»  National Review Online Diary

  September 2005


Kiss your liberty goodbye     Enjoy freedom of speech while you still have it, folks. Congress wants to take it away from you:

On Sept. 14, the US House of Representatives passed, 223-199, the ominous federal "anti-hate" bill, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2005. It was inserted as AMDT.2662 into the Children's Safety Act. If approved unaltered by the senate judiciary, this legislation is ready for the President to sign into law.

Here is a summary of what the bill would make law:

Although AMDT.2662 ostensibly empowers the government to assist states in prosecution of violent hate crimes, its actual effect will be much more far-reaching. AMDT.2662 will lead to enforcement of the working definitions of "hate" and "hate crimes" which are enforced by the many "anti-hate" bureaucracies in countries throughout the western industrialized world. In such countries, it is now a "hate crime" to criticize members of federally protected groups such as Jews and homosexuals. Utilizing such definitions, "hate crime" indictments have been made or are currently being pursued by Canada, England, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Australia and New Zealand. AMDT.2662 builds a foundation for a "hate crimes" bureaucracy in America, also ending free speech …

I did a Google on "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act" and read through some of the finds. I got a strong impression that:

(a) A big driving force behind this bill has been the "transgender community," rapidly developing into the #1 nuisance lobby of our age.

(b) The main opposition is coming from Christian groups, like the website I linked to above. Perhaps it's nice to live in one of those countries like Canada, England, etc., where Christianity is dying out, but you can't help noticing that those nations don't seem half as concerned with preserving ancient liberties as do our quaint old-fashioned American churchgoers.


Not a Tory war     A strong and swelling faction in Britain's Tory (i.e. Conservative) party is hostile to continuing operations in Iraq. A friend in London (very well-connected, but I think exaggerating a bit) tells me that the Conservative Party at large is more anti-war than the Labour Party. Certainly this is not a Tory war, as Norman Lamont observed in a strong editorial in the September 5 London Times:

This is a profoundly un-Conservative war. It might have appealed to Gladstone, but even he, I suspect, might have had his doubts. Of course it is true that more democracy would make the Middle East more stable. But democracy cannot be rolled out like Astroturf, and imposing it on backward countries carries huge risks.

Lamont is writing about Kenneth Clarke's bid for the Tory leadership, to be decided mid-November, probably. Clarke has a bloke-ish manner that makes him popular with the Tory rank and file; but he's been a strong Europhile, which has worked against him. He is, however, a skillful and opportunistic trimmer, and has been trimming away from his Euro-enthusiasms recently. He made a strong speech against the war at the end of August. He doesn't seem to favor an immediate pull-out … but my guess is he soon will.

Mark Steyn has Clarke down as the embodiment of Conservative (and conservative) defeatism — of the faction that says there's no hope of real conservatism any more, so let's go to the tumbrils with a smile and a swagger. Steyn may be right, of course; but what if there truly is no hope for real conservatism in Britain any more? Frankly, I don't see much. Perhaps Clarke is as good as it's going to get. Who else you got, Mark? At this point, if I were still a British voter, I'd take Clarke over Blair, though I admit with not much enthusiasm. What cause is there for enthusiasm in British politics? Or in American politics for that matter? I need a drink.


He lost me     All right, I've had a drink. (Well, a swig from my post-dinner glass of supermarket plonk-in-a-box.) It still looks hopeless. Does this mean I've turned on George W. Bush? Nah. Just lost what enthusiasm I had. I'd still vote for Bush over any Democrat, but I really can't take too much more Bushism. Iraq … New Orleans … Medicare … Our President — my President, since I voted for him — really does believe that the feddle gummint can accomplish absolutely anything just by spending boxcars-full of money. When did conservatives ever believe this? And didn't even Americans at large stop believing it around 30 years ago? And when does this open-borders insanity end? A whole quarter of my town has been turned into a vicious slum by illegal immigrants. Why doesn't the federal government do its job — round them up and deport them?

What surprises me is how many of my conservative friends are still hot'n'heavy for W. Some of them are born-again Christians, and Bush is a born-again Christian, and that's what does it for them. Fair enough, I suppose, if that's the most important thing in your life, but what about the rest of us? What about us benighted folk who aren't born-again Christians, but are none the less conservative, believing in small government, self-support, fiscal prudence, individual liberty, national security, orderly immigration, judicial restraint, traditional values, and equal opportunity? W doesn't really offer a whole lot to us, does he? Sure, John Roberts was a good pick for SCOTUS, but who's the next pick? Alberto "La Raza" Gonzalez? No thanks. Sorry, George, the bloom is off the rose. I can't even imagine voting for a Democrat, and I'm not a third party sort of guy, but … is this really the best we can do?


Breakfast chez Derb     Exchange over the Quaker Oats and O.J. the other morning, Mr. & Mrs. Derb reading different pieces of America's Newspaper of Record (but this story not online):

She:  Wow, listen to this: "A 3,600-lb block of stone fell from the top of the state capitol building in Albany."

Me [hopefully]:  Did it hit the Governor?


Bloopers     I managed to make two — count 'em, two — factual bloopers in a single column Wednesday. First, I implied, because in the darkness of my ignorance I actually thought, that "Mister Bojangles" was written by Bob Dylan. In fact it was written by Jerry Jeff Walker, as 950,000 readers were kind enough to e-mail in and tell me. The only feeble excuse I can come up with is that it was a rare thing for Dylan to cover someone else's song.

Apparently, as one reader tells me, "Walker met his inspiration for the song while a guest of some Southern city or county in the local drunk tank."

Then I said that Velcro wasn't invented yet in 1964. Actually, the inventor of Velcro applied for the first patents in Switzerland in 1951. Grrrrrr. All right, so it was invented. It wasn't around though. That's what I meant.

Several readers also wanted to tell me that the construction "[Substantive] up and [verb past participle]," as in "the dog up and died," is pure Southern speech, and still in daily use south of the Mason-Dixon line. I think it's a lovely usage, and I'm surprised it hasn't spread wider. I shall do my bit to popularize it, though it will take me a while to get it right. I shall practice with the kids at first. "Dad, have you seen those old jeans of mine?" "Why, your Mom up and threw 'em out." Hmmm. I'll get it, though.


Question for dialectologists     On another point of dialectology, probably Southern: I saw Doctor Strangelove last night, for the first time in, oh, a long time. My attention was snagged by the bomber pilot (Slim Pickens) saying the following thing:

Ah'm gonna get them bomb doors open if it harelips ever'body in Bear Creek.

What a splendid bit of Americana! Does anyone know if it is (or was) actually current slang anywhere? Or did the scriptwriter (or Slim) just make it up?


Two cheers for the Old Left     Back on my Dylan column: One reader — and on reflection, I'm surprised it was only one — objected fiercely to my saying this: "Watching the footage of him [i.e. Bob Dylan] and Pete Seeger singing their songs in a field crowded with civil-rights people and black southerners, you got a flavor of the idealism and, yes, patriotism that carried the movement along."

How dare I put the word "patriotism" in the same sentence with the name of that stinking commie Pete Seeger? my reader demanded to know.

Well, I see his point. What's showing through here is my sneaking affection for the Old Left. The New Left, with their speech codes, and their GLBTQA Awareness Seminars, and their nasty little "Bushitler" slurs, are loathsome, and I defer to nobody in my revulsion for them. The Old Left were of course stupid about the USSR, for which they ought to serve a couple million years in Purgatory each. That aside, though, there was a tough-mindedness and a real idealism about the Old Left that is hard not to admire.

It depends what you are looking at, of course. If the Old Left means Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs, well, no, I'm not going to speak up for them. On the other hand, take my granddad, Jack Knowles ("John Henry" to his wife). He was a man of the Left, a coal miner who would have starved rather than cross a picket line, and in the 1926 General Strike very nearly did. Working people really had a case to fight back then, and the Left stood with them and fought it. I hope I would have been standing right there alongside them, if I'd been around, with a good stout pick handle in my hand to assert my rights. They were patriots, too — Jack Knowles fought for his country, a volunteer. (Though it must be said that according to family tradition, he was drunk when he signed up.) Woody Guthrie was sure enough a patriot. "This land is your land, this land is my land …" What's that, if not patriotic?

By the time you get to young folk like Pete Seeger around 1960, some of the New Left claptrap was starting to seep in, and of course the idiotic pro-Soviet (and, just starting up, pro-Castro) stuff was inexcusable. A character like that was, I'll grant you, a sort of intermediate form between the Old Left and the New Left, between Eugene Debs and Janeane Garofalo. There was still patriotism, though. The Civil Rights lefties were pro-Soviet, in fact, because they didn't actually know squat about the USSR. They only knew America, and wanted it to be a better country, and they thought, in their blithe ignorance, that the USSR could be a model for that transformation.

I detest the New Left, with their plain hatred of their country and her traditions, their faddishness and sentimentality, their intolerance and old-maid puritanism. The New Right is OK, though a bit mealy-mouthed and hypocritical for my taste sometimes, and too fond of airy moralizing, theologizing, and system-building. The Old Right was great, God bless them and preserve them, the few that are left. The Old Left, though, could whup them all!


Derb vs. Berlinski.     Writing about book reviewing in one of my "Straggler" columns a few months ago, I said the following thing:

Why on earth do I bother? Mostly it is just vanity and greed, the normal human motivations for doing anything. I am aware of secondary forces, though, both lower and higher in moral standing.

Chief among the lower is the vituperative urge. Every book reviewer's dream is to get a thoroughly bad book for review, a real stinker, and to comprehensively trash it, and get the review published. This very high level of spiritual fulfilment is not often vouchsafed to humble drudges like the Straggler. Most periodicals will not publish negative reviews by anyone not an accredited academic or a literary celebrity.

I do occasionally get the chance to experience this exquisite satisfaction, though. Most recently, The New Criterion let me loose on David Berlinski's new book. I tossed and gored it with great relish. (And was not alone in my hostile opinion.)

Having then sat back to wipe the blood from my horns, what should I receive but an e-mail from David Berlinski forwarded by The New Criterion. He thanked me for taking the trouble to review his book, was sorry I hadn't liked it, and wished me well!

This, of course, made me feel absolutely awful. Now, the feeling wasn't rational. I'd expressed my honest opinion, as I had contracted to do, and had no cause for shame or regret. There is something about real gentlemanliness, though, that shames those of us who suspect we are deficient in this area, even when the shame-producing incident was not one that actually displayed our deficiency. I e-mailed Berlinski back in a proper spirit, saying that, by way of balance, I might ask the editor of TNC to give my next book to him for review. He e-mailed back in the same friendly & civil tone, saying he didn't think that would be right at all. What a gent! You don't see much of that nowadays.

Here is a link to David's book. I obviously didn't like it much. Not every book is for every reader, though, and for all I know, you might enjoy it. If you think so, or even just if you are willing to pay $14.93 plus postage in tribute to the highest standards of restraint, collegiality, and gentlemanliness, buy yourself a copy. Go on, it'll make Derb feel better, and put a couple of dollars in Berlinski's bank account. He is obviously a very nice man.


Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens     A colleague has chid me for my pessimism and general grouchiness, and wonders if there is anything I like.

Anything I like? You bet — lots of things.


Off message     Katrina left me realizing that first-generation immigrants like myself can never be truly American. There are actually two things that bring this realization home, only one of them operating in Katrina's case.

The two things that set us semi-Americans apart from real Americans, more than any other, are: (1) the Modern Movement in literature, and (2) attitudes about race — more precisely, attitudes about attitudes about race. I shall go to my grave believing that Walter de la Mare was a better poet than T.S. Eliot, and Somerset Maugham a better novelist than James Joyce. Nor shall I ever acquire the instinct to jump on a chair, clutching my skirts and squealing, when someone utters the word "racist." Much of what my fellow Americans regard as "racist" just seems like common sense to me, and no cause for anyone to take offense.

Well, we must rest our hopes in the coming generation. My children are as American as can be, and I am sure they will swoon over "The Waste Land" and Ulysses, and jump on chairs squealing and skirt-clutching in the approved manner at the r-word, just as true Americans should.


Racism on the tracks?     On that latter point, I nurse a ghoulish fascination with the vocabulary of anti-racism. American English has by now developed an entire stock of words which are hardly ever used except in denouncing racism or racists. "Repugnant," for instance. Where do you ever see that word employed, except in deploring the views of a "bigot" (another bit of Two Minutes Hate vocab., come to think of it). Those views may also be "vile," or "abhorrent." The person holding them is "hate-filled," or "sick." (Impertinent question: If the poor fellow is sick, why are we angry at him? Never mind.)

The verbs used in these denunciations have to be taken from a small approved stock, too. Strong preference is given to verbs beginning with "sp—" Thus, a "bigot" does not merely say, state, express, exclaim, emit, or utter his "hate-filled rants" (or "screeds," if written); he "spews" or "spouts" them. (Making him, I suppose, a bigot spigot … Sorry, I know it's wicked of me, but I can't keep a straight face with this stuff. It's too silly.) Several perfectly respectable English words have been killed stone dead by this development, as "gay" has by the shirt-lifting crowd. I recently learned that my 10-year-old son thinks that "epithet" is a synonym for the n-word.

It is all as ritualized and formulaic as a Papal anathema. You could probably write a computer program to generate anti-racist rhetoric. Things have gone so far that when a Two Minutes Hate word shows up outside this context, it catches the eye. This happened to me the other day, as I was reading America's Newspaper of Record.

September 9, 2005 — A minor fire at Penn Station brought a major hassle to thousands of commuters and long-distance travelers last night. The fire broke out about 7:37 p.m. in a storage room at track level and spewed smoke through much of the Amtrak-owned station.

Spewed smoke? Wow, that's a first — a racist track fire!


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

Fernando Gouvea, who edits the excellent magazine Focus (a newsletter put out by the Mathematical Association of America), had the following thing to say about my Berlinski review:

I think my Math through the Ages (written with my colleague Bill Berlinghoff) can match Berlinsky or Struik for conciseness, and it's both more recent and more accessible than Struik! Have you seen it? I have a little info page here

I wish I could tell you that I've read Fernando's book, but I haven't had a chance yet. He puts out a great magazine, though, and if the book is half that good, it's worth the attention of anyone who wants to learn some math history.

Here is another of V.I. Arnold's simple problems, passed on to me by the ineffable Boris Zeldovich. Boris's e-mails have the soil of old Mother Russia clinging to them, in a way that it seems a shame to clean up, so here is the problem in Boris's precise words:

Two old ladies started their journeys simultaneously, exactly at the dawn, along the same trail, towards each other's village. Moving with constant, but different, speeds, (pace ? I am translating from Russian. BZ.) they met each other at 12:00 sharp (noon). Without stopping to chat, they continued their steady motions. One lady reached her destination, i.e. other lady's starting point, at 4:00 PM, while the other reached her destination at 9:00 PM. Question. At what time the dawn happened (cracked ? BZ) this day?

(Concerning V.I. Arnold himself, Boris adds: "Arnold is a true giant of modern Naturforschung, I do not know the proper English word to describe the unity of Mathematical, Physical, Chemical and Biological Sciences.")