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‘Presidents,’ Masks, ‘Karens,’ and More

Russian leader Vladimir Putin attends his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow, December 23, 2016. (Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters)

In Impromptus today, I touch on a variety of issues, as usual: some grave, some light (some in between). I begin with a discussion of Putin, which leads to Castro (Fidel, I mean, although one could do Raúl, too, who is smaller beer).

Putin wants to be known as “President” — which implies a certain democratic legitimacy. Fidel Castro wanted the same — which burned a lot of Cubans and Cuban Americans I knew.

For years, I heard from the Left that Castro was popular with “his people.” That was a funny contention: in that Castro prohibited a free press, competing parties, free elections, and so on. He maimed, imprisoned, and killed his critics. That does not sound like a man very confident in his popularity.

Today, from the Right, I hear that Putin is popular. Same.

Another issue in my column today is mask-wearing, and resistance to it. I cite an interesting notice from the City of Portland, Ore., published during the 1918–20 pandemic. Everything old is new again.

“We appeal to your civic patriotism to co-operate with us in our effort to stamp out the Spanish influenza or ‘flu’ plague in Portland by wearing a mask,” the city said. “You should willingly co-operate in doing this and not necessitate the passage of an ordinance which will make the wearing of a mask compulsory.”

I further cite a letter from a judge in Beaumont, Texas, written just a couple of weeks ago: a heartfelt letter, a cri de cœur, practically. “I pray for your cooperation,” he ends: cooperation in mask-wearing.

This morning, something else came to my attention — an article out of Topeka. The headline read, “Newspaper owner: Sorry for equating mask rule to Holocaust.” The article explained that “a Kansas county Republican Party chairman who owns a weekly newspaper apologized Sunday for a cartoon posted on the paper’s Facebook page.”

The cartoon in question showed the governor of the state, Laura Kelly, wearing a mask with a Star of David on it. Behind her was an image of people being loaded into a train. And the caption? “Lockdown Laura says: Put on your mask…and step onto the cattle car.”

Say what you will about mask ordinances: They are designed to save lives, whereas the perpetrators of the Holocaust were eager to snuff them out.

On to something lighter (as what could not be?). In the current issue of NR, I have a piece called “‘Scandalize My Name’: The use and abuse of ‘Karen,’ etc.” The name “Karen” has been appropriated to mean a middle-aged white lady who is bossy, ignorant, and probably racist. You will find this use in the social media.

A distinguished scholar writes to me, “When I was a nipper, the term that covered what ‘Karen’ now covers was ‘Miss Anne.’ At least this was so among Afro-Americans.” Example: “If you do that, Miss Anne will certainly have something to say about it.”

My piece in NR touches on Dicks, Johns, and others, as well as Karens. A reader writes,

You reminded me of a conversation I had with my mother-in-law many, many years ago. At that point, both my husband’s sisters were getting married, one in February, one in May. Both fiancés — now for many years husbands — were named John. Anyway, Mom and I were talking about the upcoming weddings, and Mom said “the girls and their Johns” — at which point she abruptly stopped. After a pause, we both started laughing hysterically.

A friend of mine in California has sent me a news article: “California college professor on leave after asking student to ‘Anglicize’ name.” The article begins,

A professor from Laney College in Oakland has been placed on administrative leave after asking a student to “Anglicize” her name.

On the second day of class, Laney College mathematics professor Matthew Hubbard asked Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen to “Anglicize” her name because “Phuc Bui sounds like an insult in English,” Hubbard told Nguyen in an email obtained by CNN.

The young lady refused. “I decided to fully embrace it,” she said, referring to her name, “and let everyone know that they should be proud of their name.”

A name is such a personal, sensitive thing: not to be abused, and a rich topic for writing (I find).

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