»  National Review Online Diary

  November 2008

Perfectly content.     We had a general election this month. Americans got a chance to vote for their next President. Results, by party:

Name of Party
Tax And Spend Party 68,440,793 52.8
Borrow And Spend Party
(Also known as "Tax yourKids and
Spend Party")
59,390,576 45.8
Stop Reckless Spending Parties 723,293 0.6
Other parties Can't be bothered to
work out the numbers

As you can see, the American people are perfectly content with big-spending government, even when it's plain (isn't it?) that the government is spending money that does not exist. We're all living on credit now, and we expect our nation to do the same. The invaluable Oxford English Dictionary gives the etymology of the word "credit" as:

[a. F. crédit, 15th c. ad. It. credito  belief, trust, reputation, ad L. creditus, -um, pa. pple. of credere to trust, believe …]

You gotta believe!  and it is plain from the election results that we do. Those of us who don't, we who spoke up for the Stop Reckless Spending Party, are a mere rounding error. What a happy nation!

Since both big parties, the TASP and the BASP, also favor unlimited mass immigration from populations with very dismal histories of achievement, creativity, social stability, love of liberty, and respect for law, it is plain that the American people are insouciant about that too. We are also on board, practically all of us, with vast military expeditions to bring the light of civilization to benighted places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia, and Darfur.

No only are voters exceedingly happy with their two big parties, they are also very happy with their representatives:

This year the retention rate was typical at 95.6 percent overall (and unlikely to change significantly when some unsettled races get resolved). Likewise, though most incumbent Republicans were reelected, out of just 20 incumbent seats lost, only one was for a Democrat. Need proof of just how little political competition there is? Consider uncontested House seats that incumbents did not even have to defend, including 32 Democrats and 12 Republicans that did not face a two-party challenger.

How fortunate we are to be living at a time of such universal political contentment!

Party poopers.     Of course, there are always a few wet blankets. A friend of mine, writing a few days ago:

According to an estimate by Bloomberg News released this morning, the sum of the new commitments already made by the federal government in its financial bailout has already reached a total of 8.5 trillion dollars, including loans, investments, guarantees, and other liabilities. Frankly, this is quite a lot more than I'd realized, and I closely read several newspapers each day … Another way of looking at it is that there are something like 100 million households in America, and now each one suddenly owes $85,000 more than they did a few months ago.

What should be done with gloomy-gus party poopers like that? Personally I think they should be horse-whipped on the steps of their clubs, but I am open to other suggestions.

A nice place, but …     On one of my Radio Derb broadcasts, I mentioned in passing that South Korea is top of the list of places of which I could sing, as James Taylor did of Mexico:  "Never really been but I'd sure like to go." That drew the following encomium from a reader:

You really, really, really need to go to South Korea before it goes pear shaped. Bring the kids. Eat live squids.

Park Chung Hee did something amazing. He turned a nation with a GDP per capita and corruption rate similar to sub-Saharan Africa, to what might be the nicest nation on earth. Sure, everything smells like garlic and rotten cabbage, and their obsession with progress means they've torn down the more charming places in Seoul, but once you pass the Kimchee/concrete event horizon, you'll realize you're living in the nation that Lee Kwan Yew wanted to build in Singapore.

They've cultivated a sort of Confucian version of Victorianism, using their idea of success, 1950s America, as the model. Japan, by contrast, is all slouchy pink haired teenagers.

The Koreans are nice, they look good, there is no crime to speak of; even their political riots are fun. (I inadvertently went to an anti-American riot; I had a great time.) Kids walk around unaccompanied at midnight in neighborhoods filled with their versions of shady characters … and it isn't a problem. Drunk businessmen leave their briefcases in the middle of the road, and they're there the next day.

I suspect it's the sort of societal cohesion and gentility Europeans had before they decided to commit collective suicide. I figure it's going to go downhill fast, due to the birth rates [South Korea's are among the world's lowest** — J.D.], but it's something to witness before it is gone.

I was all ready to run down to the travel agent for plane tickets to Seoul, but I thought I'd get some second opinions first. Uh-oh:

If you're thinking of going overseas to teach English in South Korea, my first advice to you is DON'T … I estimate there is a 70% chance that if you go you will end up getting screwed over in your contract and actually end up losing money. Most people don't last the first three months with a company. The ones who stay longer usually end up getting screwed over for even more money … The country and people are wonderful, but the hagwon/english institutes are corrupt and most usually go bankrupt within the first 1 or 2 years … The rule of thumb in Korea is that if you're not Korean, then you don't really matter. You really have almost no legal rights. If a company decides to terminate your contract, for any reason whatsoever, they can and they will. So if the company is planning to swindle you anyway (and most do) then no amount of caution is enough …

Perhaps this illustrates a general rule about East Asian nations. While they and their peoples have much to commend them, and wonderful richness of culture, they are not good places in which to be a private-sector employee. There was a sort of slogan or idiom I heard a lot in 1970s Hong Kong from local Chinese people, to the general effect that:  "If you have an American boss, you're in heaven. An Australian or a British boss is also pretty good. Failing that, a Japanese boss might be OK. But to have a Chinese boss — that's the pits!"

** Birth rate 9.1 per thousand, Total Fertility Rate 1.2. Some corresponding figures for other nations:  U.S.A.  14.2 and 2.1, Yemen  42.4 and 6.4.

Males not wanted.     This is one of those hardy-perennial stories that shows up in the papers every couple of years.

Are males becoming an endangered species? That's the question scientists and researchers have been pondering since alarming trends in male fertility rates, birth defects and disorders began emerging around the world.

More and more boys are being born with genital defects and are suffering from learning disabilities, autism and Tourette's syndrome, among other disorders …

Some previous instance of this story inspired me to a column back in 2001.

Nation of pussies.     Randall Parker wonders why we are such pussies about these Somali pirates. Well, why wouldn't we be? We're pussies about everything else.

We're pussies about capital punishment. Instead of speedily dispatching psychopaths who commit beastly murders, we give them fifteen years of free gym time and cable TV while we wring our hands about their rights. Then, if we finally decide to give the swine what they deserve, we make their exit as hygienic and painless as possible. Why? Because we're squealing, simpering girlies, that's why.

We're pussies about enemy nations, embarking on decades-long, trillion-dollar campaigns to make them love us, instead of quick ten-million-dollar lessons in why they should fear us. Why? Because we seek love and approval, like the furrowed-brow, teary-eyed, compassionate pansies we are.

We're pussies about people who come to our country without permission, stay here without permission, work without permission, and leech on our school, hospital, and welfare systems. Eisenhower rounded them up and expelled them, but we're assured we can't do that. We can't, we can't. Why can't we? Because we are timid, cringing, mincing, driveling, sniveling, weeping, moaning, soft, flabby, PC pussies, that's why.

Onions     Thanksgiving dinner with some old friends. Among the numerous vegetable dishes to go with the turkey, they offered us little pearl onions in a delicious white sauce.

I enjoyed the onions, but can never take in onions as a guest without thinking of that show-offy sentence by Anthony Burgess in Inside Mr. Enderby:

His breath smelt startlingly of (startling because few hosts serve, owing to the known redolence of onions, onions) onions.

Has anyone ever improved on that? Gone for the quadruple, I mean, without violating the rules of grammar? Yes, I know about those made-up sentences like:  "Peter, while Tom had had 'had,' had had 'had had'; 'had had' had won the English teacher's approval." I'm thinking of something more Burgessian, something in the onions line, without quotes.

America's Half-Blood Prince     Steve Sailer's terrific, insight-packed book about Barack Obama is moving well — over 5,000 copies now. That's pretty darn good for a book that isn't even a book yet!

I don't imagine Steve has high hopes for a front-page review in the New York Times Sunday book section. On previous form for books and authors as blithely un-PC as these, the MSM will studiously ignore his literary/biographical efforts. Steve says far too many things that may not be said about Wonder Boy. He's done the legwork, though, reading everything Obama has ever written (so we don't have to!) and using his own first-hand knowledge of Chicago politics (think cesspool, rats) to illuminate Obama's rise.

While Steve's book is destined for life in a plain brown-paper wrapper here in the Republic of Nice, I bet it will sell like hot cakes abroad. There is real value-added for foreign investors, businessmen, diplomats, military folk, commentators, and trouble-makers in understanding America's president, and America's Half-Blood Prince is chock full of rich understandings. There is value-added for Americans in such understanding, too; but white Americans are so terrified of talking about, or even being thought to be thinking about, "race and inheritance," except in the desperately narrow terms dictated to us by PC commissars like the Obamas, that most whites will not touch Steve's book with a barge pole. Possession of it on business premises will likely be a firing offense. Probably some black Americans will read Steve's book with interest, but for whites it is a cargo of hot plutonium.

I therefore predict that, once the book has had a couple of years in which to circulate internationally, and be translated into a few languages, foreigners will have a much better understanding of our 44th president than we have.

Fan mail     I shouldn't, I know I shouldn't, but I can't help it. I was in Valencia once. Pretty town; lovely climate. Just a small quibble, though: since my fan is male, shouldn't that be "baristo"?

North to Alaska.     A very thought-provoking email from a reader:

John — My girlfriend and I are moving to southeast Alaska next year. I'm selling my lake home and using the equity to buy seventy acres with 660 feet of waterfront on an island offshore from [name of town] … on Prince of Wales Island. We will be building a cabin from logs felled on our property, seasoned for two years, and milled on three sides. Foam insulation will be added on the inside, and drywall or paneling added to the top of the foam. We will be able to heat the entire house with a fireplace ducted into a backup propane-wood furnace.

The record low temperature for Prince of Wales Island is five degrees above zero. I've experienced thirty-eight degrees below zero at my current home [in the northern Midwest]. I look forward to mild winters.

Our water will come from rainwater harvested from the roof, piped into giant tanks in the basement and filtered and run through a UV chamber. Our entire electricity supply will come from wind and solar, but there is a possibility of tapping into a small, rushing stream for a micro-hydro installation, and we will have a full battery bank in the basement.

Because of the strong tides, the mild climate and the low population density, the fish, shellfish and game can provide almost all of our food needs, in conjunction with a home garden and orchard. It's not that we're far right fringe freaks, but at this point in our lives, it seems like a very smart thing to do. [My reader is in his 50s.] …

If society does come crashing down, and you and your little family can make it so far west, you might find a place of refuge. But, then, you folks would probably loathe the idea of eating salmon, halibut, trout, grayling, shrimp, Dungeness crab, king crab, abalone, clams, mussels, deer, elk, moose, snowshoe hare and grouse, both forest grouse and mountain ptarmigan, all the time.

Oh, I don't know, I think we could hack it. Does Prince of Wales Island really have such an agreeable climate? Yes it does. Hmm. I say again:  hmm … Never really thought of Alaska in these terms before. Didn't really know much about the place. Who's the Governor up there, anyway?

Math Corner     Just a couple of curiosities from readers, neither of which I've been able to give any time to myself. Here's Reader A:

Find a 5th degree polynomial with two equal minimums and two equal maximums. Can be done on one sheet of paper.

My crabbed, suspicious mind wonders if there's a catch — e.g. does the sheet of paper need to be 100 yards on a side? Here's Reader B:

Dear Mr. Derbyshire — I've been tormented for a long time by a problem that seems at first glance to be simple but has become intractable, at least for a rank mathematical amateur like me. It has to do with rating the relative strength of sports teams based on competitive results among them, where not all teams play all others. Rating national soccer teams is a good example: there are about 200 national teams, and over the two or three year period that you compare results, no team has played more than twenty or thirty of the others. Finland and Vietnam may never have played each other, but maybe they both played a third team, or at one remove further, played other teams that had played a common third team.

To simplify the problem, for illustration: consider a small world or league with just four teams, A, B, C, and D. None has ever played a game before, so, having no information with which to rate and rank them, they all start with a comparative strength rating of 50 (on a scale of 1 to 100):

                    A: 50
                    B: 50
                    C: 50
                    D: 50

A plays B, and wins 2-0. C plays D, and also wins 2-0. Let's say a 2-0 margin of victory indicates a relative strength ratio of 60-40. So the new ratings become:

                    A: 60
                    C: 60
                    B: 40
                    D: 40

Now the two losing teams play, and B defeats D 1-0. We now have information about the relative strength of B and D, so B's rating becomes something like 45, and D's is reduced to something like 35. However, here is the crux of the problem: with the result between B and D, we now have information about the relative strength of A and C, which we didn't previously. B now being known to be the more difficult opponent, A's 2-0 win over B entitles them to a slightly higher rating than C, whose 2-0 win was over a slightly weaker opponent. From this point on, every result between any two teams must adjust, however slightly, the ratings of all other teams …

Does this problem have a name? Is there a branch of statistics that deals with it? Is there a text that explains its solution? I would be most grateful for any guidance you can give me. And should you have a ready-made solution, even for the four-team problem, I will immediately nominate you for the Fields Medal!

The furthest I got with this was some idle googling, which turned up a relevant paper here. That led off into the Perron-Frobenius Theorem — interesting in its own way (and is this the same Perron whose book on continued fractions lit up that subject for me 45 years ago?) but a bit beyond the scope of Math Corner. If anyone has anything neatly intuitive to say about this problem that doesn't involve stochastic eigenvectors and adjunct matrices, I'd be interested to hear it.