Impromptus

The end of boys and girls, &c.

Students at the Interlochen Arts Camp (Video image via Interlochen Center for the Arts)
On today’s ‘re-gendering’; Bernie and Cuba; Albania’s ‘Crow’; and more

The Interlochen Arts Camp is in northwestern Michigan. It began life as the National Music Camp, in 1928. It is a wonderful place.

An alumna of the camp sent me a notice from Crescendo, the Interlochen publication. It begins, “This summer, Interlochen Arts Camp will change its division names to reflect the full diversity of its students’ gender identities.” In the past, there has been “Junior Boys” and “Junior Girls”; “Intermediate Boys” and “Intermediate Girls”; “High School Boys” and “High School Girls.” But no longer.

“Junior Boys” will become “Junior Pines.” “Junior Girls” will become “Junior Lakeside.” Etc. The words “boys” and “girls” will not figure in division names.

It’s not so much that I object to this change as that I’m bewildered by it. I suppose that many people reach the point where they realize that the world, to some degree or another, has become a foreign country to them. After all these millennia, are we no longer to have boys and girls?

I am all for the accommodation of special cases, and I believe that people who are different should be treated with extra sensitivity and love. God knows they need it. But must this entail the erasure of such basic categories as boys and girls?

Those of a certain age — or those who like re-runs — will remember the All in the Family theme song: “Those Were the Days.” One lyric goes, “And you knew who you were then. / Girls were girls and men were men.” It seemed like kind of a joke.

Anyway, I wish Interlochen nothing but the best, and this story, broadly speaking, is ongoing . . .

• Bernie and his defense of the Castro regime — “literacy!” — took me down Memory Lane. The first blogpost I ever wrote, I believe, was on this subject. Thanks to Google, I found it, quickly: here. The post was published on April 26, 2001.

Colin Powell, the new secretary of state, had been questioned by Congressman José Serrano, a great supporter of Castro. Powell allowed, “He’s done some good things for his people.”

The “his people,” a lot of us found creepy. (That was Bill Kristol’s word: “creepy.” He and I discussed the matter at the time.) And what about the “good things”?

There are three great myths of the Castro regime — propagated by the regime itself and its (many) supporters abroad: that the regime has been good for literacy; that the regime has been good for health care; and that the regime has been good for black Cubans. All of this is bunk. You can read about the three myths elsewhere. (In 2007, I myself wrote on the health-care one, here.) Let me now tell you the story I told in that 2001 post.

When I was in grad school, Armando Valladares, the great Cuban dissident, who had been in prison for 22 years, came to speak. During the Q&A, students pounced on him: “What about literacy, what about health care, what about blacks, huh, huh?”

Valladares answered essentially as follows:

What you say is nonsense. You are ignorant. You have swallowed false propaganda. But say those things were true. Say that the Communists had delivered literacy, health care, and harmonious race relations. Do you have to have an absolute dictatorship to accomplish those things? Do you have to deny people their political and human rights? Do you have to torture, imprison, and murder innocents? In the democracies, don’t you have literacy? Can’t people read? Isn’t health care and the rest possible under freedom?

I like to think that Valladares shut the kids up that night, if only for a minute.

• Secretary Powell said “his people.” A lot of people talk that way, and it is forgivable. How about this? Bernie Sanders said, “When Fidel Castro came to office . . .” Office! I loved that . . .

• What good news this was: “Prague To Rename Square By Russian Embassy After Boris Nemtsov.” Nemtsov was the democracy leader in Russia — the foremost opponent of Vladimir Putin — who was murdered in 2015 within sight of the Kremlin.

Prague will also name a promenade, in a park, after Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist who was murdered in 2006. (She had reported on Chechnya, bravely and honestly.)

The mayor of Prague, Zdenek Hrib, said that both Nemtsov and Politkovskaya “promoted democracy, and they both were disgracefully murdered. They deserve a memorial.”

In an era when relatively few on left or right care about democracy, I found this encouraging.

• You have people who are happy to speak out against dictatorships in Cuba, Venezuela, etc. You have people happy to speak out against dictatorships in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc. But those willing to criticize dictatorships across the board, whether the boot stamping on the human face is red or black? They are precious few.

• Duncan Hunter had to resign from Congress, after pleading guilty to a corruption charge. He is a California Republican. So the race is now on to take his seat.

As the Associated Press reports, two prominent Republicans are engaged in a “slugfest.” They are Darrell Issa, a former congressman, and Carl DeMaio, a talk-radio host. “Both have questioned the other’s loyalty to President Donald Trump,” says the AP.

That’s the way it is in Republican politics now: Trumpier-than-thou. “I love Donald more than you do.” Did you see this (long) piece on the Alabama Senate race? Eye-popping.

In California, DeMaio has run an ad, calling Issa “another Mitt Romney, lying to you, betraying President Trump.”

As I have said before, Senator Romney, who eight years ago was the party’s presidential nominee, is truly the Emmanuel Goldstein of the GOP now.

In Louisiana, the GOP censured Romney. (You can read Quin Hillyer on the subject, here.) The same party refused to censure David Duke, the Klansman.

• Bernie Sanders is a socialist, as we on the right are happy to point out. Socialism bad (very). But he is running a classically populist campaign. We are less happy to point this out, because we like populism (or some of us do). Sanders is not running on the nationalization of industry or gulags. He is railing against the “elites,” the “1 percent,” the banks, who are screwing the great People. He is promising to “take this country back” from the Richie Riches who have hijacked it.

There is a distinct Left populism and a distinct Right populism, but, in the end, it’s the same old game, really. Bolsonaro is Right, López Obrador is Left. But they have more in common, I think, than not.

Let me commend a column by Michael R. Strain, of the American Enterprise Institute, published in the Washington Post: “Five more years of populism would be a disaster for America.”

Before I hop off this subject, I’d like to tell you about a conversation I had in South Florida earlier this week. I was talking to a Venezuelan immigrant. The subject of Mexico came up. “López Obrador is doing just what Chávez did,” the man said. “But he is doing it so fast. He is way ahead of Chávez’s schedule.”

I was told just the same, earlier this month, by analysts in Mexico City. Exactly the same. FWIW.

• My old friend Nexhmije Hoxha has died, at the ripe old age of 99. Why do I say “my old friend”? I wrote about her — and other Hoxhas — in my book Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators. Nexhmije was the wife of Enver Hoxha, the Albanian dictator, who was a figure in the mold of Stalin and Kim Il-sung.

I should pause for some pronunciation: “Hoxha” is something like “HO-djah.” “Nexhmije” is something like “Nedge-MEE-yeh.”

In that book, I write,

Enver and Nexhmije Hoxha were a match made in heaven, or somewhere. Nexhmije liked her luxury, and she was one of the few people in Albania who could have it. But, ideologically, she was very serious. She headed Albania’s Institute of Marxist-Leninist Studies.

After the fall of Communism, Nexhmije was charged with corruption and sentenced to eleven years in prison. She wound up serving five.

By Albanians at large, the widow Hoxha was known as “the Crow.” Celebrating her husband’s centennial in 2008, she said, “Enver was a comrade and an ideal leader.” She denied that Hoxha had even been a dictator. “The existence of Albania was threatened by both exterior and interior enemies. He had to react.” She further said, “I do not regret anything, and there is nothing I should feel guilty for. We only respected laws in force at the time.”

The laws were in force, all right.

Finally, there was this ringing declaration: “I continue to have confidence in the Communist ideal that will never die.”

Nexhmije Hoxha has died at almost 100 — a much longer life than Albanian dissidents and political prisoners were ever afforded.

• I can’t end on my girlfriend Nexhmije, can I? No. Let’s have a shot of music — a post on a new book, Bach and Mozart: Essays on the Enigma of Genius, by Robert L. Marshall. Bach and Mozart: Can’t go wrong with them, can you? Nope, never.

Later, and thanks.

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

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