Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue University, in the Great Hall of the Purdue Memorial Union, December 2016 (Purdue University / Mark Simons)

ChiComs on our campuses; working for Putin; Biden and federalism; the (new) birds and the bees; the King James Bible; a great rhyme; and more

The Chinese government monitors not only people in China — they monitor Chinese abroad, too. This is certainly true on Western campuses. Long ago — mid-1980s — a graduate student at Harvard (Chinese) told me that there were other students who were spying on him. Informing on him.


They are doing it at Purdue, too. A Boilermaker named Zhihao Kong posted something in praise of the martyred students in Tiananmen Square. Other Chinese students harassed and threatened him over this. Also — prepare to be surprised — the authorities back in China paid a visit to his parents.

In a totalitarian state, this is how it goes.

The president of Purdue University is Mitch Daniels, the Reaganite who was once governor of Indiana (and budget director under President George W. Bush, etc.). In a letter to Purdue students, faculty, and staff, Daniels wrote the following about the treatment of Zhihao Kong: “Any such intimidation is unacceptable and unwelcome on our campus.”

He further said this:

. . . joining the Purdue community requires acceptance of its rules and values, and no value is more central to our institution or to higher education generally than the freedom of inquiry and expression. Those seeking to deny those rights to others, let alone to collude with foreign governments in repressing them, will need to pursue their education elsewhere.

That’s our guy. To read an article on this matter, go here.

• A short while ago, after I had written something about Daniels, a reader wrote to ask, “Is there anything you can do to make him president?” (Of the United States, the reader meant, not a university.) No. We would need a different media environment and a different electorate.

But one can always chip away . . .

• Another one bites the dust — meaning, another Western European statesman, or politician, has gone to work for Putin. This would be François Fillon, the former prime minister of France (in the time of President Sarkozy). A Reuters report tells us that Fillon “has joined the board of Russia’s largest petrochemical producer.” The report adds that “large Russian corporations frequently employ former high-ranking European politicians to utilize their ties and influence.”

Mais bien sûr.

As I say about Americans and others in bed with the Saudis, and in bed with other dictatorships: There are lots and lots of ways to make money. To cash in. You don’t have to do this.

But they choose to.

• Another government in the European Union has been shown to have hit the political opposition with spyware. As the Associated Press reports,

Polish Sen. Krzysztof Brejza’s mobile phone was hacked with sophisticated spyware nearly three dozen times in 2019 when he was running the opposition’s campaign against the right-wing populist government in parliamentary elections . . .

The report continues,

Text messages stolen from Brejza’s phone — then doctored in a smear campaign — were aired by state-controlled TV in the heat of that race, which the ruling party narrowly won. With the hacking revelation, Brejza now questions whether the election was fair.

Lot of that going around. Nasty stuff, this spyware. A threat to democratic life.

• This is a helluvan opening sentence: “The trouble began, as it often does here, when tourists asked the hotel staff to help them buy cocaine.” That is the first line of a report from Mexico by Kevin Sieff of the Washington Post. The headline over the article is “Tourist drug demand is bringing cartel violence to Mexico’s most popular resorts.”

The problem — drugs and the hell surrounding them — is “demand-driven,” as they say. What are you going to do about that? I don’t know. Addiction is an evil, assuming various forms. It can be mild. (There are people who can’t function, or think they can’t, without their morning coffee.) It can be . . . not mild.

An evil to be overcome, along with the whole host of them.

• President Biden, speaking to some governors about the pandemic, said, “There is no federal solution. This gets solved at the state level.” Huh. Does that make Biden a neo-federalist?

Let me pause for a language point. When I was young, I was confused by the concept of federalism. (In the United States, “federalism” generally refers to lawmaking and policymaking in state capitals, rather than in Washington, D.C.) I associated the word “federal” with the central, or federal, government — the national government in Washington. And yet “federalism” . . .

Anyway . . .

• Did you see this news? “Capitol Rioter Asks for Social Media Access to ‘Interact’ With ‘Opposite Gender.’” (Article here.) Frankly, I’m not sure what “opposite gender” means these days. Like everyone else, I would think, I learned about the birds and the bees, long ago. But the birds and the bees have apparently . . . evolved?

• I enjoyed getting to know Robert H. Grubbs — but, as so often happens, I got to know him only through his obit. Dylan Loeb McClain of the New York Times has written him up, here. Grubbs was a chemist who, in 2005, shared the Nobel prize. He was born in 1942 “on a farm in western Kentucky between Calvert City and Possum Trot.” (I have quoted the obit.)

What a rise.

This farm boy, it seems, was blessed with brainy women in his family. “Robert’s maternal grandmother was well read and educated, and his mother became a schoolteacher, working for more than 35 years in small rural schools.” The boy’s father made his contribution too: a mechanic “who built the farmhouse where his children were born.”

Looking back on his life, the Nobelist himself would write the following: “As a child I was always interested in building things. Instead of buying candy, I would purchase nails, which I used to construct things out of scrap wood.”

I was not that kind of child (sad to say).

One more tidbit, from the obit: “One summer, while working in an animal nutrition laboratory analyzing steer feces, he was invited by a friend to work in an organic chemistry laboratory . . .”

You and I might have our kind of bullsh**; this scientific kid had his.

• Talk about a scientific kid. E. O. Wilson — Edward Osborne Wilson, the great evolutionary biologist — has also died. For the Times, Carl Zimmer has written his obit, in masterly fashion. This is an engrossing little biography.

Wilson was an academic star when I was coming of age. He had an impact on the general public, too. Controversial fellow. He started out in Birmingham, Ala., in 1929. Let me quote the obit:

As his parents’ marriage disintegrated, he found solace in forests and tidal pools. “Animals and plants I could count on,” Dr. Wilson wrote in his 1994 memoir, “Naturalist.” “Human relationships were more difficult.”

Some more:

One day, as he was casting a fishing line, he pulled too hard when he caught a pinfish, it flew into his face, and one of the spines on its fin pierced his right eye, leaving him partly blind. “The attention of my surviving eye turned to the ground,” Dr. Wilson wrote. He developed an obsession with ants — one that would last his entire life.

When you have time, you will want to read the entire obit. Here in Impromptus, I’d like to say one thing more. First, I’ll have to quote another sentence:

When Dr. Wilson attended a 1978 debate about sociobiology, protesters rushed the stage shouting, “Racist Wilson, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!”

Okay. When I was in college, some kids marched through campus chanting, “Reagan, Bush, you can’t hide! We charge you with gen-o-cide!” That must have been a trope, a thing, hither and yon.

To warp — indeed, to negate — the meaning of genocide: nasty.

• All right, let’s finish up. I have written a note about the National Review Institute — a fundraising appeal: “The Basics, Sorely Needed.” You may find it interesting (and possibly even persuasive).

• I was talking to a friend of mine, a musician. “Did you listen to Christmas music?” I asked him. “Of course!” he answered. “What do you think!” I then said, “Did it make you sad at all? Because sometimes Christmas music does, you know.” He answered, “I’m glad you said that — because, yes.” We then analyzed this problem, this phenomenon.

Christmas ought to be the most joyous thing in the world. But for some — many, I gather — it is streaked with sadness.

Which is to be overcome. (Haven’t I said something like that before in this column?)

• Let’s have a little language — and go to the Bible for it. The King James Bible, published in 1611. You know how schoolmarmish types will tell you that you should not end a sentence with a preposition? (This should not apply to English at all.) (Same with split infinitives.)

The other day, my eye fastened on Genesis 28:15: “for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.”


• I want to end with a rhyme, if that’s all right. Last month, like many another writer — and many another music critic — I published an appreciation of Stephen Sondheim: here. I said that Sondheim was responsible for one of my favorite rhymes of all time: “I like the island Manhattan. / Smoke on your pipe and put that in.”

I have other favorite rhymes, of course. This one comes from an old gospel song: “Glory, hallelujah. I give my praises to ya.”

Well, for reasons I could get into, I was listening to — and watching — “Steam Heat,” from The Pajama Game, the 1954 musical by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. (I was talking with a visitor about the steam heat in my home.) Here we go:

The radiator’s hissin’, still I need your kissin’

To keep me from freezin’ each night.

I got a hot-water bottle, but nothin’ I got’ll

Take the place of you holding me tight.

“Hot-water bottle.” “Nothin’ I got’ll.” Nice. Very good. (Technically speaking, we should say “Take the place of your holding me tight,” but . . .)

Be cool, y’all. Thanks for joining me.

If you would like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to [email protected].


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here