Impromptus

‘Supreme Social Happiness,’ &c.

by Jay Nordlinger

It has been a theme of this column: The Venezuelan government may be clownish — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous and oppressive. In 2009, Hugo Chávez canceled Valentine’s Day, or postponed it: The holiday interfered with his political plans. The world could laugh at this. But dictatorial whimsy isn’t a laughing matter for those who have to live with it.

Now the government, under Chávez’s successor and likeness, Nicolás Maduro, has created a ministry of Supreme Social Happiness. (For an article about this, go here.) Again, we can roll our eyes and laugh — and why not? A government like this deserves to be mocked.

But, once more, lots of people have to live under these clownish wreckers.

Last week, Kevin Williamson forwarded me an article about energy boomtowns. One problem, as an acquaintance of his summarized, is “Too much alcohol, too few women.” That may be a problem with China as well, frankly.

Speaking of China, I commend to you an article by David Feith in the Wall Street Journal. It’s about the “21st-century romance between America’s universities and China,” as the author says. More specifically, it’s about the firing of Xia Yeliang, a professor at Peking University. He was too liberal — i.e., too freedom-minded — for the Communists’ taste.

Did the American universities stand with him? That’s a pretty good joke. American universities, whose collaboration Beijing craves, have more leverage than they know. This is a theme of a piece I wrote last year. American universities almost never use their leverage: They would rather tiptoe around the Communists, when they’re not in full embrace of them.

But listen: There is one university that has stood with Xia, and for principles of freedom (academic or otherwise): Wellesley. Yes, Wellesley. As David Feith tells us, the college in Massachusetts has offered Xia a home, or at least a temporary perch.

Rubbing my eyes, I salute them.

I’m so glad Alan Johnson has written this article: It means I don’t have to. Angela Davis, the American Communist, has given a prestigious lecture in London. The title of that lecture was incredibly insulting: “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle.” Yeah, her enemies would know.

Johnson reminds us of Davis’s devotion to the crushing out of freedom all over the world. In the course of his article, he quotes Solzhenitsyn — comments I never knew the great man gave. In the summer of 1975, Solzhenitsyn said, “In our country, literally for an entire year, we heard nothing at all except Angela Davis. We had our ears stuffed with Angela Davis. Little children in school were told to sign petitions in defense of Angela Davis.” Etc.

Accompanying this article is a picture of Davis with Erich Honecker, boss of East Germany. Each is beaming. As well they should have been: They were birds of a feather, and still are, in spirit.

I enjoyed a comment by Robert Wargas, writing about the man who will evidently be the next mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio. Wargas says, “The only thing a socialist hates more than poverty is affluence.”

In a recent column or blogpost — I forget which — I made a remark about toting up. Let me tell you what I mean: Alice Munro wins the Nobel prize, and we hear how many women have won it. A black actor or actress wins an Oscar, and we hear how many black actors or actresses have won one. You know: toting up. Such an accounting is perfectly understandable, and interesting, in the early days. But after the tenth one, twentieth one, fiftieth one? When do you stop?

One of our sharpest readers — a fount of wisdom and wit — says, “The practice of noting how many women have done this or that will end on the day they stop telling us we can’t smoke on airplanes.”

A little language? I don’t have an issue of my own, but a reader brings this to our attention:

Jay,

A few minutes ago, I heard someone on Bloomberg 1130 say, “Interest rates are backing up.” I’d heard this before, but now it seems to be a small trend. I’m pretty sure that “backing up” is used here to mean “to go back up,” even though it generally means to go in reverse, like a truck, which in the case of interest rates would mean to fall. I guess it’s better than saying “back upping.” I don’t know why they can’t say “rise.”

Not long ago, I was talking about slogans — good and reasonable ones, and bad and unreasonable ones. A reader writes,

Mr. Nordlinger,

You’ve brought to mind the official slogan of the U.S. Air Force for its 25th anniversary, many, many years ago [1972]: “Pride in the Past, Faith in the Future.” (We’re a very, very old Air Force family. In fact, we started pre-Air Force, in 1911, with the Army Signal Corps Air Service.)

Somehow, I just can’t see a government entity with that official slogan in our times.

I know exactly what he means, and regret the truth of it.

The other night, I observed a beggar on W. 57th Street, near Carnegie Hall. He was a loud, bullying beggar. “Can you help a veteran get something to eat?” Someone passed, and he said, sarcastically, “Semper fi.” Again, “Can you help a veteran get something to eat?” Someone else passed. And, sarcastically, “Very American of you.”

You know what I’d like? If one night, a beggar said, “I’m not a veteran, I’m not appealing to your patriotism. I just want some money for a hit.” That, I could respect (more).

In columns past, we’ve discussed claims of military service, as they relate to begging. Very interesting topic. Don’t mean to reopen it — because we did it exhaustively, I think — but it continually crops up.

Some columns back, I had notes on Oklahoma City, and I mentioned the wind (sweepin’ down the plain): A golfer has to keep it low, for sure. A reader from that fine city writes, “Did you notice how all our trees lean to the north? That’s because we have about 300 days a year of strong south wind.” I did not notice, no — I’ll be on the lookout next time.

The reader also says, “Hope you had a chance to visit one of our Braum’s Ice Cream stores while you were in town.” Dang, I forgot all about that. I had mentioned Braum’s in Impromptus before! Or rather, a reader did: in this column, just two and a half years ago.

Let’s end on some music — well, this is more a societal note. It’s both. The other day, I had reason to find the words of “Bless This House.” And I came across a video of Marilyn Horne singing it on the Tonight show (when Johnny Carson was host). The words include, “Bless the folk who dwell within, / Keep them pure and free from sin. / Bless us all that we may be / Fit, o Lord, to dwell with Thee.”

There was a time when you could sing this on, like, the Tonight show? With a straight face? It wasn’t all that long ago. Times, they have a-changed. For the better, in some ways, but in others, no.

See you, dear readers, and thank you.