Impromptus

A fightin’ Irishman, &c.

The Notre Dame leprechaun mascot at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., on April 7, 2019 (Jasen Vinlove / USA TODAY Sports)
On controversial mascots, American citizenship, the Republican establishment, the middle finger, and more

William F. Buckley Jr. often warned against “slippery-slopism,” as he called it. “If you ban Hustler magazine today, it does not necessarily follow that Fanny Hill will be banned tomorrow.” I absorbed this warning a long time ago. I have endeavored not to be a slippery-slopist, in my thinking or writing. And yet — I sometimes think that the slope is worryingly slick.

Maybe you saw this headline: “Notre Dame defends leprechaun mascot, ranked college football’s 4th-most offensive in survey.” (Article here.)

Uh-huh. Now, I happen to think that some mascots, and logos, are offensive, and should be replaced by something better. But look out for that slope — which might lead to the Fightin’ Irish and their little, pugnacious guy.

• On the subject of speech and expression — let me recommend David French, as usual. A recent essay of his is “The Cancel Culture Paradox.” Its subheading is, “If self-censorship is the norm, why is free expression so unrestrained?” Good question.

“While the law of free speech is at a high water mark,” writes David, “the culture of free speech is under assault, and the longer the cultural assault lasts, the more fragile our legal protections will become.”

Yikes. Yes.

David continues,

Presently, the law of free speech is at odds with the culture. Over time, however, the law of free speech will merge with the culture, and unless we can reverse the cultural momentum against free expression, then the law will grow more restrictive.

This seems to me ungainsayable (to borrow a Buckley word).

• The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, was talking about reluctance concerning vaccination, or hostility to vaccination. “I think part of the problem has been social media,” he said. “A lot of people have their own opinions about this. It’s all nonsense.”

Very few of McConnell’s fellow Republican leaders talk this way. But I believe he is speaking as someone who, as a child, was afflicted with polio.

• Those in unfree or otherwise wretched countries take great risks. The risks they take let you know just how bad their situation is. Let me paste the first two paragraphs of an Associated Press report out of Cuba:

Zuleydis Elledias has gotten up each morning for the past two months hoping for a phone call, a message — any news on the fate of her husband and nephew, who disappeared at sea after the boat they were in capsized as they tried to reach Florida.

Another half dozen families in the small town of Orlando Nodarse, 35 miles (55 kilometers) west of Havana and near the port of Mariel, are living with the same uncertainty.

• Have you heard the latest about Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine leader? He “has confirmed rumblings that he will run next year for vice president, in what critics say is an attempt at an end-run around constitutional term limits.” Uh-huh. I thought of Putin and Medvedev, back in ’08.

For the news article I have quoted from, go here.

Possibly, Duterte will run on a ticket — if that’s the word, in a Philippine context — with his daughter, the mayor of Davao City. I thought, “Shades of Lurleen!”

(Lurleen Wallace, you may recall, succeeded her husband, George, as governor of Alabama, when the cocky little guy was term-limited. But George was never not in charge.)

• Jeff Jacoby sent me a paragraph he thought would be up my alley. It certainly is. Jeff, as you know, is the longtime columnist for the Boston Globe. I like his paragraphs. But the one he sent me is by Tony Blair, from the introduction to his autobiography.

A friend of mine whose parents were immigrants, Jews from Europe who came to America in search of safety, told me this story. His parents lived and worked in New York. They were not well off. His father died when he was young. His mother lived on, and in time my friend succeeded and became wealthy. He often used to offer his mother the chance to travel outside America. She never did. When eventually she died, they went back to recover the safety box where she kept her jewelry. They found there was another box. There was no key. So they had to drill it open. They wondered what precious jewel must be in it. They lifted the lid. There was wrapping and more wrapping and finally an envelope. Intrigued, they opened it. In the envelope were her U.S. citizenship papers. Nothing more. That was the jewel, more precious to her than any other possession. That was what she treasured most. So should America today.

I would paste a thumbs-up here, but I don’t know how to do it.

• J.D. Vance is a Republican, running for the Senate from Ohio. Earlier this week, he said, “Here is my message to Ben Sasse and other establishment Republicans who seem to care more about bringing 30,000 unvetted Afghan refugees into our country than getting our own people out safely.”

Forget the absurd falsehood about Sasse and Afghanistan. What about “Ben Sasse and other establishment Republicans”? Sasse is an establishment Republican like I’m a ballerina. It is high time for Trumpers such as Vance to acknowledge the happy fact — happy for them — that they are the Republican establishment. They have been so for years. It is their party, and Sasse, Romney, Cheney, and a few others are at its fringes.

But everyone likes to think that he is standing up to the Man. Give me a break.

• A reader of mine writes, “Smart politicians — with first-rate educations — like to pretend they’re dumb, and dumb politicians like to pretend they’re smart.”

• The other day, I was talking to a friend about writers and “representation.” There are some people who think that writers need to “represent” certain other people — like a congressman who has a constituency.

A critic of mine hurled a tweet at me this week — a critic who styles himself a “Conservative Patriot.” In my experience, those who call themselves a “conservative patriot” are lacking in both the conservatism and the patriotism departments.

This fellow said,

. . . you and your colleagues at National Review favor flooding America with Third World immigrants, including the most primitive, violent Muslims on the face of the earth. You betray (repeatedly) the base you claim to represent.

Forgetting the cracked nature of the charge, let me be clear: I don’t claim to represent anyone. Sometimes, I’m not 100 percent sure I can represent myself. But people often treat writers like politicians, and I can’t really blame people, because too many writers act like politicians.

Moreover, politicians themselves should retain a certain independent-mindedness, I think. And if the public votes them out — so be it.

• A friend of mine — a native Houstonian — sent me a marvelous obituary, of another Houstonian: Khleber Van Zandt Attwell, Jr. Mr. Attwell was an accountant, with a wide-ranging mind, and a variety of interests. Let me single out one portion of the obit:

Khleber could share with intimate friends the secret pleasure he derived from occasions when a chatty stranger on a plane would ask what he did for a living. “I’m an accountant,” he would reply, and sure enough that response was guaranteed to stop the conversation dead in its tracks. For Khleber, a private person with a rich inner life, such cover was a gift from heaven.

Heh. Great.

• A little language? I was talking with a friend, a French intellectual, who used a word I had never heard before. (We were speaking in English, I should specify.) That word was “inadequation.” I said to him, “We don’t have that.” He immediately Googled. And, lo, we do have that, or did: It is obsolete.

Inadequation is, or was, a “lack of exact correspondence.”

Later in our conversation, this intellectual used the word “decorticating.” I said, “Sorry, but you’re translating directly from French again, and we don’t have that word.” This time, I was wrong, to my shame: Decortication is “the act or process of removing the outer coverings (such as bark or husks) from something (such as fiber or seed).”

Live and learn.

• A little sports? This tweet, from the PGA Tour, includes a video of Rory McIlroy, the great Northern Irishman, messing around with an iron and a ball. And he is doing so, says the Tour, “while the Statue of Liberty looks on.” Seriously, he is almost as impressive as she is.

• A little music? Colloredo, the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, is usually portrayed as a bad guy in Mozart history — or at least not a good guy. He was stuffy, strict, conservative, keeping the young genius down. Well, Colloredo is my new hero in life.

At the Salzburg Festival earlier this month, there was an all-Mozart concert, for which Richard Bratby wrote the program notes. He quoted Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang’s father — who wrote to his son about a court concert:

Yesterday, it began at seven o’clock and, as I left, I heard it striking a quarter past eight. Thus, an hour and a quarter. Generally, only four pieces are done: a symphony, an aria, a symphony or concerto, then an aria, and with that — “Addio.”

Evidently, Colloredo liked his concerts on the short side — an hour and 15 minutes, and then, addio. My man. Colloredo for President.

• In my Impromptus of Tuesday, I wrote of driving by a billboard outside Grand Rapids, Mich., which advertised the delivery of pot to your home. I said, right out loud, in the car, “F*** you.”

Several readers said, “Yeah, well what about alcohol, man?” To which I can only say: Do you have any idea who you’re talkin’ to? It’s a little like — no, it’s exactly like — the people who say to me, after I’ve criticized the Kremlin or the Saudis or someone, “Yeah, well what about Castro?”

I loved a note from a reader:

I lived near Pensacola as a teenager and when my mother drove by a strip club that was part of our route to the doctor, she lost her temper once and yelled “AHHHHH” with her middle finger outstretched in front of my startled face pointing at the club.

Good mom.

See you!

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

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