-buried in the Pantheon — the first entertainer so honored (and the first black woman).

That girl from St. Louis, Mo. — the granddaughter of slaves — went a long way.

• A friend of mine in Alaska sent me an article about Abigail Ante. A girl after my own heart, she is.

Abigail Ante put in the necessary work to win the Anchorage Open women’s title Sunday, and minutes after accepting the championship trophy and commemorative flag she actually went to work at Anchorage Golf Course.

Ante’s 1-over 37 on the front nine made up for an average back side as the teenager fashioned an 82 in the second round of the 36-hole event.

Afterward, the South High sophomore worked a few hours washing carts and checking out rental clubs after another attendant wasn’t able to make their midday shift.

Forget that unfortunate, modern English: “after another attendant wasn’t able to make their midday shift.” What a good story. (I knew girls like Alaska’s Abigail — always liked them, a lot.)

• Stick to sports, and this news from my home state of Michigan:

The Taylor North Little League team defeated the West Side Little League squad from Hamilton, Ohio, on Sunday to capture the Little League World Series title.

The final score was 5-2.

Taylor North is the first Michigan team to win the Little League World Series championship since Hamtramck did so in 1959.

Fantastic. May we win again, before another 62 years is up.

• Stay with Michigan — from which state a lady writes me,

I was filling out a survey for a U of M medical facility, and the first question was “Name?” Second question: “What is your current gender?” Third question: “What was your gender at birth?”

(And “gender” instead of “sex.”)

I never thought I’d live to see the day . . .

The world gone cray.

• Blake Hounshell is an editor at Politico. He tweeted the following exchange:

Son: “Can I get whatever I want at the store?”
Dad: “No, because you don’t have any money.”
Son: “But I do have the power of annoyance!”

So shrewd, so true.

• End on a little music? I attended 13 recitals by Leontyne Price, the great American soprano. When I told her this, she said, “So few?” I pleaded that I had gotten a late start. On virtually every recital she sang, all around the world, she included American songs — art songs (usually by people she knew personally) and, of course, to end, spirituals. The art songs she sang tended to be by Barber, Rorem, and Hoiby.

On YouTube, a poster who goes by the handle “Onegui65” serves up treasure after treasure, from the singing past. (Onegui65 should receive some sort of arts medal, I believe.) Two days ago, this appeared. It comes from a Price recital in 1980, in Fort Worth. Price sings a Rorem song — “Ferry Me Across the Water” — which sets a poem by Christina Rossetti.

“Ferry me across the water,
Do, boatman, do.”
“If you’ve a penny in your purse
I’ll ferry you.”

“I have a penny in my purse,
And my eyes are blue;
So ferry me across the water,
Do, boatman, do.”

“Step into my ferry-boat,
Be they black or blue,
And for the penny in your purse
I’ll ferry you.”

Rorem’s is a simple and ingenious song — which allows Price to float a high pianissimo, at the end, forever. If you ever wondered why millions, across the world, were nuts for Price — and in awe of her — have a listen.

And have a good one.

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

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