»  National Review Online Diary

  December 2005


Derb dwindles     I leave December somewhat diminished. For one thing, I lost a molar. (It was giving me pain. Dentist: "Can't do a thing. It'll have to come out." Out it came.) For another, I accidentally removed the top eighth of an inch of my left index finger. This was a DIY blunder.

You know how, after a day spent happily absorbed in home improvement, the dinner bell goes when there is just one more wee task you need to finish off? Gentle reader, heed my warning. If that one last task involves a power tool; and if your custom is, as mine is, to take a couple of glasses of wine with your dinner; and if, in addition, it is the Christmas season, so that a further couple of glasses of port or egg nog are called for to help the dessert go down; if these conditions apply, dear reader, then leave that last task until tomorrowDo not do it after dinner.

Actually I count myself lucky in respect of this particular power tool. It is a table saw, an ancient one the size and weight of an artillery piece. I acquired it from a neighbor when I moved in here 14 years ago. The nine-inch circular blade just sticks right up out of the table — no nonsense about shields or guards. I have always been wary of the thing, perceiving that it has had its eye on me since we first got acquainted. Perhaps it was happier in its old home. Anyway, there it lurked in my basement, husbanding its malice till the day when my attention should be blurred by fatigue and seasonal cheer.

Last night it saw its chance and struck. Off came that top eighth of an inch of finger and nail. The blood flow was sensational — who knew there was that much blood in a finger? I didn't think the wound rose to emergency-room status, though, so I improvised a dressing and lathered the thing with antiseptic and analgesic. There it throbs now, in its third dressing — this is the following day — the other two having become unacceptably blood-soaked. I suppose I could call John Edwards and get a lawsuit going against the manufacturer of the thing ("Sears, Roebuck, & Co."), but I prefer to bide my time, as the machine did. Guess what my request from Santa will be next Christmas?

I mention all this only by way of apologizing for this diary being shorter than usual, and perhaps containing more than the usual number of typos. I have never learned to touch-type, so the incapacitation of one index finger has halved my typing speed. Reminds me of the old joke about the dim but filial son writing a letter home: "Dear Mom: I am writing this real slow because I know you don't read too fast …"


Center for Defense Cynicism     There is, I am sure, a think tank with this name somewhere. Any time I post on some defense matter I get an email telling me that the thing I've posted about is a bureaucrats' scam to get more defense dollars.

I posted a remark on The Corner about the recent report to Congress on EMP (i.e. electromagnetic pulse) attack. I mentioned that while we could easily retaliate in kind, we might have trouble figuring our who was responsible. A CDC spokes-cynic promptly riposted with this:

How could we NOT know [who was responsible]? That's what Space Command monitors 24-7. The Defense Support Platforms monitor missile launches world-wide (from Space), and then there are the PAVE PAWS and BMEWS systems monitoring ground-based radar tracking systems to monitor tracks as they move into the Northern Hemisphere, from sea or land points of origin. It's not like we don't monitor space for hostile missile tracks, just because the Cold War ended. We just stood many of the weapons down, not the monitoring systems.

Plus this whole EMP thing is a cyclical bureaucratic scam to get money for "hardening" systems. It was a "problem" under Reagan, came up again in Clinton's Administration and emerges yet again, now. Who really worries? Seriously, if you bring the US economy to a halt either thru direct nuclear attack or via EMP, the results for the US (catastrophe) and "you" (nuclear annihilation) will be the same, it's just a question of how many windows get broken in the US.


Apology of the Month     From the Dec. 3 issue of the Spectator (London):

Conor Cruise O'Brien

In our Politics column of 24 September 2005, Andy McSmith wrote: "The late Conor Cruise O'Brien is reputed to have spent his final years embarrassed that he should have come from an insignificant country like Ireland."

Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien is alive and well and proud to be Irish. The Spectator apologises to Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien for the offence caused to him by the untrue suggestion that he was embarrassed to come from Ireland.

I suppose the Cruiser must have sent a letter demanding that apology. I'd like to see that letter. And I can't help being reminded of the late Spike Milligan's threat to sue the London magazine Private Eye for calling him a "filthy Irish pervert." The grounds for the suit, said Milligan, would be that he was not Irish.


Saudi America     Mark Krikorian drew the attention of Corner readers to a new poll by SurveyUSA asking the question: "Which of these 2 statements do you agree with more? (1) Immigrants take jobs away from Americans. (2) Immigrants do jobs that Americans don't want." SurveyUSA listed the results by state, noted which way each state voted in the 2004 presidential election, gave the proportion of immigrants in each state, and ranked the responses by the proportion of respondents choosing (2). Guess what?

As Mark Krikorian noted, this is further evidence of the trend to Saudi Arabianization of the USA. In states where a low-paid non-citizen helot class has established itself as the main supplier of unskilled manual labor, people are inclined to think that the work could not otherwise be done. In states where Saudi Arabianization has not yet occurred, or not taken such a firm grip, people do not think this. Mark:

This administration is enjoying some modest success in trying to make the Middle East more like America; it would be unfortunate if, with regard to immigration, it ends up making America more like the Middle East.

As it happened, I read Mark's comment while in the house for a break from raking leaves. My tiny property — I have a sixth of an acre — generates 25 to 30 bags of leaves every fall. It's a day's work. Yes, I am disgracefully late in leaf-raking this year. At least I am doing it myself though, which makes me an oddity here in Long Island, where the helot class has increasingly taken over this kind of work.


Fading of the blog     Are blogs starting to die out? More and more I notice that blogs I go to a lot don't post as much as they used to. There were blogs I could go to three times in a day and be pretty sure of seeing three new postings; now I'm lucky to get one new posting a day on those blogs. Others seem to have given up completely — Noah Millman's "Gideons Blog," for instance. (Added later: No, Noah's back after an unconscionable gap.) Was the whole blogging thing just one of those transient crazes, like CB radio? (Remember CB radio?) If so, how come it has been and gone without even leaving a couple of memorable country music songs behind?


Goodnight, Tookie     And good riddance. I have not the slightest, faintest problem with the death penalty per se, and would be happy to see it more widely applied. Large numbers of my fellow citizens "need hangin'," and I don't see why this very efficacious and low-cost remedy is reserved only for the most egregiously wicked among us.

My issues start with that "per se." While I am fine with the death penalty as a thing, the way we go about it is appalling. There are of course those endless ludicrous appeals on microscopic points of jurisprudence. Whatever happened to de minimis non curat lex? And then there is the spreading use of lethal injection as a method of execution. Lethal injection strikes me as utterly inappropriate, and probably an abuse of the medical profession. (I think it was comedian George Carlin who wondered aloud: "Do they swab your arm with antiseptic before putting the needle in?")

Public execution should be swift, violent, and grisly, with either the drop or the firing squad as preferred methods. The firing squad, which gives the opportunity for ordinary citizens to be involved, as well as having that Second Amendment cachet so appealing to us conservatives, would be my choice, both for them and also, should the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Internal Revenue Service, my HMO (see below), or my soon-to-be-teenage kids finally drive me round the homicidal bend, myself. Remember the last scene of Breaker Morant? That's the way to go.

(Hanging also has the drawback that your hangman — "hangperson," I suppose it would be in these gender-equality times — needs training in the art, an art which has no other sphere of application. Lack of skill in the hangperson can lead to unfortunate results. If the rope is too short, you get slow strangulation; if too long, the head tends to come off. Possibly these disadvantages could be nullified by automation and computerization, but the firing squad still seems preferable to me.)


Width of the Atlantic     I learned a thing this month that I didn't know before: The writer C.S. Lewis is the subject of a devoted cult over here in the USA. Utter the merest criticism of old Clive, the most faintly negative remark, the slightest hint of a whisper of anything short of total whooping'n'hollering approval, and you get a flood of outraged emails calling you a limb of Satan, a worshipper of graven images, and a danger to the Republic.

Well, I'm sorry, but this is one of those zones where the breadth of the Atlantic Ocean is no mere 3,000 miles but a couple of megaparsecs. Lewis was an Englishman (there is more to be said about that, but let it pass) of my father's generation, born in fact just seven months before my father. I grew up in a world populated by C.S. Lewises. They were the core component, the cadre, of the middle-aged, middle-class, male-authority cohort that dominated my formative years. When I read Lewis's nonfiction writings, I am hearing the voice of every dotty schoolmaster, every silly-ass vicar,**  every queer scoutmaster from my own childhood and adolescence.

To be sure, Lewis was a superior specimen of the breed, much more intelligent than the average schoolmaster, and a fine writer. (And, though somewhat odd, not queer.) The Narnia books are lovely — I look forward to seeing the movie of LWW. Outside his fiction, though — and even inside it occasionally — the voice is one drearily familiar to me, the one that droned through hundreds of Religious Instruction classes in stuffy schoolrooms, the one that attempted to indoctrinate me in the joy of organized sports, the necessity of uncritical faith, and the perils of self-abuse. It bears that same deeply unattractive combination of sanctimony and bullying that I know all too well. No, sorry, C.S. Lewis was a fine storyteller, but a religious bore and crank. Let the emails commence.

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** Like the one in Beyond the Fringe: "I sometimes think. That life is like. A tin of sardines. Isn't it? We're all looking. For the key …" etc., etc.


Life management     I can't do it. Manage my life, I mean. Too much paperwork.

Since quitting full-time work six years ago, I have been on "retiree health benefits" through the company I used to work for. These benefits came to me in the form of an HMO by the name of Oxford Health Plans. The other day I had a letter from the outfit that manages my ex-employer's benefits. They have switched me from Oxford to United. How could they do that without warning? Well, maybe there was warning. I dimly remembered having had a letter from the management firm. Sifting through the piles of paper on my desk, sure enough, there it was, a letter from six weeks ago. The letter advised me that unless I told them otherwise, I'd be switched from Oxford to United. I should have paid attention, I should have told them. Whatever the change means, I can be sure it is to their advantage, and therefore not likely to mine.

But who can keep up with all this stuff? Here is something that arrived yesterday from my life insurance company. Important Information Regarding Your Variable Life Insurance Policy. I guess I should read it. It is a booklet of 52 letter-sized pages. Am I actually going to read it? Maybe. Possibly … I know I should. Perhaps tomorrow …


Math Corner     The proprietor of this blog sent me the following old**  chestnut, which, if you have not seen it before, will wipe out fifteen minutes of your life.

Given any four numbers a, b, c, and d, you can form six "pairwise products": ab, bc, cd, ad, ac, and bd.

I have four particular numbers in mind. Five of their pairwise products (not necessarily in the order I just listed) work out to 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. What does the sixth pairwise product work out to?

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** How old is it? I think it, or something very much like it, is in Diophantus somewhere, which would make it either 1700, 1800, or 1900 years old, depending on the century in which you think Diophantus floruit.