The Corner


Settling a Bet, Etc.

British volunteer Paul Barton playing the piano for elephants at a sanctuary along the Thai-Burmese border (Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

Today, I have a piece about Marvin Kalb, the veteran newsman. He was born in 1930, and grew up in the teeth of the Depression. For 30 years, he worked for CBS News and NBC News, chiefly as a foreign correspondent. He was the last of the “Murrow boys” — reporters hired by Edward R. Murrow. In the mid 1980s, Kalb was host of Meet the Press. He has no end of experiences to relate.

The aforementioned piece is here. I also did a podcast — a Q&A — with Kalb: here.

Another Q&A is with Waad al-Kateab, here. She is a Syrian reporter and filmmaker, now exiled in Britain. She lived through the Siege of Aleppo, documenting it. Brave and resourceful lady, with hugely important things to share.

Before getting to some reader mail, I’d like to expand on something I had in an Impromptus column earlier this week. The Orbán government in Hungary, as you know, is building a campus for a Chinese university — building it in Budapest. This is the first Chinese campus outside China itself. Ties between Orbán and the CCP are growing very warm.

Not everyone in Hungary likes this, including some municipal officials in the capital city. In time-honored tradition, they have renamed the streets around the new campus. The new names are “Dalai Lama Road,” “Free Hong Kong Road,” “Path of the Uyghur Martyrs,” etc. This shows that the spirit of liberty is still alive in that country located in the heart of Europe.

Allow me a walk down Memory Lane: In 1984, President Reagan did something typical of him. With Congress, he renamed the street outside the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., “Andrei Sakharov Plaza.” (Sakharov was the democracy hero who had won the Nobel Peace Prize.)

Several years ago, Senator Ted Cruz and others proposed renaming the street outside the Chinese embassy “Liu Xiaobo Plaza.” (Liu, like Sakharov, was a democracy hero who had won the Nobel Peace Prize.) But that effort was killed by Republicans in the House. I have not yet heard a satisfactory explanation.

More recently, some people wanted to name the street outside the Russian embassy after Boris Nemtsov, the slain democracy leader. Congress refused — but the city of Washington itself did it.

National Review used to have its offices near the Cuban mission in New York. The mission sits on Brothers to the Rescue Corner. In 1996, four Brothers to the Rescue pilots were killed by Cuban forces in international airspace. (Three of the pilots were U.S. citizens, and one was a permanent resident. The Cuban government committed this atrocity with impunity. But the name of the street, or the corner, is a nice bit of symbolism, a nice middle finger — and a nice act of remembrance.)

Two can play this game — I mean, dictatorships can do it too. My young colleague Cameron Hilditch, of the United Kingdom, mentioned something interesting: In 1981, the Khomeini regime in Iran changed the name of the street outside the British embassy from “Winston Churchill Street” to “Bobby Sands Street.” (Sands, you recall, was the IRA terrorist who died in a hunger strike.)

Yes, two can play the game — but there is no moral equivalence.

Well, I have gone on, haven’t it? I was thinking of three pieces of reader mail, but let’s have just one, and save the rest for later. A reader writes,


I’ve always loved your Impromptus — and other pieces — and now love sharing them with my son. But we need your help with a problem.

I pronounce the name of your column “Impromptooze.” It’s the plural of an impromptu thought, observation, etc. He pronounces the name “Impromptuss” — says it comes from Latin.

He goes to Michigan and studies Latin, so obviously he can’t be wrong. But I think he is. Which one of us should pick up the check next time we go to Potbelly?

Ah, I’m glad you asked! I explained the name of my column in my very first Impromptus — in March 2001 — and have explained it at various points since. (Yes, three months ago I celebrated my 20th anniversary. I think I’m the only one who did.)

“Impromptu” is a musical term, the name of a type of piece, a genre of piece. Let me quote Wikipedia:

An impromptu . . . is a free-form musical composition with the character of an ex tempore improvisation as if prompted by the spirit of the moment, usually for a solo instrument, such as piano.

Famous composers of impromptus include Schubert, Chopin, and Fauré. The plural of “impromptu” is “impromptus,” pronounced “impromptooze.”

I’m sorry to side with Dad against son, but what can I do? Thank you to one and all. (Wish I were at Potbelly with you. I especially like the oatmeal–chocolate-chip cookies.)


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