»  National Review Online Diary

  March 2010


The Left in power     Watching the President's strutting and preening after the passing of the health-care bill, I found myself thinking that the Left in power have a very characteristic kind of arrogant triumphalism.

"I'm in this race not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation," announced Obama when declaring his candidacy in 2007. That's what they're like, all of them, always. "We shall now create the socialist order," Lenin is supposed to have said, following his 1917 putsch. After the British Labour Party's 1945 electoral landslide, the new government's Attorney General declared that "We are the masters now." (Wikipedia says this is a misquotation; but if so, it was, as misquoted, entirely in character for the socialist triumphalism of the time, as evidenced by the fact that that's how everybody remembers it.)

Is this European-Leftist style of hubris a new thing in U.S. politics? Can anybody think of a Leftist quote in this spirit from the pre-Obama U.S.A.?

Now, of course, having compared Obama's mood in 2010 with Lenin's in 1917, I suppose I shall be accused of wild hysteria — of comparing our president with a homicidal despot. (I'm doing liberals the courtesy here of assuming that some of them know Lenin was a homicidal despot … but perhaps this is not a thing one can take for granted.)

Not guilty. I've already stated my opinion of the president's personality: "spoiled-brat soft-hands yuppie narcissist" — not exactly Leninesque. Nor do I believe that the administration will let loose Chekist firing-squads in black leather jackets on us any time soon … although when I see Eric Holder on TV, I can't help thinking they would like to … But no, our principal freedoms are still mostly intact.

That's the Left for you, though, whether sincerely democratic or cynically totalitarian. That's what they're like, always and everywhere. They want to transform a nation. They want to build a socialist order. They want us to know they are our masters.

I don't want my nation transformed. I was happy with it the way Ronald Reagan left it, plus or minus a few small tweaks. The principal thing I ask of federal politicians is to leave me the hell alone.

That, of course, is something few politicians, and no Leftist politicans at all, can bring themselves to do.


Paths of glory     Trying to nail down that Lenin quote, and the internet having been no help (the quote may be apocryphal), I went down to my local library to seek it in the Lenin biographies. There must have been dozens of biographies of Lenin. I used to own one: Robert Conquest's crisp little paperback in the Fontana "Modern Masters" series. Unfortunately I lost it somewhere in my travels.

So there I was scanning the biography shelves in my town's large and well-managed public library. They had just one biography of Lenin (this one). Immediately to its right were thirteen biographies of John Lennon — ten different books and three DVDs.

My first reaction to this was negative. Lenin was a very pure and exceptionally important example of the intellectual psychopath. The more people know about him and his horrible, dangerous type, the better. The less people read about Lenin, the less they will understand about that type, and the greater the chance another Lenin will come up. (The man whose government Lenin overthrew, the liberal socialist Alexander Kerensky, ended up teaching at Stanford University, where the British conservative writer Paul Johnson met him in the 1960s. Why, Johnson asked, did Kerensky not have Lenin shot when he had the chance? Replied Kerensky: "I did not think him important." See what I mean?)

On reflection, I mind it much less. John Lennon did not have a very attractive personality, but he was harmless, certainly by comparison with Lenin. He gave innocent pleasure to untold numbers of people. You could even make a claim that he contributed to the eventual downfall of the evil system Lenin established. Wandering in communist Bucharest in the summer of 1964, I fell in with a group of Romanian students. When I told them I was English, they all shouted out in limited-English delight: "Beatles! Beatles!"


Hayekians for socialized medicine.     I mentioned the late Enoch Powell in a March 17 Corner post about Afghanistan.

Powell is an interesting case to contemplate in our present political circumstances here. He was a terrific fiscal conservative — he resigned his first government position because he thought spending and taxes weren't being held down firmly enough. (Was Powell the last Anglosphere politician to resign from high office in protest against government spending?) He was a champion of individual liberty, too. In 1960, after borrowing a copy of Hayek's Constitution of Liberty from a friend, he told that friend in a letter that: "I hope I may hang on to it. I do not remember when I read a book with so much enthusiasm." He was considered even in his own time to be a free-market extremist; and that was a time when government did far less than it does today. His devotion to freedom extended into social liberalism: he was an early supporter of homosexual law reform and an opponent of capital punishment. He was also a fierce patriot, who committed political suicide by protesting the mass Third World immigration that has wreaked such havoc on British society.

And yet Powell was Minister of Health for three years, in charge of Britain's socialized National Health Service, to whose existence he seems never to have voiced any principled objection. Says Simon Heffer in his biography of Powell:

For all the emphasis Powell had already put on free markets and limiting the role of the state, he regarded the NHS as an essential social service and not as an economic good.

Go figure.


Intoxicating praise     Looking that up, I was reminded of one of the best passages in Heffer's biography.

Powell was a fine classicist. To win a prize in his senior year at high school, he memorized St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, in Greek. Powell went on to study classics at Cambridge University, where the poet A.E. Housman was Professor of Latin. Heffer:

Slowly, he formed a distant relationship with Housman. It was hard, because like Powell Housman was uncommunicative, reserved and solitary. At the end of the second term in which he had attended his lectures, Powell ventured to send him a suggested amendment to Book IX, line 214 of Virgil's Aeneid, replacing solita aut with aut solitas. He recalled that he felt this was "greatly daring." Term was ending, "and I had some days to spend in expectation of the lightning." Housman, writing from his favorite hotel in Paris, replied tersely: "Dear Mr Powell. You analyse the difficulties of the passage correctly, and your emendation removes them. Yours sincerely, A.E. Housman." Powell admitted that "no praise in the next forty years was ever to be so intoxicating."


Don't worry, be happy     Just a couple of non-Powell random follow-ups to that same Afghanistan post.

Shortly after posting it, I happened to be looking through the March 22 issue of the New Yorker, in which Elizabeth Kolbert reviews some recent books in "happiness studies," which is an actual field of scientific inquiry within psychology.

One of the books is Carol Graham's Happiness Around the World, which explores the international aspect of human happiness. Relevant quote from the review:

Research that Graham has done in Afghanistan shows that, despite three decades of war and widespread destitution, Afghans are, on average, a pretty happy lot. (The most cheerful areas of the country tend to be those in which the Taliban's influence is stronger.)

This makes much more sense after you've listened to Matthew Hoh in that Bloggingheads interview.


So-Hoh     Just one more. In that interview, Matthew Hoh employs the superfluous "so". He doesn't use it as much of some of my acquaintances, but it's there. This is just an anthropological note: I wouldn't criticize Matthew Hoh for this … or anything.

I can't help speculating, though, that this may be an Indian**-American thing. The heaviest user of the superfluous "so" among my friends is Razib Khan. Matthew Hoh is I believe of part-Indian ancestry.

** Dot, not feather.


Bolt-holes (cont.)     I have previously in this space (here, for example, and here, and here, at the very least) mulled the idea of having a bolt-hole ready in case the U.S.A. becomes uninhabitable for lovers of liberty.

The night of the health-care bill vote, a reader offered the following:

Derb:  You occasionally write about having a bolt hole. I've never really felt the need for one until tonight. Unfortunately, there aren't any good ones in foreign countries. That Alaskan island you mentioned one time seems cool, but a little too remote for me.

Following tonight's vote, I signed up for the Free State Project. Maybe we can create a decent bolt hole here in the continental U.S.

I know, I know, I doubt it, too. But I'm not quite as pessimistic as you are, so I still hold out some hope.

Anyway, this may be an opportune time to remind folks of the FSP's existence.

[Me]  By all means. However, if you had read We Are Doomed with more attention (I dismiss as unthinkable the possibility that you have not read it at all), you will recall my having pointed out on page 216, by way of teasing a colleague for his New Hampshire exceptionalism, that the Granite State went 55-45 for Obama over McCain in the '08 election. The symptoms may not show in an advanced form up there yet, but the virus is in the blood. If we're sinking bow first, they are the stern — that's all.

When the rush for the boats starts, you'll want that Uruguay residence permit safely in your pocket.


Liberation     The critic Clive James grew up in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s, when the British automakers had a lock on the market with their ill-made, ugly models. In his autobiography James says that when the first Volkswagens showed up Down Under, "they were hailed as liberators."

I feel somewhat the same way about the Google Chrome web browser. Internet Explorer is unspeakable, and just seems to get worse with every release. I work on three different PCs, and I don't think I've had IE up on one of them for as much as an hour without the damn thing crashing. In fact, it doesn't even crash, it just freezes, then takes fifteen minutes to close itself. What a heap of dog poop! Microsoft is a major corporation? Feugh!

There's Firefox, of course, but somehow I never really got along with it. Then Chrome showed up. It's fast, has neat features, and never crashes. Hallelujah!

Now if they could just get it to do website prints with good page breaks, and get the RSS feed working, my liberation would be complete.


Get a government job, Series #28,497     A lot of readers respond to my urgings to GET A GOVERNMENT JOB! by pointing out that our governments are so deeply in debt, they soon won't be able to afford to hire any more people, or even support the headcount they've currently got.

I don't believe it, not in the case of the federal government, anyway. Here are two news reports from this month.

(1) Job openings in the IRS:

Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee warn that as many as 16,500 new IRS auditors and investigators — or 17 percent of the agency's current work force — could be needed to administer and enforce new health insurance rules under the [new health-care] law.

(2) Job openings in the immigration service:

The federal government is not equipped to process the flood of applications from a proposed immigration legalization bill and the agency that would oversee that program won't be ready for "a few years," the office of the Homeland Security Department's inspector general told Congress on Tuesday.

The warning, from Assistant Inspector General Frank Deffer, could severely complicate President Obama's new push to pass an immigration bill this year.

Socialism means more jobs for government people. That's what it means. That's what it's all about.

Your local municipality is closing its libraries and laying off cops? Head to Washington, D.C. Plenty of new jobs there. And if there isn't enough money to pay all the legions of new federal employees, why, they'll just print some. They can do that. Your municipality can't.


Shad roe     Somehow I've made it to this point in my life without ever having eaten shad roe. I've known all about shad roe for as long as I can remember, courtesy of Cole Porter:

Electric eels, I might add, do it,
Though it shocks 'em, I know.
Why ask if shad do it? —
Waiter! Bring me shad roe …
                    — "Let's Do It"

Then, one Monday evening in March, I found myself at the Metropolitan Club, dinner guest of some friends, and the evening's "special" had shad roe as one of the appetizers. How could I resist?

I have to report that shad roe is not very exciting. Going through life, though, you have to tick the boxes. Now I've ticked the box for shad roe.


Bored to death     Not quite, not yet, but I can feel my extremities getting cold.

In obedience to a ukase from 'Er Indoors, who manages the family finances, I am plodding through a Defensive Driving Course, with the aim of lowering the amount we pay for car insurance. My teenage daughter passed her driving test this month, so our insurance just went up by some large number. (Don't ask me. As I said, the Trouble and Strife takes care of these petty financial matters, leaving me free to think lofty thoughts.)

So I signed on to this Defensive Driving Course. In my state, you can take the whole thing online. It's made up of about a million little segments you have to read through. Each one has some set time it has to stay on your screen. If you try to advance to the next segment before the time is up, it won't let you.

I'm conscientious about reading each web page as it comes up; but a web page that takes me 15 seconds to read, stays on-screen for a minute and a half, I suppose to accommodate slow readers. So there I am for a minute and a quarter, with nothing to do but watch the seconds tick down.

I've tried various strategies to fill the time: working, reading, listening to music, playing FreeCell. Nothing really works. You can't concentrate on a task or a book, or relax to music, while keeping one eye on the clock, and after a few hundred games, FreeCell is as boring as doing nothing.

It doesn't help at all that this is a DMV product — slabs of dull prose about blood alcohol levels and where to put a child seat. It's utterly, governmentally unimaginative. There's nothing interactive, you're supposed to just sit there and read 100,000 words of DMV-ese, at the pace of a very slow reader.

I don't know how much money this will save us, but I'm coming to the conclusion it can't possibly be enough to justify what I'm going through here.


Britcons     Because I have a British accent, people ask me about British politics, as if I were some kind of expert. I wish they wouldn't; I haven't a clue.

I pretty much lost interest in British politics when they kicked Maggie out. I returned to the U.S.A. soon after, and missed most of the John Major administration.

That was the last time the Conservative Party was in power over there. The Labour Party's been in power since 1997 under Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. In the Parliamentary system, though, the opposition party has to have a leader, too. In fact they have an entire cabinet, the "shadow cabinet." Being Leader of the Opposition is a big deal: you sit on the Queen's Privy Council, along with the Prime Minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury, top judges, and so on.

These thirteen years in opposition, the Tories have cycled through a number of leaders, though I'm afraid they're a bit of a blur to me in my aforementioned state of indifferent ignorance. One of them looked like a fetus; one of them had two surnames; one of them had the same name as the Prime Minister of Australia, squaring my general confusion; that's all I can remember.

Well, now they have this bloke David Cameron. I can't truthfully say I've paid much attention to him either, but the little I have paid leaves me with the rather strong impression that he is, as we used to say in Northampton, about as much use as a chocolate teapot. His strategy seems to be to position his "conservative" party about one millimeter to the right of Labour; or, failing that, a bit to the left. No point taking chances!

Andrew Stuttaford's been feeding us the grisly details. In a recent Corner post, Andrew reveals that the latest political figure to be raised to the Tory pantheon is Saul Alinsky, inventor of "community organizing," author of the Leftist handbook Rules for Radicals, and inspiration for the young Barack Obama.

This is the British Conservative Party, once the home of Winston Churchill, Enoch Powell, and Maragaret Thatcher. (Not to mention, come to think of it, John Derbyshire.)

There was no need of a steed and a lance to pursue them;
It was decreed their own deed, and not chance, should undo them.
The tares they had laughingly sown were ripe to the reaping.
The trust they had leagued to disown was removed from their keeping.
The eaters of other men's bread, the exempted from hardship,
The excusers of impotence fled, abdicating their wardship,
For the hate they had taught through the State brought the State no defender,
And it passed from the roll of the Nations in headlong surrender!


T-bonds for sale! Anybody want a T-bond?     A year and a quarter ago I posed the following question: What if the U.S. Treasury held a bond auction and nobody showed up?

We're getting there.


Anarcho-Tyranny     March 29 on the Corner I raised the late Sam Francis's concept of "anarcho-tyranny." That's when the state neglects its proper functions, gives up trying to use its authority to control domestic law-breakers or hostile foreigners, and concentrates its power on preventing harmless citizens from exercising their liberties. Anarchy for the lawless; tyranny for the law-abiding; that's the concept.

Just two days before that Corner post we were given a horrible illustration of the anarcho-tyranny to which our nation is fast trending. Robert Krentz, whose people have been ranching in southern Arizona, near the Mexican border, for a hundred years, was murdered trying to defend his property. The killer, presumably an illegal immigrant, escaped back across the border. Krentz's dog was also murdered.

A government has no more fundamental duty that to defend the nation's borders, and to secure the liberty of citizens living near the borders to go about their lawful business without fear or hindrance. Our government will not do that. This administration will not do it; George W. Bush's administration would not do it; Bill Clinton's administration would not do it.

At what is our almighty federal government directing its power and authority? Well, let's see:

Here's a detail in the Senate health-care bill we hadn't noticed until now: Employers would be required to give nursing mothers "a reasonable break time" to express breast milk during work.

Employers would also have to provide "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk," the bill says.

Invade our country, trash our border farms, kill the farmers and their livestock — hey, no problem! Wouldn't want to disturb the delicate balance of relations with our good friends in Mexico!

Fail to provide a properly appointed room where your employees may express their breast milk, however, and the full weight of federal law enforcement will come down on you.

Anarcho-tyranny. "You love your motherland, but does the motherland love you?" asks one character of another in a 1980s Chinese movie. I'm assuming all of us here love our country; but does it — as embodied in the federal government — love us? Like, as much as it loves Mexican bandits?

[Postscript: In an egregious, disgusting act of political opportunism, John McCain has demanded that the federal government put National Guard troops on the border. Oh, I so want J.D. Hayworth to take McAmnesty's seat away from him this November. Yes, I know the Hayworth negatives. I don't care. I don't care if he pays his wife a salary from campaign funds. Here's a hundred bucks, J.D. — buy her a brooch. I don't care if he was thick with Jack Abramoff. I wouldn't care if I heard he'd been taking showers with Kim Jong Il. Just help John-John off to retirement, J.D., please. Arizona voters, please.]


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

No puzzle this month, just a random couple of math notes.

(1) As I go to press here, the deeply eccentric Gregory Perelman still hasn't made up his mind whether or not to accept the million dollars the Clay Mathematics Institute has awarded him for proving the Poincaré Conjecture. Four years ago Perelman declined to show up to receive his Fields Medal, the mathematical equivalent of a Nobel Prize. Perelman, who lives in a cockroach-infested apartment in St. Petersburg with his elderly mother, says: "I have all I want."

Good luck to him; and thanks to him for keeping alive the legend of the nutty mathematician, in the grand tradition of G.H. Hardy, Paul Erdős, and Kurt Gödel.

[The last of those three names was technically a logician. The Fefermans, in their life of Alfred Tarski, tell us that Tarski, who was by no means deficient in self-esteem, and who was a coeval of Gödel, was wont to describe himself as "the greatest living sane logician."]

(2) The intersection of math with religion, though not quite the null set, is very small. Two Harvard authors have none the less managed to make a book out of it, and the book is enthusiastically reviewed in the current (Spring 2010) issue of The Mathematical Intelligencer.

On the basis of the review, I'll admit I'm intrigued. If any NRO readers have read this book and can offer a second opinion, I'd be interested to hear it. I'm glad, at any rate, to have learned a new word from the review: "onomatodoxy" — in Russian, imyaslavie.

Name-glorification or name-worshipping. The essence of this movement was to find the correct name for God, to use just the right language, and even the right kind of lighting, in Orthodox services. Imyaslavie was regarded in some quarters as a heretical movement, and the authors open their account with a description of a 1913 raid by a Russian warship (ordered by the Tsar) on the monastery on Mount Athos …

In Russia, even religion and math end up facing the armed forces of the state. No wonder Gregory Perelman just wants to stay home.