»  National Review Online Diary

  November 2006


Everybody's Doing It     Recanting their support for the Iraq War, that is. Jonah Goldberg 'fessed up October 20th, if only on the way to arguing that we must KBO. I made my apology back in June. Bill Buckley was ahead of us all, famously declaring way back in July 2004 that: "If I had known back then in February 2003 what we now know I would not have counseled war against Iraq."

We have to come to terms with our errors each in his own way. I have been consoling, and excusing, myself by pointing to my having been a founder member of the "To Hell With Them" Hawks. I was never on board with the democratization project, I just wanted to teach the bastards a lesson: smash up their military assets, kill their leaders, then get out of there ASAP — gunboat diplomacy. I am not much bothered by ordinary terrorism, which I think will always be with us, and which we have to just keep plugging away at by covert action — those "small teams of inconceivably brave men and women, working in strange places, unknown and unacknowledged" that I wrote about on 9/11. What keeps me awake at night is the thought of nuclear terrorism, which will become possible only when terrorist-friendly states go nuclear. So as well as plugging away at the actual terrorists, we need to stop nuclear development in corrupt states from which terrorists might buy, steal, or be given nukes.

Thus my own self-justification. When I trotted it out recently, though, a vigilant reader reminded me of this piece I wrote for the September 1st, 2003 issue of National Review (which means I actually wrote it in early August of that year). I seem to go beyond gunboat diplomacy there to what gunboat diplomacy in fact often led to: imperialism.

It is not likely that we shall be able to restrict our actions just to diplomacy, or to in-and-out police action. The trumpets are sounding: we are called to our imperial duty: we must take up the White Man's Burden.

Apparently I was channeling Kipling, by no means for the first time.

What on earth was I thinking of? The piece was a lone aberration. Within a week or two I was back on the true To Hell With Them path, and did not stray from it thereafter. Perhaps it had just dawned on me that the administration was going to attempt some political project in Iraq, and from misplaced loyalty I wanted to convince myself there might be some point to that. Possibly some life event had swept me away into an uncharacteristic mood of optimism. I can't recall.

I mention this only to show that the Iraq adventure has made fools of many of us bystanders. That is not of much consequence by comparison with the fools it has made of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, and the rest; and that is not of much consequence when set against the brave Americans maimed and killed in this war, and the stupendous waste of national resources and prestige the war has involved.

As we bloviators fret over our wounded egos, we should remember that a wounded ego is utterly nothing by comparison with an actual wound, let alone a death, or the humiliating of a great nation in the eyes of her enemies.


Realism — Been There, Done That     So what do we do now? I have floated the idea that with disillusion setting in all around, the pendulum will swing back to realism — all the way back, in fact, to a particularly hard style of realism, what I called "paleorealism." (A word I may have coined: a google with search arguments "paleorealism -derbyshire -derb" returned only 155 hits, most of which manage to reference my column anyway. Leaving out the subtractions, googling just for "paleorealism" gets you 10,000 or so hits. Hey, I get around.)

The obvious objection to this is that realism is what we had before 9/11 — that realism gave us 9/11. I don't buy it. That what we were doing before 9/11 contributed to giving us 9/11, is indisputable; that what we were doing back then was realism as it should be practiced by a prudent Great Power, is highly disputable.

Realism doesn't mean ignoring what's going on in unfriendly nations. It means, to quote myself: "Let the blighters have whatever despotic, kleptocratic, homicidal, economy-destroying, women-subjugating, minority-oppressing governments they want, so long as they don't impinge on our own national interests." Pre-9/11 Afghanistan was impinging on our national interests by letting Al Qaeda run training camps in the country unmolested. It was unrealistic not to notice that.

Did we actually notice it at the time, though? Well, some of us did, but most of us didn't. (I see no evidence that I did.) Now all of us do. Whatever realism meant before 9/11, from now on it must include the understanding that there are at least two things we should not ignore in unfriendly nations with obnoxious political systems: hospitality to terrorists, and nuclear-weapons development. Either calls for some action, even from realists. What action, exactly? There's the rub, of course; but "occupy the place and attempt to turn it into a constitutional democracy" is an answer that has fallen seriously out of favor — for a very long time, would be my guess.


Borat     My pretty-sure guess is that the Borat movie turned out to be much more controversial than Sacha Baron Cohen anticipated. He is, I feel sure, surprised and puzzled by some of the negative commentary.

This illustrates the tremendous power of folk memory. SBC (who is an observant Jew) has said, in an interview, that he wanted to make some points about antisemitism. Nothing wrong with that. I have expressed the opinion somewhere that we have entered an age in which antisemitism will again drive large world events. It is a great and terrible force.

But where is it located? According to SBC, it is located among East European villagers, super-genteel middle-class Americans, and redneck Southern Christians. This is precisely the folk memory of the Ashkenazim. The enemies are mean, stupid, persecuting peasants of the Old Country, exclusive country-club patrons, and Klansmen.

Could anything be more wrong-headed? Jews are indeed in peril in the world today, but not from any of those sources. SBC is the Jewish equivalent of those Irish Americans I used to (and still occasionally do) get into arguments with, for whom nothing at all has happened since 1846. He has not noticed the modern world, preferring instead to stay in the warm cocoon of his grandparents' stories about brutish muzhiky, great-uncle Irv being kept out of Yale, and tobacco-spitting good ol' boys sneering at pointy-head Jewish perfessors.


Shallow Sentimentality on Immigration     One thing that you can't help noticing about the immigration discussions is that pretty much all the real analysis — the spreadsheets, the projections, the number crunching — is on the restrictionist side. The other side has … what?

Well, it has the kind of silly feel-good twaddle illustrated to perfection by James Poniewozik's essay in last week's Time magazine. The piece is supposed to make some contribution to the immigration debate, but what does it actually tell us? "Here is a Hispanic person. Her father was an illegal immigrant! Yet she is really nice!"

That's great; but how does it help us in sorting out a sensible immigration policy? I don't doubt for a moment that America Ferrera is a wonderful person. Here is a different story, about an illegal immigrant from Ecuador who is not so wonderful. Here is a story about the fiscal problems here in my home county, twelve hundred miles from the Mexican border, caused by illegal-alien criminals. These are my property-tax dollars being spent, and I don't have a lot of dollars.

Where does any of this get us? With big social-political issues like immigration, what is needed is for us to think things through, not to swoon over happy-face stories like Ms. Ferrara's, nor for that matter to bristle at grim-face ones like Mr. Pillco's.

Yet practically everything published by the supporters of illegal immigration is just shallow sentimental swooning of the Time variety. Perhaps sentimentality is all these people have to offer. They sure don't seem to be long on real analysis.

Most insulting of all is the subhead on the Time piece: "On TV, the immigration wars aren't as simple as politicians make them sound."

Let's see: Who, exactly, is reducing this vast and momentous issue to simplicities: the author of the Time piece, with his cheery little anecdote about one immigrant, or serious analysts like our own Mark Krikorian, who has spent years patiently crunching the numbers to try to find out what will be the consequences for our nation of importing 100 or 200 million Third World immigrants?

The argument is not about one immigrant, this Ms. Ferrera. It's about tens or hundreds of millions, including some Ms. Ferreras, some Mr. Pillcos, and everything in between. Can we have that argument, please?

The great English immigration-restrictionist Enoch Powell had a slogan he tried to include in everything he said or wrote on the topic: NUMBERS ARE OF THE ESSENCE. Precisely. The Time essay has given us a number of one. Its information content, as regards what are and what are not sound immigration policies, is an even smaller number: zero. Immigration policy is a branch of mathematics, not weekend work for employees of the Hallmark Card Company.

I suspect that our president sees the issue just as Mr. Poniewozik sees it: impressionistically, unreflectingly, in terms of some particular illegal immigrant or immigrants who is/are likeable and admirable. That, however, is no good basis for national policy. A much better basis is formed by careful examination of the group characteristics of the people we are admitting, like the one carried out here by Heather Mac Donald in City Journal. Sample:

Every 1,000 unmarried Hispanic women bore 92 children in 2003 (the latest year for which data exist), compared with 28 children for every 1,000 unmarried white women, 22 for every 1,000 unmarried Asian women, and 66 for every 1,000 unmarried black women. Forty-five percent of all Hispanic births occur outside of marriage, compared with 24 percent of white births and 15 percent of Asian births. Only the percentage of black out-of-wedlock births — 68 percent — exceeds the Hispanic rate. But the black population is not going to triple over the next few decades.

Is this really a population we want to import 20, 30, 60, or 100 million of? Are we really doing our nation and our children a favor by so importing? Is there really anything to be ashamed of — anything "racist,"  "nativist," or "discriminatory" — in the asking of these questions?


Jeet Kune Do     I see that some Hong Kong entrepreneurs have broken ground this month on a theme park dedicated to the late kung-fu movie star Bruce Lee. As many years have now passed since Bruce's death as he was years old when he died in 1973, yet he is still with us in the popular culture — a pretty neat achievement for a guy who made just a handful of mediocre low-budget movies and a few TV appearances.

Walking down an unfamiliar street in my own village here on Long Island, I spotted a store with the sign JeetKune Do Martial Arts Academy. Jeet Kun Do was the name Bruce gave to his own style of fighting. Here is what I had to say about it on NRO a couple of years ago:

Bruce called his style of fighting "Jeet Kune Do" (截拳道, pronounced jiequan dao in Mandarin, jit-kyun dou in Cantonese) — "blocking-fist style." It may as well be called "Bruce Lee Do," as it was a highly individual, very eclectic mix of styles that Bruce picked up at random from Chinese, Japanese, and Western sources (including boxing and ballroom dancing — he was the 1958 Hong Kong Cha-Cha Champion) and adapted to his own physique and inclinations. Bruce's art was entirely physical. Though a martial-arts genius of the first order, he was no intellectual. His "philosophy" of fighting is a dull recycling of some commonplace clichés from Taoism and American self-help books. You can sign up with instructors to study Jeet Kune Do, and I see there is a ton of web sites, but my private opinion is that, as someone said of Gaullism after Charles de Gaulle died, Jeet Kune Do without Bruce Lee is like jugged hare in redcurrant jelly, minus the jugged hare.

Perhaps that was a bit unkind, though I hope — I really hope — not so unkind that a swarm of Jeet Kune Do instructors will come after me to avenge the insult.

As with any other art, mastery of fighting — in Bruce's style or any other — depends on thousands of weary hours of repetitive exercises, of pitiless self-criticism, and of careful correction by yourself or a teacher. That kind of rote discipline is not much found in our education systems any more. It has come to be considered unimaginative and oppressive of the human spirit, which, left to itself and freed of all restraints, will soar aloft in joy, spontaneously discovering all knowledge and skill for itself. This is the foundation of wet garbage on which modern pedagogy is built.

What these martial arts schools (at any rate the good ones) seek to do is square the circle: To develop physical skills by the one and only, age-old method of repetition, criticism, and correction, while placing the whole process on familiar ground for the young customers by dressing it up in New Age flapdoodle about, to quote from a leaflet I acquired at JeetKune Do Martial Arts Academy, "personal development and philosophical self-reflection."

This sleight of hand is paralleled by a similar self-deception going on in the heads of the customers, very few of whom, I would guess, are the least bit interested in philosophical self-reflection. They mainly want to learn how to kick the bejasus out of someone.


Community Outrage     That's the phrase showing up in every local TV news program here in New York. "Community" is of course a synonym for "African American neighborhood." The occasion of the outrage is the shooting by plain-clothes police of three young black men in a car outside a seedy strip joint in New York city. One of the young men, who was to be married next day, was killed. The plain-clothes cops were five in number: two black, two white (one of them the lieutenant in charge of the operation), one Hispanic.

It seems to have been one of the black cops who started the incident. From things he had heard and seen in the club, he believed a gun crime — perhaps a drive-by shooting — was about to be committed. (I mean, of course, "… to go down.") He challenged the stationary car containing the three suspects, putting a foot up on the hood, flashing his badge, and pointing his gun at the driver, shouting: "Police! Turn off your car! Let me see your hands!" The driver — who was the one shot dead — responded by trying to run down the officer, then backing into a following, unmarked, police van. The officer fired; one bullet went right through the car, out the rear window, towards the officers behind the car. Assuming they were being fired on from inside the car, those officers returned fire.

No doubt the investigation will concentrate on whether this first plain-clothes cop identified himself properly. If it can be established that he did, then the subsequent police actions would seem to be justified.

The thought that occurred to me is that it may not be a good idea to deploy black plain-clothes cops in black neighborhoods. Imagine you are in such a neighborhood, outside a low dive. A man points a gun at you and starts shouting. If the man is black, your instinctive assumption (whatever your own color, I should think) would be that he is a criminal who means you harm. If the man is white, your instinctive assumption (ditto ditto), in a neighborhood like that, would be that he is a cop.

We generally suppose that it's a good thing to deploy black police officers in black neighborhoods. Is this really the case, though?


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

For this month's brainteaser I want you to emulate Dr. Johnson. I opened my Straggler column in the November 6th National Review with this quote from Mrs. Thrale's Anecdotes of the great lexicographer:

When Mr. Johnson felt his fancy, or fancied he felt it, disordered, his constant recurrence was to the study of arithmetic, and one day that he was totally confined to his chamber, and I inquired what he had been doing to divert himself, he showed me a calculation which I could scarce be made to understand, so vast was the plan of it, and so very intricate were the figures: no other, indeed, than that the national debt, computing it at one hundred and eighty millions sterling, would, if converted into silver, serve to make a meridian of that metal, I forgot how broad, for the globe of the whole earth, the real globe.

Given that the national debt of the United States stands, as I write, at $8,629,811,586,376.52, that silver is trading at $13.59 per troy ounce, that one troy ounce is 31.1034768 grams, that the density of pure silver at room temperature is 10.49 grams per cubic centimeter, that centimeters go 100 to the meter or 2.54 to the inch, that the meter was originally defined by the French Academy of Sciences as 1/10,000,000 of the distance from the equator to the north pole along the meridian through Paris (and that this is still a pretty good definition), follow in Dr. Johnson's footsteps: Compute the cross-section area, in square inches, of a band of silver, equivalent in value to the U.S. national debt, going right round the Earth along the meridian of longitude through Paris.

(You may assume that the average temperature of the band, equator to poles, is room temperature. Alternatively you may, if you wish, look up the annual mean temperature as a function of latitude at every point of that meridian, find out how the density of silver changes as temperature varies, and apply integral calculus.)