Impromptus

Destructive clowns, &c.

by Jay Nordlinger

I wanna lay a story on you — one not widely reported in the media. In fact, it was scarcely reported at all. The story involves Venezuela, Cuba, and the very close relationship between their governments. Those governments are virtually one. And Caracas submits to Havana, for shot-calling.

Nicolás Maduro was in Vancouver, stopping over on his way to New York, where he was scheduled to address the U.N. Maduro, as you know, is the successor to Hugo Chávez as strongman of Venezuela. He never made it to New York. He hightailed it back to Caracas instead. Why?

Well, he was traveling in a Cuban plane — Russian-made — and was accompanied by a cool twelve Cuban agents. All of these agents had been issued Venezuelan passports. (The Spanish newspaper ABC published the names of the agents — here.)

You have to understand: Maduro’s relation to the Castros is quasi-filial. So was Chávez’s. Maduro is like the second son. Fidel has acted as spiritual leader, and political adviser, to these South American leftists.

In Vancouver, the Maduro team grew concerned that their plane might be seized in the U.S. This is what a U.S. official told Bloomberg News, off the record. (For the story, go here.) But Maduro himself had a different explanation.

Get ready for this: He said that Otto Reich and Roger Noriega were plotting to kill him. Who are they? They are American diplomats who have served in Republican administrations. They are great scaremen for the Latin American Left.

So, Maduro got out of Dodge (or Vancouver). He told the folks back home, “I had to fulfill my maximum objective, to preserve my physical integrity, my life, and Venezuelan honor.”

Roger Noriega had a more realistic comment on the matter. In an e-mail to Bloomberg, he said of Maduro, “My guess is he would be safer in NY than he is in Caracas because of the infighting within his criminal regime.”

Look, Maduro, like his predecessor, is a clown, and our instinct may be to laugh at him. Fine. But remember: Venezuelans have to live under this destructive clown.

Thor Halvorssen put it differently, and well. (He is the creator of the Human Rights Foundation and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He is also Venezuelan.) “It’s an operetta,” he remarked to me, “that doesn’t seem to have an interval — or an ending!”

I found this report in the Washington Post depressing, and infuriating. The headline is “Britain’s harsh crackdown on Internet porn prompts free-speech debate.” When someone speaks of a “harsh crackdown” on porn, you can bet that some feeble attempts are being made to limit this scourge.

The first sentence of the report goes like this: “In a land whose uptight reputation is belied by its wicked ways, the Conservative-led British government is in the midst of a crusade to enact some of the strictest curbs on pornography in the Western world.” Do you know what the opposite of “wicked” is? “Virtuous”? “Moral”? “Good”? No, “uptight.”

David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, “has launched an all-out assault” on porn, says the report. (The “report” is really an opinion piece in disguise.) So, what are the components of this all-out assault and harsh crackdown?

Family-friendly filters will soon be automatically installed when most new subscribers sign up for Internet service, with customers wishing to view pornography needing to make a conscious choice to turn them off.

No! A conscious choice! Oh, the harshness, the all-out-assaultness!

And,

Before the end of next year, most of the 21 million wired households in Britain will also be placed in the awkward position of having to declare whether they want to keep access to legal online pornography or have it blocked by their telecommunications providers.

Placed in an awkward position? I’ll tell you this: Kim Jong-un’s North Korea has nothing on David Cameron’s Britain as a hell of oppression.

In my opinion, much of the sickness of our society is captured in the way the Washington Post has handled this matter of Britain, Cameron, and porn.

Reading an obit, I thought of a point that many of us have made in recent years: Adolescence, young adulthood, studenthood — they all keep getting extended. So now there are men and women in their mid 20s who are considered kids, including by themselves.

The obit was headed “Ruth Benerito, Who Made Cotton Cloth Behave, Dies at 97.” This lady was born in New Orleans in 1916 and went on to become a significant scientist. What struck me — one of the things that struck me about this life — is that she entered college at 15.

It was Sophie Newcomb (i.e., Tulane), my sister’s alma mater. (Hi, Leck!)

I was reading a report on Syria at the Spiegel website. The report is by a Christoph Reuter — and I thought, “Maybe he should start his own news service.” (Seriously, he may be a member of the family — a descendant of the first and founding Reuter.)

Exiting Central Park, I saw a food cart (which are ubiquitous in these parts). On it were the words “Owned and Operated by a U.S. Army Disabled Veteran.” I understand that we should be sympathetic, and that we should be grateful for a person’s service, especially if he has suffered injury (not to mention death). But does a person really want to advertise himself as disabled?

There are bigger issues here than I should address in these lil’ impromptus.

Let’s do some language. A reader writes,

Hi, Jay!

. . . You say, “De Blasio, by all accounts, is worse (meaning, even farther to the left).” I remember learning that you should use “farther” only if you’re talking about a measurable distance. “Further” is to be used when you’re talking about something more conceptual (like a person’s “leftness”).

What say you?

Well, I have heard that rule, and have occasionally enunciated it myself (as when working with junior editors). Most of the time, I abide by that rule, I guess. But, frankly, I prefer to go by ear and feel. I regard “farther” and “further” as more or less interchangeable.

Is that too mushy for you? Well, English is like that — artfully flexible, and taste, or artistry, should govern.

Is that too hoity-toity? One more thing: If you think of a long horizontal line, representing the political spectrum, you can certainly be “farther” to the left — in the measurable-distance sense. Also, it occurs to me that one speaks of the “far Left” (and Right).

Still, as a rule, I’d say, “Des Moines is farther from Cedar Rapids than from Iowa City,” and “We should discuss this matter further.”

Moving on . . .

. . . to yet more language: I was reading this article about the Lions’ victory over the Redskins. (Oops.) The Detroit coach, Jim Schwartz, said, “I’m not known for my calm or anything like that, but if [a particular call by the officials] hadn’t got overruled, I would have had a difficult time. I might have had a conniption or whatever that is.”

I love that word, a “conniption” — and a coach’s saying it.

A little music? I don’t have a piece to link to, but I have a little story. Years ago, I asked Ignat Solzhenitsyn, “Do people say to you, ‘Any relation?’ as when you plunk down your credit card or something?” He said it happens in America, and the rest of the West, every day, more or less. But in Russia, never. Because people know that there’s one Solzhenitsyn family, and that if you bear the name, you must be related.

So, the other night, I was at one of Ignat’s concerts — he’s a pianist and conductor — and heard a conversation behind me. A man was saying to his wife, “Well, it’s spelled the same. But the name, in Russia, might be like Miller.”

I loved that. See you later, cool ones.