»  National Review Online Diary

  July 2002

Cuomo the Dragon Slayer     Been watching lotsa TV in my post-authorial stupor. Caught a campaign ad for Andrew Cuomo, who is running for Governor of New York. As the voice-over reeled off the man's achievements, the following made me jump out of my chair: "He stood up to the KKK on discrimination …" He did what? The Ku Klux Klan? In New York? Now, we have our problems here in the Empire State, but the Klan isn't one of them. Its entire state membership, in fact, could fit comfortably into a station wagon, and half of them are undercover FBI agents. Who else has the gallant Andrew stood up to? The Know Nothings? The anti-Suffragists?

I did my journalistic due diligence. Here's the scoop. Back in Spring of 2000, Cuomo was serving as Clinton's Housing and Urban Development Secretary. One Roy Frankhauser, a self-described "chaplain to the KKK" (not even a member), agreed to pay damages for threatening and harassing a "fair housing advocate" (read:  lefty trouble-maker) named Bonnie Jouhari. The threatening and harassing consisted of a flyer placed on Ms. Jouhari's car, containing the words "race traitor beware" and a picture of a Klansman with a noose. Frankhauser is also supposed to have sat on a bench outside Jouhari's office, taking pictures of her, and to have made nuisance phone calls (though we have only Ms. Jouhari's word for the latter). For this and some similar indignities, Jouhari eventually, with Cuomo's aid, won over $1m in damages.

It is easy enough to imagine the sort of public nuisance Ms. Jouhari is, and the glee with which Cuomo must have realized that, for the whole of the rest of his political career, he will be able to boast of "having stood up to the Klan." It is somewhat less easy to imagine how diligently his handlers must have scoured the land for a Klansman he could stand up to.

If You Can't Take the Heat …     I note, by the way, that the above-mocked Ms. Jouhari "was forced to flee the state" (which, to be fair, was Pennsylvania, not New York) and that "A forensic psychologist testified that [Jouhari's 18-year-old] daughter was suffering from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with Delayed Onset, triggered by her exposure to the threats." Poor things! This illustrates a general truth: Lefties are not only liars and thieves, they are also crybabies. Anyone who exposes his thoughts or beliefs to the public gaze can tell much worse stories than Ms. Jouhari's. Certainly anyone who does columns for a conservative web site can. Here is a random sample — by no means the worst I have had — from my own e-mail bag:

You and your slit eyed yellow wife don't belong in the USA. People like you are the main reason our civilization is in such a state of decay. Your kids are half-breed mongrels. They are mud-race slime. You and your whole family are of no greater value than a single cockroach.

(And how are you today, paul_schmidt66@hotmail.com?) Ooooh, I think I feel PTSDDO coming on. If I pack up and flee the state, can I have a million dollars, please?

Derb, Financial Wizard     The talking head on CBS Marketwatch Sunday morning was opining about where to park your money while the stock market swirls down the toilet. Buy CDs, he suggested brightly. Treasury notes also good. And commercial paper — some of it pays 4 or 5 per cent! He stopped short of telling viewers to stuff their savings in the mattress, but not far short. My mind drifted smugly back five years to the day I paid off my mortgage. I've always hated debt: I pay my credit card bills in full when they arrive, buy cars with a check for the full price, and so on. So as soon as I could afford to pay off my mortgage, I did. At the time, I was working on Wall Street. I came in for withering scorn from my colleagues. "Are you crazy, Derb? It's cheap money! Whaddya paying, seven per cent? — and with a tax break, too! Instead of using that wad of cash to pay off your mortgage, put it in a mutual fund and get ten per cent return. Ten beats seven, duh! Hoo hoo hoo! Hey, listen to this, guys …"  Well, the way I looked at it, I was writing a bloody great check every month, and wished to stop doing that. So I paid off my mortage and no longer had to write that check; and the fund that was paying ten per cent in 1997 is now heading round the S-bend with the rest of the market. I suppose things will come back eventually, but for the time being allow me a brief period of smug self-congratulation.

Jargon to Die For     I follow — as a passive observer, I don't understand enough of the relevant science to participate actively — current developments in the field of "human biodiversity." This is the zone where biology, genetics, anthropology, and sociology meet, and you need a solid grounding in statistics to follow the arguments. One area of discussion is "life strategies," of which one particular aspect is "paternal investment." The rough idea is that in any stable human society, there are some men who father kids at random and then wander off, leaving the women to cope as best they can (that's "low paternal investment") and others who stick around and put a lot of time and resources into helping raise the kids ("high paternal investment").

Different societies display different proportions of the two strategies, and the differences depend to some degree on physical environment. Hunting peoples living in harsh climates tend to go for high paternal investment; primitive farmers in warm fertile climates, for low. If a human group lives in the same kind of place for scores of generations, natural selection might work its magic to produce men who are genetically inclined to one life strategy or the other … supposing that life strategies have some genetic basis. Whether they do or not is the subject of active research, and you will be hearing a lot about this in the years to come. The only thing I want to pass on here is the piece of jargon that is current among the experts for describing the two ends of the paternal-investment spectrum:  "cads and dads." Jargon simply doesn't get any better than that.

Falun Gong — a True Story     In a column last month I wrote the following sentence, in re Jiang Zemin's trip to Iceland:  "Whatever you think of the Falun Gong people (for the record, I think they are harmless crackpots) they have no record of violent demonstrations." I got a flurry of e-mail from Falun Gong practitioners, protesting, in polite but hurt tones, that I had traduced them. All right: here is my Falun Gong story.

We have some Chinese friends, the husband a research scientist at a famous laboratory. He is also a devotee of Falun Gong. It would not be too much to say, in fact, that he is obsessive about it. Conversations with him end up, after half a dozen exchanges, with Falun Gong, the ineffable truth of it, the wickedness of the communists in suppressing it, and the wonderful things it has done for his health, strength, life, work, etc. He used to press FLG literature on me till I made it plain — very politely, I hope — that I already have a religion that suits me pretty well, and am not in the market for a new one.

FLG has caused endless trouble in this guy's marriage. Example: the lab, though famous, does not pay researchers very well, and our friend's wife — who is not FLG — has been urging him to make a career move, to get a better job somewhere. An excellent opportunity came up a few weeks ago, when there was a big West Coast conference in his specialty. On the eve of his departure for this conference, the guy's wife discovered that he had stuffed his bags with FLG literature, intending to shower the conference attendees with it — not exactly a great way to do career networking. This poor wife is in despair. "All he thinks about is his wretched Falun Gong!" she wails.

This couple is, in so far as an outsider can ever judge these things, very well matched, and the guy is a good husband and father in all other respects — definitely a dad, not a cad. FLG is starting to be a serious problem in the marriage, though. Trying to be helpful, I suggested to Rosie that the wife could solve her problems by becoming FLG herself. "She won't do that," said Rosie. Why not? "Because she thinks it's a load of crap."

Fading Away     Mine is the first generation of English-born people to refer to the 1914-18 conflict as "the First World War." To those of my parents' and grandparents' generations it was simply "the Great War." That war is only a footnote for Americans; for British people, it was a colossal social, cultural and psychological earthquake, described very well by many writers, most notably by Paul Fussell in The Great War and Modern Memory and by Philip Larkin in his poem "MCMXIV", which ends:

… Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word — the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

"But it still goes on." (I am quoting now from Paul Fussell.) The British association of Great War veterans is down to about 70 members, the youngest of them 101. On July 26th, three of them — ages 103, 104 and 107 — made it over to Belgium to mark the 75th anniversary of the Menin Gate memorial. This stands over the Menin Road, which led from the great staging area around the ruined town of Ypres, to the trenches at the front. Hundreds of thousands of British soldiers passed along that road; tens of thousands never returned. The "Last Post" bugle call (equivalent to, though not identical with, American "Taps") is still sounded there every evening.

One oddity about the Menin Gate is that its name echoes the very first word of Homer's Iliad. The Iliad, in the original Homeric Greek, begins: "Meenin aeide, thea …"  that first word having the meaning "wrath."  This is just a coincidence, and nothing to do with the name of the gate; but the classically-educated young men who made up the junior officer class of the British army, and who suffered by far the highest casualty rate of any ranks at the front, must all have noticed it as they trudged that road towards the sound of the guns. "Never such innocence again."

Is Iran the Hope of the MidEast?     Static, stalemated trench warfare … City-flattening artillery duels … Massed waves of young men going "over the top" to be scythed down by machine-gun fire … It couldn't happen in a modern war, could it? Well, yes, actually it could — and did, in the terrible Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88. Iran, which suffered the worse, had over 300,000 dead from a population of 60 million. That is not up to Great War standards of slaughter (France, for example, lost 1.3 million in half as many years, 1914-18, and out of a smaller population) but it was bad enough. And unlike the Great War, the Iran-Iraq war ended without a victory for either side. Indeed, it left the combatants' territories and relative strengths unchanged, as if nothing had happened! As well as being the bloodiest war of recent times, Iran-Iraq was also the most inconsequential.

Except, perhaps, for this: that after seeing their political leaders — the clerics who emerged after the 1979 revolution against the Shah — urging hundreds of thousands of young men forward in suicidal massed charges against Iraqi positions, to no eventual purpose, the people of Iran must have suffered a certain disillusionment with those leaders, and acquired a certain lack of appetite for war. Add to this the fact that the people of Iran, almost alone in that part of the world, know from experience that it is within the power of the people, acting by themselves, to remove unpopular rulers, and you have a national psychology that might be inclined towards genuine democratic progress.

Perhaps it is foolish to be hopeful about any country that has known nothing but despotism for thousands of years, yet Iran must surely be a better bet than any Arab country for movement toward constitutional government. (Though blogger Noah Millman, who writes more good sense about the Middle East than an average half-dozen other pundits, thinks a similar case might be made for Egypt.)

The Bleg     OK, now the bleg. (NB: The verb "to bleg" — coined, I believe, by yours truly — means "to use your blog to beg for assistance from readers.") One of the gadgets I have plugged into my computer is a very simple cassette tape reader I got for $20 from Radio Shack. It has no speakers and won't record. Its sole purpose is to read audio tapes into my computer's sound board, so that I can save my favorite tracks as disk files. What I want to know is: is there any similarly minimal gadget for digital video tapes? I have a dozen of the darned things, for example with my last summer's family trip to China on them. (These are the teeny 3x2 mini-tapes.) My digital camcorder won't do the job, for complicated reasons arising mostly from the stupidity of the manufacturer (JVC). I'd like to have a stand-alone independent unit, like the one I have for audio cassettes. Does such a thing exist? Hours of browsing appropriate web sites have failed to turn up anything. Anybody know?