Impromptus

Sheriffs we have known, &c.

Melville Cooper as the Sheriff of Nottingham in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
An old office, Trudeau’s joke of a word, Putin’s designation, Trump’s m.o., a classy hoopster, a brilliant gent, and more

A brouhaha over Jeff Sessions reminded me of Daniel Hannan — and I will elaborate in a moment. Sessions, as you know, is the attorney general, and Hannan is the British writer and politician.

Speaking before the National Sheriffs’ Association, Sessions said,

“I want to thank every sheriff in America. Since our Founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to the people through the elective process. The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement. We must never erode this historic office.”

Amen. (To read a CNN report, go here.)

A lot of people squawked over the attorney general’s use of the phrase “Anglo-American.” Some of them misunderstood it, probably. Others were just being jerks.

Regardless, I thought of Dan Hannan (far from a jerk). He told me a story some time ago. Luckily, he wrote it up after the Sessions thing broke. Here he is:

Eight years ago, after a long campaign, I succeeded in importing (or, rather, reimporting) elected police chiefs to the U.K., but with one important difference.

The new Conservative Government embraced my concept, but not my preferred name. “We’ve focus-group tested it,” the police minister told me, “and no one likes ‘sheriff.’”

“Why? What’s wrong with it?”

“Sounds too John Wayne — too American.”

Ay caramba, as Hannan would say in his native language, or one of them. (He was born and raised in Peru.) Hannan pleaded, “Where do you think they got it?” Where do you think the Americans got “sheriff”?

The same place we got so much else that is good: Britain.

Moreover, have you never heard of the Sheriff of Nottingham, dastardly antagonist of Robin Hood?

Cue music by Korngold (meaning this).

•  To another British-ish country: Canada. (Maybe I should say “Britain-based”?) Justin Trudeau, the prime minister, said, “I made a dumb joke a few days ago that seems to have gone a little viral.” What happened?

In a town-hall–style forum, a young woman was asking a long question. With the PM gently prodding her to finish up, she finally said, “Maternal love is the love that’s going to change the future of mankind.” (Wonderful sentiment.) Trudeau then said, “We like to say ‘peoplekind,’ not necessarily ‘mankind.’ It’s more inclusive.”

Was he, in fact, joking? There is a debate about this, and you can see the video, embedded in this story from the New York Times. I think he was joking, probably — but no joke is the debasement of our language.

Political correctness is guilty of many, many offenses — but one of the worst is the assault on language. Allow me to borrow from that legendary conservative Barbra Streisand: People who need “peoplekind” are the unluckiest people in the world.

•  You know what I kind of like? Trudeau’s phrase “a little viral.” The joke “seems to have gone a little viral.” That’s like being a little bit pregnant, sure — ’cause viral is viral. There is no “little.” But I like it.

“Viral-ish”?

•  And now, some news from our “radios,” Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty: “Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree naming the 23rd fighter aviation regiment the ‘Tallinn’ regiment, after the capital of neighboring Estonia.” Ah. According to the Kremlin, this has been done “to preserve glorious military traditions.” Ah, again.

And what do you think the Estonians think of this? Well, here’s a hint, from RFE/RL: “In March 1944, Soviet planes destroyed more than 90 percent of the city of Narva” (another prominent Estonian city).

To see the article I’m citing, go here.

Putin really knows how to keep ’em nervous, doesn’t he? And think of all the problems in Russia the Russian government could be solving!

•  There was an article in The Atlantic by David A. Graham: “What If Voters Don’t Care About Infidelity at All?” I wrote on this topic roughly 1 million times — during the 1990s, especially the late ’90s. Here we go again (to quote a different Republican president).

It is all but certain that Donald Trump paid off a porn star and a Playboy bunny, buying their silence. This seems to be standard operating procedure for him. And, as far as I can tell, conservatives yawn.

I’ve been writing a fair amount about social conservatism — the death of — for example in this post. Let me add one thing now.

We used to joke that Democrats discovered homelessness as soon as a Republican took office — as soon as an “R” became president. But when a “D” came in, homelessness was promptly forgotten.

You know when conservatives, many of them, will care about character, honesty, and honor again? When a “D” is elected.

Please pardon my cynicism, but people can make you that way, when you behold them in action (and inaction).

•  Try this on for size: a Forbes article headed “Trump’s Biggest Potential Conflict of Interest Is Hiding in Plain Sight.” The Chinese state is a tenant of his, paying him about $2 million a year for space in Trump Tower. Does this not pose a conflict of interest in the formation of U.S. foreign policy?

What would R’s say if a D had such a conflict?

Of course, what is different is that a businessman — who never before held elective office — has become president. Was he supposed to dump his entire previous life on entering the Oval Office?

And yet the ethical morass is wide, deep, and … well, morass-like.

•  Over the years, I have written, just briefly, about Confucius Institutes — those Chinese language-and-culture centers that dot campuses across the United States and Europe. They are extensions of the PRC’s “soft power.” There are people I trust in Chinese studies who say that Confucius Institutes are benign. Others, however, say they are bad news.

Let me recommend a column in the Washington Post by Josh Rogin, here. It’s headed “Waking up to China’s infiltration of American colleges.” You can see what the piece’s “take” is.

And I wish to tell you a secret. Three or four years ago, I was going to write a big, big piece on the Confucius Institutes. I was well along in preparation. But in the course of this preparation, I saw a piece by the famed anthropologist Marshall Sahlins. It was published in — hold on to your socks — The Nation, the flagship leftist magazine.

The piece is called “China U.” As far as I was concerned, it was the last word. And I did not go ahead with my piece. I thought Professor Sahlins had said the necessary, and more than. I am still sort of amazed.

•  Here’s an article that’s a lot of fun — from VG, the Norwegian newspaper. It features Suzann Pettersen, a golf star, who is a longtime friend of Donald Trump. She is obviously fond of him — but that does not curb her candor.

“I don’t know anyone who loves himself more than he does.”

“He cheats like hell … so I don’t quite know how he is in business. They say that if you cheat at golf, you cheat at business. I’m pretty sure he pays his caddie well, since no matter how far into the woods he hits the ball, it’s in the middle of the fairway when we get there.”

•  Isaiah Thomas tweeted the most gracious tweet I think I’ve ever seen. He is not to be confused with Isiah Thomas, by the way — the Detroit Pistons legend. This Thomas has bounced around the NBA. He played with the Kings, then the Suns, then the Celtics. Then he went to the Cavaliers, in a big and controversial trade. Pretty quickly, the Cavs dealt him to the Lakers. By all accounts, he had a bad experience in Cleveland, where the fans treated him pretty rudely. Did LeBron and the Cavs do so as well?

Anyway, on being traded, this is what Thomas tweeted:

“It was only 15 games, but still an experience that I’m grateful for. Thank you to the Cleveland Cavaliers organization for granting me the opportunity to rock the wine and gold this season. God bless and see you on the other side.”

He has set an example for us all.

•  So did Milt Rosenberg, the radio host. He was a toast of Chicago, a toast of the airwaves, a toast of America. From 1973 until almost the end, he hosted a late-night program. Joseph Epstein, the Chicago writer, called him “the Lou Gehrig of intellectual talk radio.”

Milt was a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. On his program, he had a wide, wide variety of guests, from his fellow psychologists to statesmen to ballplayers. He covered a universe of topics: “just about everything except pop psychology and poodle-trimming,” he once said. I think he would have done poodle-trimming well. Pop psychology, he would not have had the patience for.

In 2008, he received the National Humanities Medal for “bringing the world of ideas to millions of listeners.” Milt Rosenberg died last month at 92. I was one of the vast cast of characters who got to be on his show. What a privilege. A brilliant gent.

•  Let me close with a story — make of it what you will. I thought it was emblematic. Anyway, you’ll have your own opinion.

I’m walking through Central Park. There is a woman pushing a baby stroller. I believe she is Chinese. She is speaking English to the baby in the stroller, but strongly accented English. The baby is looking at her intently.

The woman says, “What’s two fingers?” The baby holds up two fingers. She then says, “What’s three fingers?” The baby holds up three. The woman says, “What’s two plus three?” The baby holds up five fingers. “Yes!” exclaims the woman. “Five, your favorite number!”

Oh, that puts me in mind of this news article — from the Associated Press, out of Paris:

France’s government is worried about how many of its schoolchildren consider themselves “stupid at math.”

The education minister released a report Monday commissioned by renowned mathematician and legislator Cedric Villani describing “catastrophic” scores and recommending 21 steps to turn things around.

France’s math scores have been sinking on international rankings for most of this century. The report warns that the current system is leading to “a lasting loss of self-esteem” that continues into adulthood …

I can sing several verses of that song, baby (and in French, if you like)!

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