»  National Review Online Diary

  October 2008


Rubble Doesn't Make Trouble (Cont.) …     Well, at least somebody gets it. The Pakistani army is going Roman on the Taliban, according to this report from Strategy Page.

Most of the civilian population has fled, as trying to use civilians as human shields does not work against the Pakistani army … [O]utsiders have conquered Bajaur before. Alexander the Great did it 2,500 years ago, and the Mongols did so 700 years ago. But in both cases, conquest was accomplished in the Roman fashion ( "they created a desert and called it peace.") … [T]he army is going old-school on the Taliban, with most of the civilians fleeing, and any resistance getting blasted to rubble. When victory comes, it will be celebrated in a depopulated desert of rubble and empty homes.

Hey, if it worked for Alexander and the Romans, it works for me. I only wish we had the guts to do it ourselves, as our fathers did over Germany and Japan, instead of bribing corrupt Third World gangsters with armies of illiterate peasant boys to do it for us while we strike moral poses and swoon in admiration of our own high-mindedness.


Sovietization of the intelligentsia. …     A reader offers a response to my column on the Obama threat to open inquiry in the human sciences:

Derb — your column on the "totalitarian" effects of "cultural Marxism" in the sciences is absolutely spot-on. My only criticism is that you actually understate your case by focusing on the natural sciences. Actually, things are, and have been, much worse than you describe in law, social sciences, and humanities. Natural sciences are the last bastion of the academy where the scientific method can actually be applied, and, and you point out, this bastion is rapidly crumbling.

If you define Western Civilization (as I do) by its adherence to the Socratic method and later, to the scientific method, the future of Western Civilization itself is on the line.

The fact is that feminism, "cultural Marxism," critical race theory, etc. have quite effectively Sovietized the intelligentsia. I need not recite a litany of examples here, but one need only read the "Vagina Monologues" [Must I? — J.D.], review the case of Mary Daly at Boston College, or consider the Larry Summers presidency of Harvard, or the faculty response to the Duke "rape" case to see what is at hand.

I think your statement that "only the government can prevent" the effects of cultural Marxism from destroying the natural sciences should be reconsidered [My reader has misunderstood me here. I argued that only govt. power can prevent the collapse of cultural Marxism — J.D.] with regard to the fact that the government is the chief proponent of cultural Marxism, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Government subsidizes the academy through direct grants, loans, tax exemptions, etc. and the academy has never been called to account for its actions, and it knows this.

We are all used to the fact that since most of the academy is sucking on some government teat or other, politicians can dictate to colleges and universities in such matters as "fairness," "diversity," and so on. Yet it never seems to occur to anyone that the government could use its funding power to stop the gross intellectual abuses of cultural Marxism. Imagine, for example, that some Republican administration has issued an executive order that any institution that offered paid employment to Ward Churchill or Kamau Kambon — or for that matter, Bill Ayers — would instantly lose all federal funding. (Note please:  That would not violate principles of free speech or academic independence. Colleges would be free to hire those people if they wished to … just not on the taxpaying citizen's dollar.) Can you imagine that? Me neither. In the academy, the Left is completely victorious.


 … Just gets worse.     This isn't getting any better. To the contrary.

I've been doing what I can to help promote the re-issue of Roger Kimball's classic polemic Tenured Radicals. (BUY IT!) This is the book's third edition. The first and second were in 1990 and 1998 respectively. Other than adding prefaces, Roger hasn't had to make a great number of changes. In fact, he has a lifetime earner here:  this book will likely be as relevant eighteen years from now, in 2026, as it was in 1990, when it first appeared.

Roger's main concentration is on the Humanities and Arts. I had an email from a regular correspondent, a conservative, who currently toils in those vineyards. As a conservative, of course, my correspondent must maintain deep cover, and has beseeched me to scrub the email clean of all identifying information.

Derb — For years I've used [publisher] Bedford's Literature: The Human Experience in one of my lit classes. It has material ranging from canonical texts like Keats' "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" and Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" to modern classics like Plath's "Daddy." I was looking at the new 9th edition to see if I wanted to add any readings or if something I used to teach was no longer included, and noticed that there are no less than four new entries expressing pro-Islamic and/or anti-Israel bias:

      • Tawfiq Zayyad's "Here We Shall Stay"
      • J.D. McClatchy's "Jihad"
      • Hanan Mikha'il 'Ashrawi's "From the Diary of an Almost-Four-Year-Old"
      • Hanan Mikha'il 'Ashrawi's "Night Patrol"

All four selections are inflammatory. The last featured the following discussion/essay question: "Compare and contrast the poems of 'Ashrawi with that of Zayyad. Who do you think is the more effective spokesman for the Palestinian resistance to the Israeli presence? Justify your response."

God help the student who answers, "Neither, because they're Jordanians, and the other Jordanians should have let them in decades ago when the Sheiks sold the land under their own people and then cut and run."

God help the student who says, "Why do you have all these heartwringers about Arabs, but the only poem reflecting Jewish ethnicity is Robert Mezey's materialistic, nagging, straight-from-Woody-Allen stereotype, 'My Mother'?"

God help the student who asks, "Why are we reading this in an English class instead of Keats and Hemingway, or at least Sophocles in translation? Why are my parents paying tuition for this $#!+?"

And no, I don't want equal time for pro-Israel propaganda — but God help the teacher who says, "I never heard of any of these people before! What is all this political muck doing in a lit text?" The teacher's guide refers to Hanan Mikha'il 'Ashrawi's moderation and restraint despite her "exasperation," and lauds her official position in the Palestinian Authority, a body which has never, to my knowledge, put aside their desire for more territoy long enough to take any step towards declaring official statehood for any of the terrritory already under their control. As even Muamar Qaddaffi asked lately, "What is stoppping you?"

Obviously, I wouldn't assign any of this rubbish, but on the off-chance that some students might actually read other selections in their anthologies instead of selling them at buy-back at the end of the term, will they assume I endorse this sort of thing? Can you imagine what happens to some hapless undergraduate who signs up for a particular section mostly because it fits between the required Bio class and soccer practice, finds that his instructor has assigned all four of these, and realizes said instructor will not be satisfied with an analysis of scansion or metaphor … that if nothing else, he's got to cough up a conversion narrative about how the poems opened his eyes to the plight of the oppressed, etc., etc., blah-di-blah-di-blah …

The capacity for abuse, brainwashing, intimidation, silencing during so-called "open discussions" (in a class where participation may be part of your grade so you can't just sit there doodling pictures of the instructor and her visible mustache while waiting for 3:00) is just breathtaking. Of course if anyone protests, they'll be guilty of censorship.

In academia, "Palestine" is the new Vietnam, for people who missed it the first time around but want to feel the same pleasant glow of self-righteous contempt for everybody else. Contempt for those who don't agree, because of course they're pond scum, but also contempt for those who do, because they haven't attended as many activist meetings this week as you have, nyaah-nyaah.


Election fatigue.     Oh, the election? [Loud groan.] No, I don't have much to say, and what I have, I tend to save up for Radio Derb. When I first succumbed to election fatigue, sometime round about last winter, I hoped that I would pass right through it and out the other side, brimming with political excitement as I shot into the October-November zone.

That hasn't happened. Both major candidates are perfectly terrible to anyone of a conservative temperament; and in any case, my state is a foregone conclusion for Wonder Boy, so even if I could summon up any enthusiasm for John McCain, there'd be no point in my voting. I shall just write in Ron Paul, if they let me.


Career advice.     In a Radio Derb broadcast this month, I bemoaned my folly at not having listened to all the beery, whiskery uncles who, back in my adolescence, advised me to "Get a government job, son!" I should have, of course. A reader from the Golden State rubs my nose in it:

Derb — Allow me to comment. I am one of those government employees you talk about. I was not always a government employee. For 25 years, I made a handsome living as a computer programmer until the DOTCOMBOMB and outsourcing took their savage toll. My wife was always a government employee and urged me to become likewise. I resisted her blandishments. I was making big money and putting it away. I was a sucker. She is now retired and I am still working!

After losing my job and pension six years ago, I became a government employee. My reaction was how could I have been so blind for so long?! The private sector has become a vast lie, a minefield where one must carefully consider every step and purse one's lips. You can be banished with a snap of the fingers. I used to work my a** off, 80 hours a week. I now work a precise 40. I used to worry about layoffs and downsizing. No more. I used to worry about my pension. No more. Indeed, I can plan with computer precision the day of my exit from the work force. I shall be 63, my birthday, and retire with Social Security and a very secure pension along with a medical care supplement. Let us be blunt, there shall be two classes of people going forward. Those who can retire and those who can't.

What a fool I was. It was all a vast waste of time. Time that could have been better spent building up pension credits, leading to an even more munificent lifestyle!!!! Oh, it was fun while it lasted but, seriously, I should have been a mailman out of high school!! Like yourself, I have advised my grandchildren accordingly.

Let me be clear, this is a catastrophic development for our country. When the private sector can no longer compete with the public sector, you know that society is on its way out.

This disgraceful election and the concomitant disgraceful financial meltdown spell doom for conservatism and our country. The rallying cry is … Give me that old time Socialism!! At this point, my wife and I are planning to make the most of it and have as much fun as we possibly can for as long as we possibly can. Frankly, nothing else makes sense anymore. The old beliefs, the old gods, the old standards have gone a-glimmering. I now answer the deep questions of the day with a cosmic shrug, a "whatever" and an inquiry as to when the Chargers are playing this Sunday. It is wise not to have opinions in the new America. Opinions are dangerous.

I have visited Philadelphia, the cradle of our freedom. I have been astonished at the modest rooms where the great men of that time gave birth to our country. I think of Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin spinning in their graves. They would be appalled that it has come to this. Ask yourself, would you sacrifice your life, your sacred honor and your fortune for what you see around you today? The answer is self evident. We are a de facto colony of China. It is enough to make you cry.

Well, it's certainly enough to make me broadcast the following public-service announcement to any adolescent out there who does not, so far as he knows, have any of the following:  (A) A trust fund.  (B) Extraordinary athletic, thespian, or entrepreneurial talent.  (C) A burning desire to work till he drops, at modest wages, for someone else's enrichment.

Announcement:  GET A GOVERNMENT JOB, KID!


Happy Consumer Experience.     The miracle is, that private enterprise is not all one great uniform desert of resentment and sabotage. The other day I had a happy consumer experience with a private firm.

I have one of those bathtub showers with a boss that you pull out to start the water flow, and a handle attached that you turn to regulate the temperature. Handle screws into boss; but after years of use the thread wore out and the handle came off. I made a couple of attempts to re-attach it, but it kept coming off and the kids lost it.

Off to the plumbing supply store with the boss, to see if I could get a replacement. Nope, they didn't have it and couldn't get it. They gave me a phone number for Moen, the manufacturer, though, and told me: "They're very helpful."

They sure are. First off, instead of just keep you waiting for ever listening to "All our representatives are currently assisting other customers …," the help line asked me to key in my phone number and said to hang up. They'd call me in (robot voice):  "One. Hour. And. Seven. Minutes."

Which is precisely when they did call back, and in less than a minute I was talking to a rep. He made me describe the shower installation in detail, then told me he'd have the necessary parts shipped to me, no charge. Apparently the thing is still under warranty, after twelve years. Wow! One cheer for consumer capitalism! And of course for Moen.


Thoughtcrime.     "You can't go to jail for what you're thinking," went the old song. Boy, that must be a real old song. (Yep — 1956.) In our brave new Politically Correct U.S.A., you can go to jail for centuries for bad thoughts.

That, at any rate, is my conclusion from this Wall Street Journal story.

Are people who download and view child pornography — but aren't themselves molesters — as much of a threat to society as rapists or murderers? … Several years ago, a former teacher with no prior criminal record who was convicted on 20 counts of possession was sentenced to 200 years in prison.

These acts alone are disgusting to most people. But not everyone buys into the idea that they warrant two decades or more in prison. Federal judges around the country are speaking out against what they view as harsh mandatory and recommended sentences, spurred by Congress in recent years …

I tackled a legal friend on this.

Me:  Why is possession of child pornography even a crime? Don't you have to do something to someone for there to be a crime? Or at least steal their stuff?

He:  No. Helping someone else do it can also be a crime. Receiving stolen property, for instance. It's a crime in every Anglo-Saxon jurisdiction  [? — J.D.]  and has been for ever. You didn't steal anything or hurt anyone, but you're an enabler, an accomplice.

Me:  But the guy downloading child pornography has no relationship with the producer. Chances are, he has no clue who it is.

He:  He's still enabling … etc.

Later, talking to another friend — not a lawyer, but wise in the ways of the world — I asked:  What about child-pornography drawings, or lifelike computer-generated stuff in which no actual children were involved? Can possession of that get you 200 years in the slammer? He said he was pretty sure it could, and thought there had been some cases of that kind.

I'm a loving father of two, and would be perfectly happy to see child molestors flogged in public. (Or dealt with like the one in How Green Was My Valley.) No problem. But a decade or two in the pokey just for having pictures on your hard drive? There's something badly wrong here, and I'm not surprised the judiciary is rebelling. All strength to them.


Hourly rate.     Tidying up my book pile, I note that I read twelve books for my Hazlitt piece in the October New Criterion. I was pleased with the piece, think it came out right (a thing I feel about no more than a third of what I write), and have always, and shall for ever, consider it a privilege to be published in TNC, an island of sanity in a mad world. It's a small magazine, though, with not much funding, and when I compute the hours spent reading those twelve books, and thinking, and composing, and correcting, and corresponding with editors, and looking things up on the Internet, and exchanging emails with the curator of an art collection in Scotland, the hourly rate for that piece of work is way down in single digits to the left of the decimal point.

I'm not complaining, mind; but driving my son to football practice, as we go past the "hiring enclosure" where lawless trespassers in our country — I beg their pardons, I mean "undocumented migrant workers" — assemble, I find myself wondering if perhaps I wouldn't be better off joining them for a day's work landscaping or roofing.


The new sweatshops.     I was just talking to a schoolteacher friend — 50-something, close to retirement. As we talked, his phone went off. He had a conversation. When he was through he told me about it.

He:  That was Mrs. Choo from the sweatshop.

Me:  Sweatshop?

He:  Yeah. See, remember when white people owned sweatshops, employing off the boat Asian immigrants on piecework? Well, now they run the sweatshops while us white folks do the work.

My friend explained that he works out of hours for this Korean lady, Mrs. Choo [Not her real name — J.D.], who runs a crammer in a nearby town. There is a big concentration of East Asians down there — Koreans and Chinese. The Asian kids go to Mrs. Choo's place to do extra math, SAT preparation and the like. Mrs. Choo hires local teachers at $45 an hour (!) to do the teaching. My friend works in a little cube, one kid at a time.

He:  These kids have no free time. They just study 24/7, weekends I get all the work I want. Through summer vacation, too. I got 8th-graders doing SAT prep.

Me:  Any white kids there?

He:  One, out of 40-50. He came along because he's a friend of one of the Korean kids.


Grow your own food.     A different friend, by email:

John — Did you see the hysterically politicized current issue of New Scientist wherein is presented their anti-capitalist, anti-American program for scaling back the planet to something very close to the halcyon days of the Upper Paleolithic. Never mentioned are the billions of people who will have to be eliminated in the process. The corollary over here [New Scientist is a British mag — J.D.] is the mind-numbing rhetoric of Michael Pollan, writing in the New York Times Magazine, recommending that every household grow its own food in the backyard "for the sake of the planet" …

I am totally on board with my friend's anger at the "hysterical politicizing" of science, but … growing food in the backyard? Er, my wife actually does that:  tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, pears, apples, and plums. An acquaintance of mine in the Westchester 'burbs, a first-generation immigrant from Italy, has a vineyard in his back yard, and has for years been making very acceptable wine.

When I was growing up in England after WW2, it was government policy over there to encourage people to grow their own food, and pretty much everybody did so. My father grew a good selection in our back yard:  cabbages, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, onions, carrots, scallions, turnips, strawberries, rasperries, rhubarb (under a bucket, to "force" it), and no doubt more I have forgotten. And Dad was barely trying; our next-door neighbor, a much keener gardener, had pretty much the entire vegetable kingdom flourishing in his yard — and chickens and rabbits (for the pot, of course) also. These properties — front, house, outhouses, and back yard altogether — were an eighth of an acre.

In fact the town used to rent out "allotments" on some nearby ground, where householders could grow more. There were hundreds of these allotments. Everybody had one. (Including my Dad, though I don't think he got much from it.)

Growing your own food seems perfectly normal to me. Nowadays, of course, when Americans can't even be bothered to mow their own lawns, it's a lost cause. Given the underlying political agendas here, I guess that's not a bad thing. I guess.


Creationist Mind.     As you might have noticed, I couldn't locate the exact issue of New Scientist my pal was fuming about there. Scanning through recent issues, though, I did spot this piece:  "Creationists declare war over the brain." That gladdened my heart, because it means I was correct in a prediction I made some time ago. I predicted that creationists would give up on preaching against evolution, which is just too much of a settled fact, and start migrating over to the neuroscience labs, where there are real mysteries still to be explored. Creation may be a bust, but the science-haters can still get some mileage — a few more years of lecture tours and book royalties — out of the soul.

It's just nice — especially now that it seems increasingly unlikely Al Gore will be the 44th POTUS — to have made a correct (and so far as I know, original) prediction. The only downside is, that though I clearly recall making the prediction, I can't find it on the web. If anyone can track down my having put this in writing (which is not certain; I may just have said it at some conference), I'd be much obliged.

[Added later:  One kind reader did locate my prediction:  go here and do a Find on "prediction" …   That's my September 2007 NRO Diary, so the lead time is fourteen months. Not bad for a prediction. Another reader, equally kind, provided a YouTube video from December 2007 in which I can be seen making my prediction in the flesh (at about 2m30s into the video).]


Math Corner.     If you're assumed to have any kind of math understanding, there are certain questions you get asked about time and again. I'm going to give over this month's math corner to explain one of those things: "Regression to the mean." What is it? I get asked. How does it work? Where does it apply? And so on. OK, here goes.

The first thing to be said is that a statistician will rap you across the knuckles with a ruler if you say "regression to the mean." While rapping, he will bark angrily: "It's 'regression towards the mean,' you innumerate dolt!"

In defiance of that statistician, I shall show you an actual case of regression to the mean. Our statistician is right, and regression to the mean is an artificial situation, a hypothetical extreme. Sometimes, though, a phenomenon is more easily understood from its extremes, however unrealistic.

First, the mise en scène. You are standing on a podium in the open air. Think of it as a general's reviewing platform. In front of you are your "troops," lined up in ranks and files. There are a million of them, precisely a million. They await your word of command. Oh, did I mention that each one is holding a fair coin? — a quarter, say. Here comes your word of command.

"Listen up! I want each and every one of you to toss his coin a hundred times and count the heads. When you have finished, orderlies will come among you to collect your results. Each person will report his name to the orderly, along with a single number — the number of heads you got in your hundred tosses. This will, of course, be some whole number between zero and a hundred. Got it? Right — begin!"

When they are through tossing and the lists — name, number of heads — have come back to you, you rank them, from the fewest heads to the most. What does this ranked list look like?

Well, it will be what mathematicians call a "binomial distribution." The handy little BINOMDIST function in Microsoft Excel does the work for us. BINOMDIST(40,100,0.5,FALSE)*1000000 tells us the number of people who will "score" exactly 40 heads, for example:  10,843.87 on average — that is, if we were to do this entire thing many many times and average out the results. Similarly, BINOMDIST(29,100,0.5,TRUE)*1000000 tells us that 16.08 people, on average, will get 29 heads or fewer.

Sticking close to these "expected" average numbers delivered by my pal BINOMDIST, I'm going to say that my particular trial delivered the following numbers of people with really high scores:

These 10,489 people — a tad more than one percent of our total population of "competitors" — are the high-scoring stars! Their average score is 63.22! High fliers!

OK, we shall now concentrate on this 10,489 sub-population of high scorers, dismissing the other 989,511 mediocrities. You can keep the quarters, guys!

So now I'm up on my reviewing stand with my bull horn, addressing my 10,489 high fliers — a group with an average score better than 63 heads in a hundred coin tosses. My instructions to them are precisely the same as my instructions to the original million: Each of you toss that coin a hundred times, note the number of heads you got, then report that number, with your name, to the orderlies when they come round.

This new drill takes place. We collect the results. We look at them. What do we see? What, for example, will be the average number of heads?

Why, it'll be 50, of course! Why would it be anything else? These "high scorers" have, in fact, no particular ability (assuming the coins are fair and fairly tossed, which I am assuming). They just got lucky the first time around. By the iron laws of chance, they are no more likely to be lucky the second time around, than anyone else.

So the average of this high-flying group went from over 63 on the first drill, to 50 on the second. That's regression to the mean.

This generalizes to any situation where (a) some process with a measurable outcome is being iterated (that is, repeated over again), and (b) the process is to some degree random.

In my little thought experiment here, the process generating the measurable (number of heads) was perfectly random, so we got regression all the way back to the mean. In real-world situations, there is usually some non-randomness mixed in, so you don't get regression all the way back to the mean, only a part of the way back towards the mean. That is what caused the statistician to bark.

In sexual reproduction, for example, a new genome (the baby's) is produced by mixing half the father's genome with half the mother's. Which genes get selected for each of those halves is to some degree random (as of course was the father's choice of a wife, and the mother's choice of a husband), so there will be regression towards the mean. That's why — on average, of course — short people have kids who are also short, but not as short as the parents; tall people have kids who are also tall, but not as tall as the parents; smart people have smart kids, but the kids are not, on average, as smart as their parents, … and so on. The shortness, tallness, smartness, etc. are to some degree chance effects, like getting 70 heads in a hundred coin tosses.

Regression towards the mean. Got it? There'll be a quiz period on Monday.

Note also the following point, which even some scientifically-sophisticated people miss. Regression towards the mean is a perfectly general arithmetical-statistical phenomenon. It is by no means just a phenomenon of genetics. It shows up in other areas — in industrial quality control, for example. It's math, not biology. Otherwise this section would be called "Biology Corner." See?