»  National Review Online Diary

  October 2004


Off to the polls     Tuesday's vote will be the first I ever cast for a President of the United States. I wasn't very diligent about voting in England, being actually out of England for most of my adult life, and never bothering with the proxy-vote folderol. The last national leader I voted for (indirectly) was Maggie Thatcher, Whom God Preserve!

Some people have asked me which way Rosie will vote. I am sorry to say that my wife is a Clinton Democrat. Since her father is a member of the Chinese Communist Party, however, I regard this hopefully, as generational progress. Our kids should be firmly Republican.


It's a Kerry, Kerry, Kerry, Kerry world     The sentiment for John Kerry is overwhelming abroad. This is even the case with so-called "conservatives" in other lands. The October 23rd issue of the London Spectator, for instance, has a poll taken in Britain asking: "If you had a vote in the current American presidential elections, which candidate would you vote for?" Among British Conservative Party voters, 45 percent went for Kerry. Among Labour Party voters, only 43 percent did. Bizarrely, more Labour voters chose Bush (21 percent) than did Tories (19 percent)! The only conclusion to be drawn from this poll, in fact, is that those dumb furriners don't really have a frigging clue.


Further evidence that the British have gone nuts     I had dinner with an old friend visiting from England. He's a very nice guy, but he has an obsession: power tools. He can't get enough of them, and the bigger the better. (This is even odder than it sounds, as he does practically no home improvement work.) Well, he was boasting to me of his latest acquisition: a nail gun of some new type that doesn't require you to drag around a 200-lb compressed-air unit with it. This thing was powerful! (He told me.) Fires out nails with tremendous force!

At that point something occurred to me. Was it not the case, I asked my friend, that the Blair government had made it utterly and absolutely impossible for any British citizen to lawfully own a firearm, other than farmers' fowling-pieces? It was indeed the case, said my friend. And yet you could go down to the local Home Depot (Home Base, I think is the British equivalent) and get one of these thermonuclear nail guns? Yep, apparently so.

It reminded me of a plane trip I took soon after 9/11. I always bring back something for my kids. This time I got a coffee mug for one of them, embossed with the name and picture of the city I'd visited (Minneapolis, I think). Sitting in the plane with this object in my hand baggage, it occurred to me that if I whanged it on the seat arm it would shatter, and the shards would make excellent box cutters.

Apparently this kind of thing never occurs to the Homeland Security folk. Like the British gun laws, their silly procedures are designed to make us feel safe, rather than to make us actually … safe.


Bring out the man-sized cooking pots     Last week's Windsor Report (by the Anglican church on issues of homosexual clergy) has drawn a strong reaction from Africa:

"The report … fails to confront the reality that a small economically privileged group of people has sought to subvert the Christian faith and impose their new and false doctrine on the wider community of faithful believers," said Archbishop [Peter] Akinola [of Nigeria].

Full story here.

This follows the mid-August decision by three ECUSA parishes within the Diocese of Los Angeles to leave the Episcopal Church and join the Anglican Church of Uganda.

We are just a step away from having African missionaries come over here to convert the heathen …


Lowlife Derb     On an e-mail discussion list I belong to, I made the mistake of confessing that I never bother with Microsoft system updates, just install an operating system and run with it for three or four years, then buy a whole new machine. Once you start dancing to Microsoft's tunes, you spend half your time doing it. (I do, though, diligently respond with a "Yes" to those "Do you want to send an error report to Microsoft?" boxes that come up now and again, just because I believe it vexes them.)

Well, I got some very huffy responses from my e-list colleagues, to the effect that I was exposing them all to terrible dangers — worms, viruses, plagues of locusts and rains of frogs — by my carelessness, and ought to be ashamed of myself.

This made me feel like the lowlife family in a nice neighborhood. You know: yard full of weeds, bald patches on the front lawn, car up on blocks in the driveway, kids in trouble with the law. But, come to think of it, I've always felt that way. In fact, come to think of it, my yard is full of weeds …


French labor laws     There were some exchanges about this on The Corner last week. Well, all I know about French hiring-firing laws is what came out of the movie The Closet, which I watched last week on Mike Potemra's recommendation.

The essence of the plot is as follows. Nebbishy employee in a rubber-goods firm accidentally learns that he's about to get fired. Consults with smart, worldly neighbor, who concocts a scheme to pretend the nebbish is homosexual. Then, of course, the firm will not dare fire him. To the contrary: the Gerard Depardieu character, who cracks some off-color jokes at a management meeting to discuss the matter, comes under peril of being fired himself for "homophobia" and has to, er, bend over backwards to ingratiate himself with the nebbish. (Who is now, of course, an object of fascination to everyone …)

Which suggests to me that French labor laws are indeed insane, but no more so than our own.


Up from out of Down Under     Went to a nice reception for Australian historian Keith Windschuttle. Say what? What kind of profession is that, Australian historian? They don't have much history, do they? Well, yes, actually they do, and Australian history is a canary in the coal-mine for the poison gas that is bringing on Western Civ's suicidal tendencies. The first real debunking of the "noble savage" myth that I ever read was Geoff Blainey's account, in his 1976 history of the Australian aborigines, of how warlike they were. At most points in aborigine history, a young man's chances of dying a violent death at the hands of some other person were far higher than they were for Europeans in WW2. Blainey collected the numbers and did the arithmetic.

Windschuttle is of the same school as Blainey. He has done relentless detective work exposing the sloppy methods and bogus sources of other historians of his country, those determined to prove that the coming of Europeans was a horrible disaster for the local people, who had been living in arcadian harmony until the cruel, greedy white men showed up. You may have heard, for example, of the massacre of the Tasmanians, publicized by, among others, historian Robert Hughes. Never happened, says Windschuttle, after tracking down the sources.

Here is a valiant warrior against all the mumbo-jumbo of postmodernism, "cultural studies," and political correctness in the teaching of history. Give the bloke a little support: buy his book.


Tiger Woods marries Swedish beauty     A friend's comment: "Will their kids be eligible for Affirmative Action?"

I don't see why not. Swedes are a minority, aren't they?


Academic idiots     What is it about academics?

So a math graduate getting a job interpreting satellite photography (whether for the peaceful purposes of the Forestry Commission, or as part of the vast career prospects opened up by President Reagan's defence policy) will spend a good part of his or her time computing projectivities.

That is from a 1988 textbook titled Undergraduate Algebraic Geometry, by Miles Reid of the University of Warwick (in England). For God's sake, man, just get on and tell us about projective transformations. Leave your ill-informed, dimwitted, silly, infantile-left, and — as we can now plainly see after the lapse of 16 years, actually just WRONG — political opinions out of it.


Esprit de l'age     Heard economist George Borjas speak at a private gathering in mid-October. He told the following story about academic life. (George teaches at Harvard.)

In a lecture to some undergraduate students, I was trying to explain a certain aspect of economic theory — how people and businesses follow a certain mathematical law in their economic behavior. A student objected that the average small businessman is much too mathematically unsophisticated even to understand the law in question, never mind follow it. I replied by pointing out that Sammy Sosa almost certainly knows nothing about the very complicated calculus that underlies ballistics, but he sure knows how to hit a ball.

After the lecture, two female students came up to me in high dudgeon and criticized me for the implication that a person of color cannot understand calculus …


Geeks for Derb     Attention all you Mac losers — sorry! sorry! I meant "users." The very original version of your toy — sorry! I meant "computer" — was conceived by a chap named Jeff Raskin.

If you thought Apple CEO Steve Jobs was the driving force behind the first Mac, think again — the original concept was the brainchild of Jeff Raskin. Raskin officially joined Apple as employee number 31 in 1978 as director of publications. In 1976, prior to this position, he was responsible for writing the manual for the Apple II, and the format he developed for this went on to become an industry standard.
                    — MacUser Magazine

What does this über-geek like to read? May I tell you? Please? OK:

MU:  What was the last book you read?
JR:  Derbyshire's delightful and fascinating Prime Obsession.

Although, to judge by some of his previous answers, e.g.

MU:  If you could change one thing, what would it be?
JR:  To not have people assume you can rank everything one dimensionally. Or have everybody realise that killing people is not a way to solve problems.

 … Mr. Raskin may be disturbed to find that he has praised a book by a fascist hyena who honestly believes that killing people may occasionally be the only way to solve a problem.


Innuendo     I don't know if the NRO editors will let me get away with this, but it's worth a try. It's definitely my Quote of the Month, and gave me my Laugh of the Month. I am obliged to a friend at The Washington Times for passing this on.

Earlier this month a lady named Toni Bentley published a rather unusual memoir. Ms. Bentley is a former ballet dancer, but apparently ballet is not the main topic of her memoir. What the book is mostly about is a relationship she had with an unidentified man. It concentrates especially on their sex life, which consisted fundamentally (as Dr. Johnson would have said) of a certain sex act illegal in several states of the Union until quite recently.

You can read all about Ms. Bentley's peculiar memoir in an interview she gave to Salon.com here. (Though if you are not a Salon subscriber, you have to pass through a multi-page ad for Powell's Bookstore to read it free of charge.)

The money quote comes halfway through Salon's interview with Ms. Bentley, and I reproduce it here without further comment.

[Salon]  At the end of your book, you have only had anal sex with one other man. Now, years later, have you had other anal relationships?
[Ms. Bentley]  I would rather not talk about my personal life.


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

I was chatting with some people the other day, one of them a young guy just arrived from England. For some reason the subject of ages came up, and he told us he was 26. There had been some math chat earlier, so we fixed our attention on the number. 26 isn't a prime or a square; though it is, as I pointed out, the sum of two squares, and its own square is a palindrome. The young man himself then trumped us all by remarking that the numbers on each side of 26 are a square (25) and a cube (27). He wondered if there are any other numbers for which this is true.

Well, are there? What (if anything) can be said about the more general case of an m-th power and an n-th power being separated by just 2?