The Defenestration of Derb
This is an ad hoc page dealing with the events of mid-April, 2012.
This is not a proper blog: there is no way for readers to post a comment. If you have something interesting to say, though, send an email to the address on my home page, and if I think it's worth remarking on, I'll say something here.
Also on my home page there is an "Interviews" link, with a couple of interviews I did following these events. At the "Last 20" link you'll find a follow-up column I did for Taki's Magazine (April 12) when the fuss was dying down.
Contents of this web page
From 1998 to 2012 my main outlets for opinion journalism and reviews were National Review and the associated website National Review Online. I was never an employee of National Review, only a freelancer, listed on the masthead as "Contributing Editor."
On Thursday, April 5, 2012 I published a column titled "The Talk: Nonblack Version" at one of my other online outlets, Taki's Magazine. A young black man had recently been killed by a nonblack person in a controversial shooting in Florida. News and opinion outlets were bursting forth with whiny articles by black writers about "The Talk" that black parents must give to their children, to help them avoid sudden death at the hands of white authority figures. Since rates of black-on-white violence are far higher than those for white-on-black, this seemed to me a hypocrisy that needed puncturing. That was the occasion of my column.
The column was noticed by leftist websites — originally, I think, surprisingly enough, by the blog associated with the left-wing British newspaper The Guardian. (If any readers know of earlier sightings, I'll correct this.) Soon the leftist corner of the internet commentariat was a-buzz with outrage at my column.
By Saturday, April 7 the buzz had attracted attention beyond the leftist blogosphere and I was undergoing the 21st-century equivalent of being denounced from pulpits. Around ten o'clock that morning I got an angry email from Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. A couple of email exchange with Rich followed through the day. At 6:30 that evening he notified me, also by email, that National Review was terminating its relationship with me. He posted a note on The Corner (the all-purpose blog for National Review Online) telling the readership of the break.
These events created a minor storm in the corner of the internet concerned with political and social commentary. As a result, I received a huge number of emails. I have established this ad hoc page to answer some of the most frequently-asked questions (FAQs), and to make any other points I think worth making.
* Radio Derb
• FAQ: Will Radio Derb resume broadcasting/podcasting?
• Reply: We have now done so. It's still Radio Derb but no longer the NR podcast. Now it's courtesy of Taki's Magazine (see the banner strip at the top there, under the title).
* The Bad Samaritan
• Comment: Many of the commonest reader remarks on my original piece, including those about my advice to not be a "Good Samaritan," were fielded in the follow-up column I did for Takimag. This page is sort of an extension of that follow-up column.
* The many and the one
• Comment: Here is a typical example of an extremely common response. (I took it from the comment thread on my April 12 TakiMag column, but there are dozens like it elsewhere — given the web-wide volume of commentary on this piece, quite likely hundreds.)
Please tell this black woman who is a devoted mother, professional woman, cat lover, and gardener, and Ivy league graduate about her inherent nature and intelligence. Do tell!
Now, it's well known that I hate to give offense — ask anybody! — but the temptation to say the obvious thing here is so strong, I am just going to yield to it.
Ma'am: If you cannot distinguish between a statistical statement about a population ("On average, men are taller than women") and a statement about some one particular member of that population ("Sally's real tall"), then … how intelligent do you expect me to believe you are, actually?
And if a person who cannot make that elementary logical distinction truly does have an Ivy League degree, Affirmative Action is a greater evil than I thought.
* Byline error
• Comment: In my April 12 TakiMag column I wrote:
I … thought I was writing a routine column on a website that anyway never references my NR connections.
In fact TakiMag described me in its contributor list as: "John Derbyshire is a contributing editor at National Review. He lives with his wife and children on Long Island."
I apologize for the error. Authors never read their contributor-list bios, and quickly forget whatever they sent in when first asked for one. (TakiMag has since changed the bio, or is in the process of doing so.)
* Family matters
• FAQ: How's the family taking it?
* Health issues
• FAQ: I heard you're in chemotherapy — what's up with that?
• Reply: I was diagnosed with CLL last year and am going through chemotherapy February-June 2012. I feel somewhat guilty making a public issue of a private thing, but I thought my tardiness in reacting to events (e.g. I really should have put up this page a week ago) called for some explanation.
I'm in good hands and in no great distress. Chemo improves all the time, and my treatment (with drugs only approved in the last five years) is much milder than the horror stories you've heard from ten or twenty years ago. My hair, for example, seems to be in no danger of falling out. The treatments do leave me firing on one cylinder though, and that accounts for the absence of my normal alacrity in dealing with things — including replying to emails and acknowledging donations, for which I apologize.
• FAQ: How vexed am I?
• Reply: Honestly, not as much as you'd think. For one thing, the break with National Review was more amicable than it looks publicly. I still have many friends there, and look back fondly on my years with the magazine (which I have been reading since the mid-1970s).
For another, when you have a major health issue, other things seem secondary. It gives you some detachment from events. Also in this context, I really did need to spend a little more time concentrating on getting my lymphocytes back in line, and a little less time working, so the break is timely.
And for another, with absolutely no offense to anyone, I was getting out of sync with NR/NRO. My impression is that the magazine has become more narrowly political (i.e. yoked to the Republican Party) over the past few years. That's their right, of course; a magazine editor's job is to steer the magazine in a direction he thinks will keep his core readership and bring in new readers. If he's wrong, the market will tell him. And this being an election year has magnified the effect — as, from the editor's point of view, of course it should.
My own enthusiasms, though, are more generally cultural, social, and scientific. I find it harder and harder to care who's up and who's down in the political pugil stick match, particularly when so many key issues have been ruled out of polite discussion.
So probably some kind of break was inevitable. Speaking as a geezer (d.o.b. 6/3/45), I can't really say I'm keen on the old stepping down to give way to the young, but it's the way of the world, and probably for the larger good. They have some great young writers at National Review — check out Kevin Williamson — (I hope my endorsement doesn't blight your career, Kev) and my departure gives them more space. It's the way of the world.
I have also taken in some of the stoical spirit of my wonderful, incomparable wife: Yes, honey, 塞翁失馬. When you have a loving and supportive family, you can take life in stride, like the old man who lost his horse.
So, vexed? Nah. Look around you at people with real misfortunes. When I get through my health issues, I'm going to try a little harder to help people who need help.
* The Widower's mite
• FAQ: Wasn't I a bit flippant with the guy who donated $1?
• Reply: At least two people thought so. (So this isn't really an FAQ, more of an OAQ — Occasionally Asked Question. It's nagged at me, though, so I'll cover it.)
In my follow-up April 12 column on Taki's Mag, I expressed effusive gratitude to kind readers who had sent in donations. Then I added:
(I confess to being baffled by the guy who sent me $1. Was it meant as sarcasm? Sheer bad typing? A genuine widower's mite? He didn't tell me. Awash as I am in the milk of human kindness, I'm going to assume the best of humanity and include him in my thanks along with the rest.)
Possibly I am too much the suspicious misanthrope; or possibly all the negativity directed at me the previous few days had left me a bit sour; but what had come to mind when I spotted that $1 donation was the sarcastic habit English magistrates have, when they think the police have been over-zealous in arresting some harmless petty offender, of fining the guilty party £1. (When I was a kid it was one shilling.) Hence the suspicion of sarcasm. A dollar's a dollar, though, and to a lot of people it's a consequential amount; so I regret the impression of flippancy and am glad I at last credited the donation as a widower's mite, which I am sure it was.
It sure was. In my half-assed way, I was just scanning the PayPal pages without drilling down on individual donations. Some days later, with more leisure, I went through the attached comments. That $1 donation carried this message: "I just read that you've been cast off from NR for your sensible views. I've been a loyal reader of YOURS for years, but NR has been trending leftwards pretty constantly for the last year, and they're on my shit list. If I had a job I'd send more."
I think this comes under the heading "Total Screw-Up by Derb." In an effort to put myself right with the donor, I have just mailed him a hand-written apology and a signed copy of We Are Doomed.
* Turkmen issues
• Question from a Radio Derb listener: How has my good friend President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan responded to the fuss?
• Reply: Indignantly. National Review has now been banned from Turkmenistan. Turkmens who wish to read the magazine must now travel next door to Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan.
• FAQ: Was my column satirical?
• Reply: Several of my friends have tried to plea-bargain down the charges against me by saying that the offending column was satirical. I love my friends (especially John O'Sullivan), but I have to confess I had no satirical intent at all.
Jonathan Swift didn't really think the poor of Ireland should sell their children as food for the rich. He was writing satire. I do really think that parents should warn their children about the dangers of wandering into black neighborhoods and so on. I was not writing satire. Everybody clear?
* "'Data is not the plural of 'anecdote'"
• Comment: At any given time there is some catch-phrase from the rigorous social sciences that has escaped into common circulation. A couple of years ago it was "correlation does not imply causation." Today's favorite is: "'data' is not the plural of 'anecdote.'"
I've been hearing that a lot about my offending TakiMag piece, with reference to the many links I included.
Well, fiddlesticks. In the first place, "data" actually is the plural of "anecdote." When a researcher gathers data, he is gathering particular instances — anecdotes — of general phenomena. When the Department of Justice assembles the National Crime Victimization Survey, they do it by collecting anecdotes — individual people's stories of crime victimization. A data set is just a mass of anecdotes.
The trick is in the method. If you were to collect only anecdotes that pleased you for some reason, and ignored others, you would end up with a biased data set, not much use for objective inquiry into the phenomenon under investigation. (Though please note that, although biased, it is nonetheless data. So the plural of "anecdote" is "data" even in this case!)
And secondly, the intended slight on the links in my piece is unfair. They include plenty of good data sets: a fine one on genetic variation from Genome Biology; a complete list of Fields Medal winners; a mathematically rigorous analysis of aggressiveness and criminality by a professional statistician; an MSNBC.com report on a study out of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights; the excellent "Color of Crime" study assembled by American Renaissance from FBI crime stats (You don't like American Renaissance? So do your own study, or point me to one that reaches different conclusions); an analysis of interracial murder by "Inductivist," who is a first-class quantitative blogger; a link to the abstract of the Roth meta-study, which embraced more than six million subjects (there's anecdote for you!); a standard histogram from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth … Whaddya want, egg in your beer?
It's true that my column includes some anecdotal links, too. That's because it's written for TakiMag, not for the American Journal of Sociology. And my anecdotes are the kind that scale up. The misfortunes you can encounter by acting the Good Samaritan among blacks, for example, turn up in news stories at least weekly. (Here's one from last week. Here's one from the following week. I'll leave you to continue the series for yourself — not a very demanding task.) I'll admit I haven't done a rigorous statistical analysis by race on all such stories, but I can't recall seeing one that didn't involve blacks.
* On not denouncing National Review
• Comment: Some of the fiercer kinds of alternative-Right websites have tossed and gored me for my mildness towards National Review in an interview I did with blogger/author Vox Day.
Here for example is a commenter at the South-Will-Rise-Again website "Occidental Dissent":
When all is said and done Derbyshire is just another respectable conservative who wandered over the line of respectability and got caught.
So what's the suggestion here? That after twelve years of sitting round the editorial table with NR folk in collegiality, and in many cases friendship, I should now suddenly turn and start pissing on them vindictively? What do you take me for?
What kind of low, contemptible creep would behave like that?
• FAQ: Am I an Objectivist?
• Reply: Again, this is only a couple of readers asking, but I thought it was worth replying, just for the anecdote.
So readers are asking what I think of Ayn Rand and her works. Well, I can't claim any close acquaintance with Objectivism, but from the little I know, it seems to be a useful addition to the battery of Right ideas. Every time I see an Objectivist on the telly (O'Reilly occasionally has one on) or read their pieces, I find myself agreeing. And I appreciate them just being there as a marker for irreligious conservatism.
I find Ayn Rand's novels tedious stuff, though, and much too long. All I know of her as a person is from Bill Buckley's books and remarks.
Here's one of the latter. True story.
After Getting It Right came out in 2003, I was early one evening to an editorial dinner at the Buckleys' on 73rd Street. Bill and Pat were the only ones there. While waiting for other editors to show up, I made conversation about the book.
At one point I asked my host: "You know, Bill, one reads about how sexual Ayn Rand was and all these lovers she had, yet in her photographs she doesn't look at all attractive. Was she, in fact, an attractive woman in person?"
Bill leaned forward, his eyes alight. "Oh, yes! She had …"
Pat interrupted, addressing me forcefully. "No, not at all. Completely unattractive. No dress sense, makeup a mess …"
Bill went silent. There was an awkward pause. I started a new topic.
* Great Adventure
• FAQ: Item (10c) in your original article read as follows:
If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date. (Neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot.)
What's the story behind that?
• Reply: My wife and I were married in China, August 6, 1986. It then took her a few months to get a Chinese passport. She finally came to join me in New York City that November.
The following spring, I thought a day out of the city would be a nice break. On Easter Sunday, April 19, I decided I'd take Rosie to Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey. There's a bus service from the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan. We got up early and off we went.
For 3-4 hours we had a pretty nice time. There were a lot of young blacks in the park, though, and they were making trouble of a low-level sort: jumping lines, harassing the young local (all white) park employees, and so on. As the day went on, the number of blacks increased, and there started to be packs of them running around, making a lot of noise, using bad language, pushing people. It was spoiling things for the rest of us.
Then we saw a squad of adult security guys heading off in haste down one of the paths. "There's been a stabbing," someone explained. I had it in mind to get out of there at that point, but the Mrs has that Third World passion for getting her money's worth, so we didn't head out until 6:30 pm or so, by which time there were misbehaving blacks all over, and the regular park-goers were all fed up and muttering about it.
Near the front gate we heard a gunshot, loud and close. There was a lot of screaming and running, though we didn't see what had happened. We kept right on going out of there. That was the shooting reported in the New York Times.
Hence my (10c) item of advice. How do you find out whether the date you have planned is likely to see something similar? Ask around. The best thing would be to know someone from the neighborhood of the park, or better yet one of the park security people.
* Cut in the street?
• FAQ: Did your April 5th article and the following fuss lose you any friends? Did anyone turn against you?
• Reply: No. Leaving aside the ambiguous sphere of professional relationships (i.e. in this case, National Review colleagues), nobody who was wont to greet me in a friendly and unreserved way before the incident has failed to do so afterwards.
Now, like the rest of you, I associate mainly with like-minded people; and no, I don't have any black friends, having omitted to take my own advice on the amulet business.
The most dissident-conservative of my gents' dinner clubs actually greeted me with a standing ovation when I walked in to the next meeting. The second-most was less expressive, but entirely supportive. (I haven't been to a meeting of the third yet. Since it's a bunch of NYU academics trending left of center, I might have something different to report.)
[ Added 9/20/12: Nope: My NYU dinner companions were as friendly and civil as always. May I be forgiven for all the unkind things I have said about academics.]
In the entirely personal sphere, reactions have ranged from angrily supportive ("Those creeps! Last time I read their stinking magazine …") to mildly critical ("I wouldn't have said it quite like that, John …").
Nobody's cut me in the street, though. In fact, I don't think I've ever been cut in the street. Is this a thing people still do?
* Quotable quotes?
• FAQ: In among what you've read about the affair, was there anything that struck you as particularly clever, witty, or quotable?
• Reply: Depressingly little. The comment I liked best in that line came from Larry Auster at the "View from the Right" blog.
I am not a fan of Larry's, nor he of me. I think he's an innumerate creeping Jesus with some unpleasant personality issues; he thinks I'm a shallow, frivolous, and godless interloper in the cathedral of conservatism.
Larry did, though, raise a smile from me (disconcertingly for him, I am sure: one of the aforementioned personality issues is Larry's utter, arid humorlessness — a deficiency so extraordinarily extreme as to constitute one of the wonders of the human world, or at least of that portion of it involved in blogging) with this remark on his April 7 blog that:
NR had no problem with a contributor who violated fundamental tenets of conservatism, but … they do have a problem with a contributor who violates fundamental tenets of liberalism.
In other words, having for years — to Larry's seething rage — failed to sack me for being insufficiently conservative (= religious, in Larry's schema), NR finally sacked me for being insufficiently liberal (= deferential to blacks). Though I do of course have some issues with the underlying premises there, the comment certainly strikes me as clever, witty, and quotable.
[Tom Piatak makes the same point as Larry Auster's in the June 2012 issue of Chronicles magazine (p.20). However, Tom tells me that this is a case of great minds thinking alike: he did not know of Larry's comment.]
* Hurt feelings
• FAQ: Did I not realize, when writing the piece, that it would hurt a lot of people's feelings?
• Reply: No. I never gave a moment's thought to readers' feelings. Why should I? I assume I am writing for an adult readership, who can manage their own feelings.
Are we so infantilized that a writer must constantly worry that something he has said might have driven someone, somewhere to tears? When H.L. Mencken mocked hillbillies and the "booboisie," was he ever struck by anxiety that some reader might be devastated by his words, or thrown into a swoon? I very much doubt it; but we were a grown-up nation in those days.
I think this question, which really has been quite frequently asked, has mostly come from white liberals, in whose minds black Americans actually are equivalent to children, or pets, whose feelings it would be flagitious to hurt. In this respect I am more of an egalitarian than my liberal acquaintances. I regard my black readers as adults: more dangerous than average, statistically speaking, to be sure, but still adults, whose feelings need no particular attention from me.
And what about those black journalists I started my piece with, taking their kids aside to give them The Talk about how they are in daily peril from evil whites? Are their effusions not hurtful (what a sissy, infantile word! — you can't utter it without whining) to whites? But I guess we Ice People don't really have any feelings worth noticing.
* The fount of passion
• FAQ: Have I received any threats from outraged black people?
• Reply: No; though I have received several from white liberals. Generally speaking, frank talk of the kind I aired in my controversial article does not seem to be bothersome to blacks. When I spoke race realism to the Black Law Students' Association at U. Penn. a couple of years ago, I was politely received. Nobody socked me on the jaw; nobody tried to shout me down; nobody stomped out. At a reception afterwards, I met no hostility.
My best guess is that it is so unusual for blacks to hear whites speak honestly about race, it leaves them nonplussed, unsure how to react. Or possibly they assume all white people think like this anyway, so there is no element of surprise. Or perhaps they know it's all true, and receive truth as it should be received, calmly and dispassionately.
Whatever the reason, my small number of forays into race realism have aroused far more heated reactions from white liberals than from blacks. This seems to be telling us something, though I'm not sure what.
* Email issues
• Comment: One side-effect of the fuss over my April 5th column was massive spam attacks on my email account by (I suppose) people who objected to what I'd said. Hey, it's easier than arguing a case.
I took suitable evasive action over several weeks, i.e. to around the end of May. I thought I had solved all the problems. In fact, however, I had slipped up, with the result that some subset of incoming emails (it's a complicated story) ended up in a gmail "trash" folder.
I didn't find this out until late in February of 2013. I immediately did a rescue operation. Unfortunately I could only recover the last 30 days worth of the inadvertently-trashed emails, i.e. from January 20th, 2013 onwards.
So if you emailed me between May 2012 and late January 2013, there's a good chance I didn't see your email and it is now lost. Please accept my apologies.
My philosophy on reader email is the same as ever:
- To read attentively everything non-abusive that comes in. That's the least I owe to someone who's taken the trouble to write to me.
- To respond as time permits (it usually does) by priority, high to low, as follows: offers and gifts, requests for books or reprint rights, flattery, helpful advice, corrections on major points of fact, book and movie recommendations, cogent disagreement, corrections on minor points of fact, on-topic musings, random-topic conversations.
My apologies once again to readers whose emails were annihilated. I believe all problems have now been solved. I am dealing with the 30 days I was able to save: 1/20/13 to 2/20/13.