»  National Review Online Diary

  January 2004


Clarence Derbyshire     We had some exchanges about immigration this month on The Corner, following the January 7 airing of the President's amn — … sorry! sorry! … the President's temporary worker plan. I got a corresponding amount of e-mail. Some of it was negative (around ten per cent, I think). You can learn a lot from negative responses. The thing I mainly learned, which I didn't know before, is the degree to which there is now an immigration ideology. Or, to be a bit more exact, the degree to which the immigration issue has been folded into the larger ideology of PC/diversity.

For example: lots of people now regard immigrants as a Designated Victim Group. Furthermore, as with any DVG, you can be an authentic member of it, or an inauthentic one — in this case, an immigrant, or an "immigrant." I myself, I have learned, am inauthentic, a mere "immigrant." It's like Clarence Thomas not really being black, only "black." Because he holds conservative opinions, you see, he can't be authentically black. He can only be black in scare quotes.

Same with me. Because I do not favor perfectly open borders and the handing out of goody bags to illegal immigrants, I am only an immigrant in scare quotes, not an authentic immigrant. In fact, the terminology has advanced even further than that. Among PC ideologues there is actually a word used to describe people like me — immigrants, sorry "immigrants," who do not toe the PC line on immigration. We are "transplants." Got that? Barbra Streisand's pool boy is an immigrant; Derb is a transplant.

Perhaps I should invite Clarence Thomas to lunch so we can compare notes.


Jobs Americans won't do     I had a go in The Corner at the silly phrase "jobs that Americans won't do." I said that as well as being economically illiterate, this phrase is offensive. To be exact, it offends my own personal image of America, my country. America, to my way of thinking, is the can-do country — the barn-raising, steel-driving, homesteading, buckle-down-to-it, get-the-job-done-without-complaining country.

Jobs we will not do? What jobs are those? I've done a number of dirty jobs in my time. For my first seven months in this country, I was a dishwasher. Previous to that, mainly in England, I have at various times worked construction sites as a laborer and back-hoe operator, in a greeting-card factory as a stock boy, in a brewery steam-cleaning returned beer barrels, as a bartender, gardener, truck driver, painter, playgroup supervisor, and one or two other things. I'm a bit long in the tooth now for some of those kinds of work; but when it comes to supporting my family, I can't think of any jobs that I will not do.

What is this, Saudi Arabia? What are these jobs that "Americans won't do"? How dare anyone suggest that in this busy, hard-working, resourceful, strong-backed nation, there are jobs we "will not do"? For shame!


Good for immigrants     One more on immigration, then I'll shut up about it for a while.

Another expression that sticks in my throat is "good for immigrants." Greg Easterbrook, in his self-defense column in The New Republic Online, boasted that in his book The Progress Paradox he defends liberal immigration policy, calling it "a social good and strongly in the interest of immigrants."

Why should it be any concern of policy-makers what is "in the interest of immigrants"? I myself was a landed immigrant on these shores for many years before becoming a citizen. It never occurred to me that the US government ought to go out of its way in my interest, other than by according me ordinary legal protections. If, during my years as a green-card holder, the US government had decided they had more Englishmen than they wanted and told me to leave, I would have left. I would probably have gone out grumbling at the inconvenience, but it would never have occurred to me that I was being wronged in any way.

The function of the US government is to further the intersts of the United States and her citizens. Foreigners must shift for themselves. If you, in your capacity as a private citizen, wish to further the interests of some particular group of foreigners, you are of course free to do so through private charities. That is commendable and Christian of you. Our government, however, has no business distracting itself with concern for foreigners. Their job is to look after America, and Americans. That ought to be a full-time job.


Melting pot     For a kinder'n'gentler segue out of immigration-related topics, I note that an orderly immigration process, with laws duly passed by the Legislature according to the will of the people, sensibly interpreted by the Judiciary, and firmly enforced by the Executive, has many benefits.

At the Long Island String Festival Association orchestral concert January 25, the 5th-grade orchestra had the following surnames in its violin section: Bucaria, Cartwright, Chen, Chuang, Collins, D'Archangelis, D'Esposito, Derbyshire, Franck, Gaglione, Gaias, He, Hsu, Kaplan, Kenyon, Koch, Konomos, Leung, Ma, Mata, Neknez, Park, Payne, Polla, Rajan, Rudolph, Sampath, Schaub, Sterlacci, Szymanski, Tu, Xie, Zampariello.


Draw!     Great gun story from falconer and travel writer Steve Bodio out there in the Southwest.

Terence, a young English falconer who had recently moved to New Mexico, was chattering on about cultural differences between the US and home. "I mean, people have guns. Even civilized people, not just rednecks. Even people who look like us …" I looked at Libby. Jonathan looked at Roseann. We all looked at Bruce. Then the five of us proceeded to produce from our persons (or handbags if the appropriate sex) five serious guns — Glocks, Smith & Wessons, petite Roseann's Heckler and Koch — and two .22-caliber backups. To which Terence responded, deadpan, forever endearing him to us: "I could … get used to this."


The wussification of America     Daniel Derbyshire, eight years old, got knocked down and pounded by a bully. I am sanguine about this kind of thing. The lad must learn to defend himself, to which end he has for some time been doing weekly lessons and workouts at "Fitness Through Boxing," a terrific outfit here in Huntington run by many-time Golden Gloves contender Rob Vanacore. And in fact I hear Danny got in a couple of good punches against the bully. What ticked me off was not the incident itself, but the fact that when the minimum-wage "lunch aide" (teachers in my state have long since unionized themselves out of any non-classroom duties) saw the two scuffling third-graders, she hauled them both off to the Principal's office, and they were both punished equally. Danny felt the insult to his sense of justice far more keenly than any physical pain — he was angry and bitter about it.

So of course Dad went to talk to the Principal. Now, the Principal is a decent and conscientious guy, and we talked on friendly terms. His explanation was that no fighting of any sort is permitted, so that anyone engaged in fighting is in breach of school rules. So (I expostulated) if Danny is set upon by a bully, and fights back in self-defense, he's breaking school rules? Yes, said the Principal. What, then, is Danny supposed to do in that situation? Principal: Walk away.

Derb:  Like, turn the other cheek?
Principal:  Right.
Derb:  So the official policy of this school district is one of total pacifism?
Principal:  Yes.

God help America.


Philoprogenitive movie     At a loose end one Sunday when Rosie was working, I took the kids to see the new Steve Martin movie Cheaper by the Dozen. The movie is a typical Steve Martin vehicle — as pleasant and unobjectionable as soft candy, and just about as nutritious, a mix of mild sappiness and "cute" humor, harmless, amusing in a smiley rather than laughey sort of way. Asked 24 hours later to recount the plot in detail, you can't. This one is about a couple who have twelve kids. It's not a divorce-remarry arrangement; they actually had twelve kids, one after the other (though there are some twins in there). The plot is, um, something to do with juggling careers and child care.

Anyway, there I was watching this thing, quite enjoying it in the shallow way I have described, when suddenly the thought struck me: I am watching a philoprogenitive movie. Now this, it seemed to me, is a wonderful thing. The premise of most of our cultural artefacts today is that adult concerns, and "rights," and "lifestyles," and "issues" are supremely important. Kids are a kind of accessory, existing mainly to garnish adult egos. One or two kids is just fine; more than that would just be too much of a demand on adults' precious time and absorbing careers. Yet here was a movie about a non-rich loving couple with twelve of the little nosepickers running round. The whole idea seems to go against the grain of our culture somehow. How refreshing!

Time was, nobody thought anything of having a dozen children. My own mother was number eleven of thirteen, all raised on a coal-miner's wages. Even in my own generation it wasn't that remarkable: There was a couple, name of Bland, with precisely twelve kids in the street I grew up on — the father a manual worker on the railroad, living in a three-bedroom house. Now it is a sensational thing, in the First World at any rate, to have twelve children. Pity. I always thought I'd like to have a large brood. I imagined myself sitting at the head of the dinner table with a long rank of kids down each side. Rosie, however, considers that she has done her duty to the ancestors with just two. The Modern Woman — pah!


Face to face with 9/11     I took the family for a ski trip to Mount Snow in Vermont at New Year. The first day we showed up at the mountain it was pouring with rain. Looking out through the streaming car windows, we all agreed that we did not want to ski in the rain. "But then what can we do?" wailed the kids. "We shall go to Albany," I replied. "It's only an hour or so's driving. It's the capital of our state, and we've never been there. It must have a museum or something. It will do you kids good to learn something about your state." So off we went to Albany, the kids grumbling and moaning as kids do when confronted with anything that might improve their horrible junk-filled little minds.

There is indeed a museum; not a bad one, the PC propaganda held to a decently low level (unless I'm just getting inured to it). The only egregiously objectionable section was the one that dealt with education in the state, dwelling on the horrors of assimilation and extolling the beauty and glory of "diversity."

The most striking exhibit dealt with 9/11. Here they had one of the World Trade Center support beams on show, thirty feet long but twisted like a pretzel, and an entire fire engine that had been dug out of the rubble, and all sorts of bits and pieces of personal property found among the wreckage. Going from one to another of these commonplace objects, all dusty and battered and fire-scarred, you grasp something of the horror of what happened — of what was done to us — that terrible bright morning. I came away filled with rage all over again. We must never forget this. We must hunt these peple down if it takes decades, and find them all, and all those who shelter and support them, and kill every one of the swine, every last one, and give their bodies to be eaten by dogs.


The people with three names     After I wrote about Virgil in the October 13 National Review, a friend mentioned Elizabeth Vandiver's lectures on The Aeneid, available through The Teaching Company. I bought the lectures and have been enjoying them. I don't know why this didn't occur to me before; Rosie bought Prof. Vandiver's lectures on The Iliad and The Odyssey a couple of years ago as part of her lifelong project to educate herself about Western culture. We have listened to them together on long car trips. Now we can add Virgil to the project.

I was particularly glad to hear Prof. Vandiver say that she, like me, prefers the traditional English spelling of the poet's name — "Virgil" — to the strictly-correct but pretentious one used by pedants and bores — "Vergil." Writing "Vergil" is just another case of Onomastic Cringe, if you ask me, like writing "Mumbai" instead of "Bombay"; though why anyone feels the need to display PC deference to the Ancient Romans has me baffled. (And would have had the sturdy Romans way more baffled!)

There is another thing Virgil's name brings to mind, though. The Romans were known to their Mediterranean neighbors as "the people with three names." Most Romans — it wasn't an invariable rule even with men, and didn't apply at all to women — had a praenomen, a nomen (also called a gens), and a cognomen. The whole system is explained in detail in the appendix to one of Colleen McCullough's Roman novels, the first one I think. Julius Caesar, for example, had the full name Gaius (praenomen) Julius (gens) Caesar (cognomen). Virgil was actually Publius Vergilius Maro, and so on.

Well, I want to have three names. My older brother has three, as most modern Americans have; but by the time my sister and I came along, Dad had decided that one forename was enough. Neither of us got a middle name, and I want one. At least I thought I did, until I canvassed my family for suggestions. The kids came up with "Squidward."


Words, words, words     "… the poor little kid is dyspractic, you see." That was my sister in England, talking on the phone about one of our younger relatives. He is what? I asked. Dyspractic. After some further enquiries, I figured out what this means. It means clumsy. The little boy is all thumbs. Nowadays, in the British educational system at least, that means you get Special Ed and a medical-sounding adjective all your own. Dyspractic. Yet another one of those things that people just used to put up with, but that now qualifies you for pity, quotas, support groups, and probably a raft of government-financed disability benefits.

My Dad was dyspractic. It was a nerve-wracking thing to watch him attempt any kind of home repairs. In England in my childhood, electrical appliances came without any plug attached. You had to buy a plug from Woolworth's and wire it on yourself. I don't know the reason for this, it was just one of those English oddities, like warm beer or driving on the left. Anyway, Dad could easily lose half an hour connecting three wires to three screws, and the way it ended up, it's a miracle our house never burned down. As soon as I was old enough to grasp the situation, I used to wait till Dad was out, then quietly rewire his latest effort.

Now the thing has a name: dyspraxia. Or is it "dyspraxis"? Get on line for your government bennies, all you poor, long-discriminated-against dyspractics. No more second-class citizenship for you! Let's see some promotion of great American dyspractics in our classrooms — we could start with Gerald Ford.


Validation     My own personal Music Guy is National Review's Jay Nordlinger. A classically-trained pianist and conductor, and a professional music critic of great style and insight, Jay knows more about this field than anyone I have ever met. Well, at dinner with Jay one evening, I very cautiously raised the name of Hank Williams. "Oh, yes," said Jay, "he's the one who sang 'Hey, Good Lookin', right? Lovely song, beautiful!" Thanks, Jay.


Princess and the pea     That dinner was actually prefatory to an opera at the Met. Going to the opera with Jay is instructive — very instructive — but also kind of depressing. I mean, it makes you realise how little you know, and how blunt are your own musical sensibilities. Walking up the aisle during an intermission, Jay criticized a duet in the previous act: "Did you hear that passage in the middle, where they are supposed to be singing one third apart, and in fact were one quarter apart? Really! …"

"Jay," I said, "you know that story about the princess and the pea? Where they have the princess sleep on a pile of twenty matresses, with a dried pea under the bottom mattress, and she can't get a good night's sleep because, being a true princess, she can feel the pea? Well, going to the opera with you is like sharing a bed with that princess." Jay, I am glad to say, took this in the spirit intended. At least I hope he did. If I never get another opera invitation from him, I'll know I'm wrong.


Homo homini lupus est     At a friend's house the other day, I was introduced to an elderly female relative of his. The family is Jewish, and this old lady was born in Poland in the 1930s. Was she there when the war broke out? I asked, once sufficient acquaintance had been established. Yes, she said, she had. But how on earth had she survived? I asked, knowing that it was in Poland that the Final Solution was brought closest to finality. Well, she told me, she had left Warsaw and stayed with family friends in the countryside. These people, who were Gentiles, had kept her hidden through the whole of the war. After the war she had got out and come to America.

What a story! We all know this stuff, of course, but it is still very moving to hear it from the lips of an eyewitness. Well, later in the evening, the old lady now off in another room, my host cornered me and asked what I had been speaking to her about. I said she had told me the story of being hidden by Gentiles during the war. My friend nodded sadly. "That's her cover story," he said. What did he mean? "Well, when the war started, her family actually fled from Poland to the USSR. They had a hard enough time there, goodness knows — WW2 in the USSR was no picnic. But when she came to the States, the Cold War was on, and she was afraid that if she said she'd been living in the USSR, she'd be deported as a suspected communist. So she made up the other story. Still, today, she doesn't feel totally safe, so she still tells people that story."

In a way, the old lady's little act of fearful deception is more telling about the state of affairs in the middle of the 20th century than the original, made-up, version. That fear — mainly fear of communism, but also a generalized fear of any state authority, even America's — had sunk so deep into her very bones that she clung to her invented tale fifty years on, rather than take the chance of being informed on and deported. Good grief! What a safe, secure, smug, careless world we have the wonderful good fortune to be living in! Somewhere in our conversation the old lady had mentioned the monument to the dead at Dachau, which bears the inscription Homo homini lupus est — "Man is a wolf to man." Is such evil really part of our human constitution? Yes, it is. May we never forget it.


Posthumous pardons     I wrote something about the posthumous pardon given by the Governor of New York, George "RINO" Pataki, to the late potty-mouth comedian Lenny Bruce. A reader e-mailed in with this: "I keep hoping to see someone comment on the absurdity of posthumous pardons. Whether it be Sacco and Vanzetti, Robert E. Lee's citizenship (and I'm a Southerner born and bred), or Theodore Roosevelt's Medal of Honor, there is something demeaning to those receiving real pardons, citizenship, and medals for bravery when such actions can be had cheaply."

I agree. In fact, if we're going to change our minds about the guilt or innocence of dead people, I much prefer the opposite approach: punishing the dead for crimes which, in their lifetimes, went un-punished. After the restoration of England's monarchy in 1660, the rotting corpse of Oliver Cromwell, who had died two years previously, was dug up and hanged at Tyburn. That's the right spirit. I invite submissions of names of dead people who deserve to be dug up and hanged. Preferably not too long dead — a collection of bones wouldn't hang too well.


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

This one is from reader George Grenley in the Golden State.

Pick a positive integer, N. If it's even, divide by 2. If it's odd, multiply by 3 and add 1. Repeat until either you get tired or you reach 1.

Example:

9-28-14-7-22-11-34-17-52-26-13-40-20-10-5-16-8-4-2-1.

OK, here's the puzzle: For any positive integer N, will this algorithm eventually reach 1? Or will it "loop" somewhere?

Prove your answer.