»  National Review Online Diary

  May 2010


My latest pull-over     Since being pulled over by cops and asked for identification has been in the air this month, I thought I'd relate my most recent pull-over.

Time: May 3rd, around 4pm. Place: headed south on NY State Route 8, a pleasant two-lane country road up by the Catskills. I'm tooling along thinking small private thoughts, the only vehicle on the road, when I pass a state patrolman parked off the road. I'm sober as a judge and observing local speed limits, so I'm not bothered. He, however, pulls out after I've passed and begins following me.

I'm still not bothered, since I'm doing nothing wrong. It's mildly annoying to have a cop on your tail for three or four miles of empty country road, though. Eventually he puts his flashing lights on and I obediently pull over.

The cop couldn't be nicer. We exchange cordial greetings and I hand over my license and vehicle registration. He makes a quip about my British accent. I quip back reflexively: "It's you Yanks that have the accent …" He mentions having trained on joint exercises with the Royal Marines during his service with the USMC. We trade some comparative observations about the British and American military. He apologizes for having pulled me over, but says I was on the white line (i.e. right-hand side edge-of-road lane marker) a couple of times. It's possible: my lane discipline's not Olympic class and I'd been daydreaming. It seems a picayune thing to be pulled over for, though, in broad daylight and perfect weather, with no other vehicles on the road for miles.

I guess time hangs heavy on their hands up there in Delaware County. Now, where'd I put the number of that Civil Rights attorney?


Savage indignation     As I get older I find I don't get as worked up about political issues as I once did. I shrug more; I fume less.

Mexican president Calderón's appearance before Congress got me fuming, though. Ten days later, I'm fuming still. Calderón's presumptuous and insulting address was bad enough, of course, but the real scandal was that several of our elected representatives applauded the insolent jerk.

I had not realised how far we have fallen. Here was the dubiously elected president of a corrupt, rattletrap, fifth-rate nation, which has generated not one thing of lasting value in five hundred years; here he was presuming to tell us — us, the United States of America! — what laws we should pass. And instead of calling on the Sergeant at Arms to expel this impertinent crook from the chamber and throw him on the next slow boat back to his crime-addled, fly-specked failure of a "nation," the honorable members applauded him! Ye gods.


Hero of the month     Fortunately there is no spectacle so revolting and shameful it does not offer opportunities for heroism. The hero of the Calderón insult-o-rama was Congressman Tom McClintock of California. Tom gave an angry and scathing counter-address which I urge you to either watch or read. Better yet, do both: watch it first, then read it, for full savor.

Madam Speaker:  I rise to take strong exception to the speech of the President of Mexico while in this chamber today.

The Mexican government has made it very clear for many years that it holds American sovereignty in contempt and President Calderón's behavior as a guest of the Congress confirms and underscores this attitude …

There is now an element in our political structure that seeks to … hyphenate Americans, to develop linguistic divisions, to assign rights and preferences based on race and ethnicity, and to elevate devotion to foreign ideologies and traditions, while at the same time denigrating American culture, American values and American founding principles.

In order to do so, they know that they have to stop the process of assimilation. In order to do that, they must undermine our immigration laws.

It is an outrage that a foreign head of state would appear in this chamber and actively seek to do so. And it is a disgrace that he would be cheered on from the left wing of the White House and by many Democrats in this Congress …

I was a huge McClintock fan back in the '03 gubernatorial recall race. It is sobering to think how much better McClintock, with his patriotism and strong principles and complete lack of Kennedy connections, might have managed at running California than the hapless Schwarzenegger.


Derb's Google Reader roll     By far the biggest batch of emails I got on last month's diary was from people wanting to know whom I have on my Google Reader roll.

Sorry, but I think my reader list is within the zone of personal privacy. I'll try to make a point of sharing a favorite now and then, though — one, I mean, who doesn't violate NRO respectability standards … too much.

Here's one for this month: the blogger "Asian of Reason," opining on why white people's food sucks. I don't agree with him on this particular point, but he's smart and often funny, and has some good original insights. I'll read anyone who meets those criteria and is not obviously crazy.

Oh, and here's some anecdotal evidence that not all Asians agree on that point either.

My gents' dinner club had its final meeting of the season May 20. It was a fun occasion with a very distinguished speaker — a Nobel Prizewinner.

After the dinner, which is held in the upstairs room of a good French restaurant, I went down to the bar for a night-cap. There I got chatting with one of the restaurant's proprietors. It was pretty late so he wasn't busy. The only table still occupied in the main restaurant was a big round one with eight or ten Chinese people seated around, all talking Mandarin in loud, tipsy voices. They were obviously having a great time. It seemed odd, though, to see them in a French restaurant, sitting at one of those big tables and picking from common dishes, the way they do in Chinatown establishments.

I asked the proprietor about it. He gave me a Gallic (to be precise, Breton) shrug. "They come here a lot. I guess they like French food."

If "Asian of Reason" would like to get in touch with me, I'll pass on the name of the restaurant.


Unputdownable     There are some writers whose books I just can't put down. Not all of them are good writers; some I know have glaring faults; some I suspect are conning me, but I have to go on reading anyway, like someone whose attention gets trapped by a conjuring trick.

Way out near the head of this dubious company is A.N. Wilson. (See here, with the usual cautions about Wikipedia articles on living persons.) I picked up his 1999 book God's Funeral at a friend's house, and, yep, haven't been able to put it down. Here's just the merest taste, from the end of the chapter on Herbert Spencer:

His mortal remains were cremated at Golders Green crematorium … Few of us are in a position to guess, still less to know, whether his consciousness survives, somewhere in Infinite Space; or, if it does, whether Spencer considers that the hours, weeks, months, years of dyspepsia, solitude, depression and loneliness — the price he paid for writing millions of words which no one now reads — were, in the end, worth the effort.

Although, having typed that, I seem to have lost the urge to write any more …


The Living Marxist Buddha     The Dalai Lama came to visit us here in New York. He caused a mild stir in conservative circles by declaring himself a Marxist.

Marxism has "moral ethics, whereas capitalism is only how to make profits," the Dalai Lama, 74, said.

Uh … I must, I am sure (and hope), be the latest of many, many commentators to suggest that His Holiness meditate for a while on the hundred million or so innocents slaughtered by Marxists in the 20th century, a number that includes hundreds of thousands of his own countrymen.

One of the things that struck me when living in early-1980s Communist China was how little anyone knew about Marxism. I was at that time quite interested in the subject — had read Kolakowski and Wittfogel, and a lot of prison-camp literature. I was particularly keen, after reading Wittfogel's orientalist take, to discuss Marx's notion of the Asiatic Mode of Production. My place of employment, a college in one of the more prosperous regions, seemed well suited to such enquiries.

I soon discovered that nobody in that place had ever heard of the Asiatic Mode of Production. In private conversations I tested my students' understanding of what was, after all, their official state ideology, and the foundation of their weekly Political Study sessions. Nothing.

I cornered one of my brighter, more outspoken students one day and asked him: "What, in your understanding, are the main points of Marxist theory?" He: "The main point is, just for people to treat each other well, to not be selfish."

Oh. I guess he'd read the same books as the Dalai Lama.

On May 24 the Dalai Lama wrote a mushy, can't-we-all-get-along Op Ed for the New York Times:

Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one's own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions.

Can one, actually? Well, I suppose some believers can; but it is of course the ones who can't that make all the religious trouble. They are also, as Eric Kaufmann's new book points out at great length, the ones with Total Fertility Rate five point something or six point something, while the ecumenical accommodationists of the get-along factions trend more towards one point something. (When not, like the Dalai Lama himself and the Catholic priesthood, stuck at zero point zero.)

Perhaps it's unkind to mock His Holiness. He seems like a very nice fellow. (For my encounter with him, see here.) And I guess you could argue that a very senior Buddhist cleric should be unworldly. Besides, if he were capable of anything more than gassy platitudes about "compassion," the ChiComs would have assassinated him long since.


One less New Mysterian     We lost Martin Gardner on May 22 — a real loss for our country and our civilization. I posted a personal reminiscence of Gardner on the Corner. It includes a link to Roger Kimball's much better and more comprehensive obituary. Roger's magazine, The New Criterion, seems to own the honor of having published Gardner's last piece of writing.

There is an odd Derb-Gardner connection I can't forbear mentioning:  a yoking of my name with his in the Wikipedia article on New Mysterianism. I consider it an honor, though an undeserved one, as my own casual shucking-off of merely tribal observances is negligible stuff by comparison with Gardner's life-long wrestling with deep theological issues. He wrote an autobiographical novel about the first half-century of those wrestlings, then added some later notes in The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener and The Night is Large.

Here, edited down, are the closing words of that latter book.

Just as knowing how a magic trick is done spoils all its wonder [Note: MG was an accomplished conjurer — JD], so let us be grateful that wherever science and reason turn they plunge finally into stygian darkness. I am not in the least annoyed because I do not understand time and space, or consciousness, or free will, or evil, or why the universe is made the way it is. I am relieved beyind measure that I do not need to comprehend more than dimly the nature of God or an afterlife. I do not want to be blinded by truths beyond the capacity of my eyes and brain and heart …

If you are looking puzzled and shaking your head, that small cavelike region in which you are so mysteriously hiding for a time — and for so brief a time! — then The Night Is Large is not for you. After all, where else could you hide?

Let's be glad at least that Martin Gardner's hiding time was less brief than most — 95 years and seven months.


Math Corner     Last month's puzzle was the Martingale betting system, dolefully described here. Wikipedia (yeah, yeah) has a full mathematical analysis here.

For this month:  Here are specs for the L115A3 long-range sniper rifle, the one Cpl. Craig Harrison used for that astounding feat of marksmanship we read about earlier in the month.

Question:  Using basic trig and the usual equations of motion, assuming sniper and target both at ground level, and ignoring air resistance, what were the bullet's flight time, its maximum height reached, and the rifle's angle of elevation?