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May 29th, 2017

Insight

Notes on the news

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published July 22, 2015

    Notes on the news

No matter what our socially advanced thinkers say, there are some things that should remain all-white. Like the tennis togs that are still de rigueur at Wimbledon thanks to custom and the unbending rules of the dear old Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club that runs the tournament. Nothing but whites will do on its courts. Chartreuse shirts emblazoned with an assortment of brand names? Not done, old boy. Bad form, you know. Maybe there will always be an England after all. Let's hope.

Call them the New Jews, those Asian-American students who, however well-qualified, aren't accepted at some of the country's most prestigious universities. Much the way Jewish students once had to fight quotas to gain admission to Ivy League schools.

Asian-Americans, who make up maybe 5 percent of the American population, win an estimated 30 percent of National Merit semi-finalist honors. What they don't win is admission to top-flight schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton in proportion to their academic performance. Which is just fine with the Obama administration's Department of Education, which has dismissed scores of complaints about these schools' de facto quotas on Asian American students.

Discriminate against black kids or any others "of color," as the grating phrase goes, and a school is in trouble. But adopt quotas that limit the number of Asian-Americans in your student body, and that's just fine with this crew in Washington. Some kinds of discrimination, to lapse into newspeak, are more equal than others.

There's a better way to determine college admissions. Chief Justice John Roberts summed it up when he wrote that the way "to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." Or would that be unspeakably simple? And fair.

The good news is that the sound of the oud can be heard once again in the land where it was born, or at least in Baghdad though not in the parts of Iraq conquered by Islamic State, where music remains outlawed -- a heresy as dangerous as equal rights for women. The history of the oud, a wooden stringed instrument, goes back millennia. An ancestor of the guitar, it's depicted in a 5,000-year-old stone carving of a woman playing it on a boat. Its soulful notes, like that of the blues, can reflect any mood, and do.

To quote a master craftsman named Mahmoud Abdulnabi, known for his ouds, it's an instrument for all seasons: "If you feel joyful, it can play your joy. If the circumstances are sad, it can play your sorrow and help to empty whatever is in your chest." Just like the blues in these latitudes. Whether it's telling of "the troubles I seen" or urging folks to "get happy, get happy."

There hasn't been a singer who was a match for the oud since the incomparable Umm Kulthum could be heard everywhere you went in the Arab world and its byways, whether in the casbahs of the Maghreb or the alleyways of Haifa -- in cafes and taxis and on hand-held radios ... everywhere. And now the oud is making a comeback. We've chosen the right side in the Middle East if it's the side the music is on.

There's more good news. There always is when old stories are being told again to new and ever bigger audiences. And that's the case with what may be the most popular program in all India, country and sub-continent.

The program, called "The Idiot Box of Memories," has become a must for the millions who can't resist the mellifluous voice of Neelesh Misra, the storyteller behind its popularity, a Garrison Keillor with an audience 14 times that of "A Prairie Home Companion."

"We are using radio," he explains, "to revive the rich tradition of oral storytelling and scrape the dust off our urban lives." Three cheers and a rebel yell. For what Southerner wouldn't identify, being the beneficiary of a rich tradition of oral storytelling of our own?

What's more, Neelesh Misra is using his voice, imagination, nostalgia and considerable talent to revive the rich tradition of spoken Hindi to offset the kind of mixed English and Hindi that is neither -- modern India's version of Spanglish.

It's always good to see that a classical tongue is being revived. Next, Latin?


It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world for the world's economies. China's once booming stock market has gone bust, Greece is still Greece, and so chaotically on. Call it creative destruction, another name for capitalism in full roar. 'Tain't pretty, but it's alive. If you prefer your economy steady, dependable, predictable -- and flat as an electrocardiogram on a corpse -- there are always countries like Cuba, where things never change except by the dictator's decree.

Some of us will take the free, even rambunctious, market any time. With all its uncertainties, like life itself, freedom has a way of winning out. Even in command-and-control economies, where it takes the form of a lively black market.

Scout is back! I was fully prepared to dismiss Harper Lee's prequel of "To Kill a Mockingbird" as just another attempt by a superannuated author to cash in on her earlier classic. But then -- Wow! In her new-old book, "Go Set a Watchman," Scout is now a twentyish woman living the sexually "liberated" life in New York and on her way back to Alabama for a visit with her aging father when ... well, see what you think. And if you can put it down.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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