»  National Review Online Diary

  March 2002


Not a blog    

" Diary:  a register or record of events, transactions or observations kept daily or at frequent intervals …" — Merriam-Webster's Third.

By one of those caprices that writers are entitled to in compensation for the very small financial rewards of their work, I have decided that I do not like the word "blog" nor any of its participles, substantives, gerunds, conjugations, declensions or derivatives. I am therefore going to drop it, irrevocably, now and for ever. Instead of referring to these monthly round-ups as "bloggings," I have decided to call them "diaries." This seems to me much more elegant and high-toned, in keeping with the intellectual level of NRO, where matters of the utmost gravity are discussed in an atmosphere of earnest scholarly inquiry, and movie starlets' breasts are never mentioned at all.

The keeping of diaries is traditionally supposed to be the hobby of virgins and generals. I am neither of those things, and have not the patience nor the self-discipline to be a conscientious diarist; but once a month I shall indulge myself in some notes on the passing scene, and "diary" is as good a word for these observations as any other. Everybody on board with that? Herewith, my March diary.


Judge Pickering     The Judge Pickering fiasco revealed once again the fundamental asymmetry in U.S. politics. A person of conservative views — any conservative views — is assumed to be a hate-twisted, narrow-minded, wife-beating cross-burner, unless he can produce watertight evidence to the contrary. A person of leftist views is assumed to be … normal, unless there is photographic proof that he eats babies for breakfast. (And even that, come to think of it, would probably be laughed off as just another "lifestyle choice" … With support groups for infantivores springing up soon after, followed by laws to prevent discrimination against them, quotas in college admissions, and a Senate speech by Hillary Clinton accusing the Republican Party of being "mean-spirited" towards infantivores — of being, in fact, infantivorophobic.) To establish a person as unacceptable in the minds of Congresspeople — and, I think, of the not-very-attentive American public — leftists have only to uncover some connection, however tenuous and disputable, between that person and some out-of-bounds group or opinion, "out-of-bounds" being defined, of course, by the Left itself.

And what would conservatives have to do, if they wanted to tar some left-wing judicial nominee in a similar way? To make him unacceptable to enlightened opinion — to The New York Times and the panjandrums of news TV? The question has no answer. There is nothing comparable they could do. Establish a link with Louis "gutter religion" Farrakhan? Dig up some fawning comments about Fidel Castro, Nicolae Ceausescu or Pol Pot? Uncover some pro bono legal work done for the Yahweh Cult or La Raza? Who would care?

At election time a year and a half ago, one of this country's most brilliant and perceptive political commentators noted this fundamental asymmetry:

"We all had a lot of fun watching the Republican convention pandering to all the many constituencies they hope to woo from allegiance to the enemy: blacks, hispanics, homosexuals, and so on. But where was the equivalent phenomenon in Los Angeles? Did the Democrats do any pandering to, say, the 59 per cent of Americans who think that homosexuality is immoral? To the whatever-large-per-cent-it-is of Americans who think that immigration is out of control? Did they heck. They don't need to pander. They are the party of Right — of "tolerance," of "inclusiveness," of "fairness," of "working families." Republicans hope to win these laurels for themselves: the Democrats hold them. We are postulants, seeking admission to the Order of Virtue; the Dems run it. We are defensive; they are confident. We pander to our enemies; they laugh at theirs."


Oscars     What did I think of the Oscars? Sorry, you're asking the wrong guy. The sight of showbiz types slobbering over each other induces actual physical nausea in me; and I find Whoopi Goldberg about as funny as an ingrown toenail. I don't see a lot of movies, but I see enough to know that at least 95 per cent of what the studios put out is worthless crap. The last movie I really liked? Toy Story 2. No, I'm not kidding. Next item.


Relevant experience     When I read articles like this, telling us how fissiparous the Afghans are, and how impossible it is to govern them, I always feel it's a job I might be able to handle, based on early life experiences. My mother, may she rest in peace, was the 11th of 13 children of an English coal miner. She married late, so that my childhood was punctuated by the weddings of cousins. At each wedding, the mighty clan would gather. However, these events always ended with a fight and a family split, half the family swearing undying enmity to the other half. I seem to have spent a good part of my childhood riding the bus home from family functions, listening to my mother mutter: "I'll never speak to that damn Laura again as long as I live! Did you hear what she said about our Harold? …" A few months later, the clan would assemble for another wedding. There would be forgivings and tearful reconciliations … until, at some point in the festivities, Nell would take offense at something Jack told her Muriel thought she heard Doug say to Gladys, the family would split along some new fault line, and everyone would go to the mattresses again. I tell you, I knew all about cliques and factions before I could tie my sneakers. Govern Afghanistan? Piece of cake. How do I apply for the job?


Non-Muslim Arab antisemitism?     I noted in my piece last week titled " Kill a Jew for Allah" that: "Institutional Islam is riddled with Jew-hatred." I don't think that is a very controversial statement.

However, most Arab-Americans are not Muslims, but Christians of various small Middle Eastern denominations. A thing I have never seen discussed in print is: how much antisemitism is there among Arab Christians? Being a professing Christian is, after all, as history all too abundantly shows, no obstacle to being antisemitic, and Arab Christians tend to belong to tiny out-of-the-mainstream sects that have been stewing in isolation for centuries.

A learned friend (Jewish) who knows a great deal about such things summarized it for me as follows. "The Copts [Egypt's largest Christian sect] are so brutally repressed by the Egyptian state that it is hard to say whether they have the energy to hate the Jews; they are too busy surviving. The Maronites were Israel's primary allies in the Lebanon War; before their betrayal at the hands of Ehud Barak, you could have argued that they were Israel's best friends in the Arab world. The small Armenian population in Israel proper has always had good relations with the Jewish state. And non-Arab Christian minorities in the Arab world — such as the Assyrians — have been at least occasional allies; at any rate, the exile communities in the West have been. Where there is antisemitism among Middle East Christians, it comes from the mainstream churches; that is to say, the eastern Orthodox and Uniate churches of Syria and among the Palestinians."


Freezy, sneezy, breezy, …     March 22nd arrived, heralded as "the first day of Spring." This may be astronomically correct, but it is climatological nonsense. Spring, so far as I am concerned, is the months of March, April and May. Summer is June, July and August; fall is September, October and November; winter is December, January and February. Who cares about solstices and equinoxes? That stuff all went out with the Druids. Let's keep things simple, and do it by months. And can anyone complete the ditty I remember only the first half of, tagging the months with their (North Atlantic) characteristics: "Freezy, sneezy, breezy, showery, flowery, bowery … "?


Do condoms spread disease?     "They [school administrators in Montgomery County, Maryland] want to demonstrate [to high school kids] how to use condoms. Such demonstrations, supporters say, could help stem a rise in sexually transmitted diseases, as well as teen pregnancy." — Washington Post, 3/19/02.

Everyone believes that condoms prevent disease — we even use "prophylactic" as a synonym for "condom." I suppose there must be something in it. However, I recall a conversation with a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps many years ago, who claimed that condoms help diseases to spread. His argument is not for the squeamish, so please skip the rest of this section if you don't want the details. When donning a condom, this medical man pointed out, you have to roll it on; and this is very difficult to do without trapping, and thereby plucking out, some pubic hairs. Now, the site where a hair has been freshly plucked out is (he claimed) a tiny lesion, and a perfect entry point for disease.

I've been carrying this theory round in my head for years, without really having any idea whether or not it is sound. Can any reader with a solid medical background please give me an opinion?


Three Historians follow-up     Two follow-ups on my "three historians" piece earlier this month.

  1. After my description of Sima Qian's letter to his friend Ren An, which I described as one of the great documents of antiquity, some readers emailed in to ask where a translation of that letter could be found. It is printed as an appendix (Appendix Two) to Records of the Grand Historian: The Qin Dynasty, the first of the three volumes in Burton Watson's translation of Sima Qian's great work.
  2. I mentioned the poet Eric Ormsby, and that fine magazine The New Criterion, to which Eric and I are both occasional contributors. Unforgivably, however, I failed to mention another magazine, Parnassus: Poetry in Review, with which Eric is even more closely associated, and in which I too once published a piece. I hereby apologize, correct the omission, and recommend Parnassus to you without reservation, if you care at all about poetry.


For the Unionists     After my Ireland piece, several readers asked why I write about IRA terror (which they agreed is bad) but not about the "loyalist" gangs, who do things just as wicked. That's an easy one. I only have a few hundred words to say what I want to say; so on a subject like Ireland, about which there is a very great deal to say, I have to select. What are my criteria for selection? The main one is: I want to tell you things you won't read elsewhere. Since the U.S. media is fiercely and aggressively pro-IRA and anti-Ulster Unionist, I try to state the case for the Unionists when I can. They do, after all, have a very good case, though you would never know it from watching TV or reading The New York Times.

Are "loyalist" terrorists beastly? Yes, they are. But who in America doesn't know this? Who in America doesn't know that Unionists are beastly tout ensemble — that they are arrogant, sneering, bigoted monsters, whose chief pleasure is to grind the faces of poor suffering Catholics? That's what the IRA shills in the U.S. media tell you. At the time of Gerry Adams's 1994 visit to this country, I was astounded to hear U.S. newscasters retailing the "fact" that Northern Ireland Catholics could not vote, were disenfranchised. That was a naked lie, but it was put about very widely in the U.S. media, and millions of Americans probably believe it. I was even more astounded, now I come to think of it, to hear Larry King address Adams as "Mister Ireland." Since Adams's party was at that time polling around 2 per cent in elections in the Republic of Ireland, this is equivalent to calling Ralph Nader "Mister America."

That's the U.S. media, that's what they're like — liars, hypocrites and fools, for the most part. I aim to tell you something you won't hear from them. If your pleasure is to hear about the cruelty, bigotry and intolerance of the Ulster Unionists, switch on your TV, go to the movies, or buy a newspaper. I aim to give you the other stuff.


All or nothing     One of the things that columnists are plagued by, in fact, is a sort of Hegelian faction out there in reader-land. The philosopher Hegel, if I have not misunderstood him, argued that no statement you can make about anything in the universe is completely true, because the manifold connections that exist between everything and everything else mean that the only completely true statement would be one that encompassed all of creation. Just so, if I say an approving word about (for example) the Turks, I get angry letters from Armenians demanding to know why I didn't mention the 1915 massacres, and from Greeks demanding to know why I didn't mention the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. The answer is: because that's not what I was writing about. Go write your own damn articles, you Hegelians. Then I can have some fun reading them and telling you what you left out.


Hegelian clerihew     P.S. to the last: Anyone who can say anything coherent about Hegel thereby acquires a license to quote W.H. Auden's brilliant clerihew on the old bore, as follows:

No-one could ever inveigle
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Into offering an apology
For his Phenomenology.

(I guarantee, I guarantee, I shall now get emails chiding me for calling Hegel a bore and assuring me that the Wissenschaft der Logik is, when approached in the right spirit, more fun than the all-night laundromat.)