»  National Review Online Diary

  July 2003

Social liberal, fiscal conservative     A high point of NRO this last month was Maggie Gallagher's piece on marriage, in which she made the point — not original with her, but not made half as often as it should be — that "social liberal, fiscal conservative" is an oxymoron. Socially liberal policies, when implemented, generally end up as higher government expenditures and increased government powers. Relaxation of the divorce laws was socially liberal… but ended up swelling the welfare rolls. Liberalization of drug laws gets you more drug addicts, more need for treatment centers and counseling services. More open attitudes to homosexuality were socially liberal… but led to lavishly-funded programs to look after AIDS victims and pay for research into cures, and to state patrolling of our speech and thoughts via "hate crime" legislation. Relaxed attitudes to crime and punishment were socially liberal while they lasted… and had to be paid for with expanded police forces and vast prison-building programs… and so on.

It's not difficult to see why this should be so. Work the logic back from "fiscal conservative." If the state is not managing or paying for something, then the people must be managing it and paying for it themselves — the original American ideal of self-support. That implies the willingness and ability of citizens to organize themselves in stable, coherent small groups for mutual assistance — families, neighborhoods, associations, and townships. And that implies the readiness to sacrifice some of one's own liberty to group norms and common endeavors … which is the point at which social liberals jump to their feet and start yelling angrily.

The goal of social liberalism is something like the happily hedonistic society of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. We should remember that the society Huxley imagined was, for all the cheery hedonism, a tightly-controlled dictatorship.

Out to the ball game     The Derbs drove over to Shea Stadium last Friday to see the Mets play Cincinnati. Yes, Yes, I know I've said rude things about the Mets. We are good honest Yankee fans at heart, honestly. However, someone had given us free tickets, and those white-trash genes of mine will never let me refuse a freebie. So there we were, way up in the upper level at far right field (they were lousy tickets), cheering on Cincinnati. Didn't do much good, as the Reds lost 3-1.

Baseball shows the essential features of human life in a very clear and simple way. You are presented with opportunities. Sometimes you created those opportunities yourself; sometimes they came your way by the efforts of others. Having spotted them, you have to turn them into successes. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't; and when you can't, it may be because you didn't give it enough in effort and spirit, or co-operate well enough with other people, or it may be because another person let you down, or it may be just dumb bad luck. Still, it's all about spotting those opportunities and trying your utter best to capitalize on them. The team that wins a baseball game is the one that made the best out of its opportunities. Just like life.

While I was mulling these deep matters, Rosie was much more interested in the rowdy cheering section of teenagers up in the topmost seats. They were all of Chinese ancestry, we judged by their appearance. How, Rosie wanted to know, did they get so interested in baseball, which is unknown in mainland China and Hong Kong? And why were they being so rowdy? Didn't they know they were supposed to belong to a Model Minority? Shouldn't they — she didn't actually say this, but I think it was the… subtext of her remarks — shouldn't they be at home doing their violin practice and preparing their award-winning exhibits for the science fair?

On the first point, I could only offer the suggestion that perhaps these kids' families were not from the mainland but from Taiwan, where baseball has been hugely popular for 40 years, as it has in Japan. (Mainland Chinese of the radical-nationalist persuasion — a category which, I hasten to add, certainly does not include Rosie — like to scoff at the Taiwan Chinese as having been culturally Nipponized — having sold their birthright for a mess of sushi, so to speak — and this is one of their favorite talking points. These "authentic" Chinese radicals scorn baseball, preferring to follow those traditional Chinese sports approved by Confucius, Mencius, and the other sages of ancient times, sports like soccer and volleyball …) Or perhaps they are just American kids who like baseball and happen to have Chinese ancestors.

On the second point, I sympathize to some degree with my wife, who was brought up in Mao's China with very strict standards of behavior. (Please do not remind me that condemning peasants to a lingering death by starvation in pursuit of inflated production statistics, or massacring Tibetan nuns in order to "liberate" them, or clubbing schoolteachers to death for being "rightists," betrays a somewhat less than scrupulous adherence to strict standards of behavior. I am speaking of what the communists preached, not what they did. In matters of personal conduct, they preached a strict puritanism.) However, on balance I am glad to see these kids yelling and stomping like any other unruly American teenagers. It confirms an idea that has been slowly growing on me: that, Model Minority or not, the Chinese are the most assimilable of all immigrant groups, and generally become perfectly American in a single generation, if not seduced by the college race-grievance industry. This is surely something to be glad about.

I have tried to argue this with Rosie, but can't get her to come all the way with me on it. In her Chinese heart, she thinks these descendants of the Yellow Emperor have been corrupted in some way. Well, yes, in a manner of speaking. I smile quietly to myself, thinking of Jim Woodhill's remark that, if not exactly a Great Satan, we are none the less a very good Satan.

Everybody must be equal to everybody else     We have had the Title IX horrors — men's sports programs at universities being shut down so that the numbers of male and female athletes will be equal. Do you think there is no more territory left for rabid feminists to conquer? Think again. Across the pond, the European Commission is considering legislation to outlaw absolutely all forms of "gender discrimination" in "TV programming, advertising, insurance premiums, taxation, newspaper content and education."

As I understand it, this would not only prohibit insurance companies from offering lower rates to women, on the grounds that they are safer drivers, it would also require TV advertisers to show commercials pushing tampons to male viewers. Said Anna Diamantopoulou, the European commissioner for employment and social affairs (I guess she was unable to get a real job): "I am determined to pursue it to its conclusion" — the "it" there being the principle of absolute sexual equality. Europe today, America tomorrow.

Life must be filled up     From Mrs. Thrales's Anecdotes of Samuel Johnson:

The vacuity of life had at some early period … so struck upon the mind of Mr. Johnson, that it became by repeated impression his favorite hypothesis … The things therefore which other philosophers attribute to various & contradictory causes, appeared to him uniform enough: all was done to fill up the time … One man for example was profligate, followed the girls or the gaming table — Why, life must be filled up, Madam, and the man was capable of nothing less sensual. Another was active in the management of his estate, and delighted in domestic economy — Why, a man must do something, & what so easy to a narrow mind as hoarding halfpence till they turn into silver? I once talked to him of a gentleman who loved his friend — He has nothing else to do, replies Johnson. Make him prime minister, & see how long his friend will be remembered.

(Mrs. Thrale missed one of my favorites. Asked why London's social elite all flocked to the fashionable city of Bath in the season, Johnson replied: "To rid themselves of the day.")

I find this rather severe reductionism a bit uncomfortable, I must say. Surely there are other motives for human action than the desire to fill up time. There is something in it, though. My daughter Nellie had a little friend here for a sleep-over the other day. As a treat, we let them sit up late watching TV, which we normally ration quite strictly. When I went downstairs in the morning, the two girls were already up, and watching TV again. Nellie's brother had got up too, and joined them in front of the screen.

That's how it is. Left to their own devices, kids default to watching TV. You can keep them busy with other things, and a lot of parenting consists of thinking up ever more ways to do just that; but it's like keeping a ball in the air. Relax your attentions, leave them to "fill up the time" in their own way, and they drift to the TV. Not just kids, either. Idleness is a very widespread vice. I sometimes think that the strongest of all human propensities is the propensity to do nothing. I include watching TV as a style of doing nothing — the most common style, in our time, the preferred method, for most adults as well as children, to "rid themselves of the day."

Including the very last day. Theodore Dalrymple, in one of his essays about the modern English underclass, noted that a high proportion of human beings die with the TV set on. Their last sight of God's creation is some soap opera or chat show. Come to think of it, they have TVs in the labor rooms at Huntington hospital, and my daughter came into the world under the all-seeing eye of Oprah Winfrey. Our entire lives, whether we want it or not, are afloat on that ocean of swill, or at least lapped by its garbage-laden waters. God help us.

Nothing unusual, nothing strange     Othniel Askew is the fellow who shot New York City councilman James Davis at City Hall last week. The New York Post had a story about a photographer named Victor Carnuccio, who took some studio pictures of Askew a few years ago. Here's the quote:

Once, after attending a play with Askew and a date, he [i.e. Carnuccio] took the men back to his studio and photographed them shirtless — kissing, hugging, and mugging playfully for the camera. Several years after the first photo shoot, Askew got back in touch, Carnuccio said. He wanted the photographer to take more portfolio shots, but the deal fell apart because Askew wanted them for free. "I never thought of him as being unusual or strange,' Carnuccio said. 'Something must have snapped."

Top ten     In The Corner last week I had occasion to mention Donizetti's opera L'elisir d'amore. Concurring with my high opinion of this opera, a reader added that the aria "Una furtiva lagrima" from the second act is the most beautiful song ever written. I think that's overstating things a bit. When I make bold judgments like that, I generally find that on some other day, in some other mood, I disagree with myself. Listening to the 1976 José Carreras recording, though, I have to say that if not the most beautiful song ever written, "Una furtiva lagrima" is certainly in the top ten.

Several readers wrote in to say that they didn't get opera. Some were regretful about this, and asked for advice on how to acquire the taste. Others were proud of their ignorance, declaring that this whole zone is well-known to be the haunt of dubious pantywaist types, and any tune that couldn't be played on a 12-string banjo wasn't worth bothering with (or words to that effect). My own opinion is that the whole opera thing is genetic. My father, an otherwise rough and uncultivated man, liked opera, and could sing "Non piu andrai," though only in English. I like opera, and I am sure my son will like it when he's more mature. It travels in the male line, though — my sister is not, and my mother was not, an opera fan.

If you want to find out whether or not you have the opera gene, the Carreras "Una furtiva lagrima" would not be a bad test. Listen to it with an English translation in your hand, so you know the meaning. Have someone explain the mise en scène beforehand, so you understand the context. (This is important. An opera is not a mere collection of songs. It is a story.) If, at the end of the song, you are still dry-eyed, or have not at least found yourself thinking some thoughts along the lines of: "How does he do that?" then opera is not for you.

Blacks don't kill themselves; Asians don't get AIDS     Not in San Francisco, anyway. Here are the death stats for that city, by race. Note the deaths from liver cancer among Asians. What's that all about? Both Chou En-lai and (I am pretty sure) Sun Yat-sen died from liver cancer. Diet, or genetics?

  Black White Asian Latino
2 AIDS AIDS Stroke Drug
3 Drug
4 Stroke Lung
Pneumonia Homicide
5 Homicide Pneumonia Liver
6 Pneumonia Suicide Colorectal
7 Lung
8 Cardiomyopathy COPD Suicide Lung
9 Breast
10 Diabetes CLDC Breast
AD = alcohol dependency
CLDC = chronic liver disease & cirrhosis
COPD = chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
IHD = ischemic heart disease
MVT = motor vehicle or traffic accident

Kiddie show     My daughter, aged 10, has been attending a summer workshop of "music and drama skills" at the local high school. Last week they gave us our end-of-session show. It was fun, and the following are really just quibbles, but I thought them worth recording anyway.

Montezuma's revenge     I have a piece in the print National Review in which I pass comment on the swarms of Central Americans who do most of the lawn and garden work on Long Island. I actually referred to these workers as "Aztecs." A colleague, in conversation, queried this, and I responded by noting the obvious fact that Mexico is a nation highly stratified by race, with tall white people of European ancestry lording it over short dark aborigines. None of the landscaping crews in my neighborhood contains anyone who looks the least bit like Vicente Fox, I added. Mexicans who do look like Fox have very little need to cross the border seeking work in garden maintenance.

Thinking about this afterwards I recalled the "Peter Simple" column in the London Daily Telegraph, which I was addicted to in the 1980s. The column was actually written by a comic genius named Michael Wharton. In it, he reported on the doings of a host of preposterous figures, mostly of a left-wing inclination, all of whom he had invented out of his own head, in the tradition of other fantasy-columnists like Flann O'Brien and "Beachcomber".

There was, for instance, Julian Birdbath the literary critic, Lt. Gen. Sir Frederick ("Tiger") Nidgett of the Royal Army Tailoring Corps, the Rev. Dr. Spacely-Trellis, the progressive bishop, and of course Mrs. Dutt-Pauker, the archetype of all well-heeled lefties. (She had an Albanian maid named something like "Xocj.") Wharton often quoted approvingly from leader articles in his favorite paper, which I should dearly like to subscribe to if only it existed: The Feudal Times and Reactionary Herald. He was also the inventor of the prejudometer, a device for measuring a person's level of racial prejudice — in terms, of course, of the international standard unit, the prejudon. The prejudometer needed careful handling, as it was liable to explode if pointed at the wrong person.

Well, among this invented menagerie of leftist lunacy was a small community — it had to be a "community," of course! — of Aztecs, who live in the (imaginary) English town of Stretchford. Their ancestors were thought to have arrived in the Middle Ages, after crossing the Atlantic in stone boats. Wharton used these Aztecs to make points about multiculturalism and minority grievance-mongering. They were always lobbying for recognition of some kind, or complaining about anti-Aztec discrimination, or demanding that school history curriculums be changed to reflect Aztec achievements. Watching these garden crews settling in as a permanent feature of the Long Island landscape, I wonder if perhaps Wharton was more prescient than he knew.

Math Corner     The solution to last month's puzzle is here.

This fiendishly clever one, which dates from at latest the 1960s, surfaces among math hobbyists every now and then. If you are a math hobbyist yourself, there is thus a high probability you have already seen it. If you are not, I assure you that, though by no means easy (it cost me half a day), it involves nothing more than logical reasoning of the "if he didn't know X, then it must be the case that Y…" type, and some basic arithmetical properties of numbers. (Of which the least basic is Goldbach's Conjecture — certainly true in the range under investigation here — that every even number greater than 2 is the sum of two primes. This is the only math puzzle I know whose solution depends on a knowledge of Goldbach's Conjecture.) Here goes.

Of two unknown integers, each between 2 and 99 inclusive, a person P is told the product and a person S is told the sum. When asked whether they know the two numbers, the following dialogue ensues:

P:  "I don't know them."
S:  "I knew that already."
P:  "Then I now know the two numbers."
S:  "Then I now know them, too."

What are the two numbers? Prove that your solution is unique.