»  National Review Online Diary

  July 2010


Gun fun     August 1st — White rabbits!

Today the Derb mansion is permeated by the smell of Hoppe's No. 9. We had a glorious day of shooting yesterday. Took my son and one of his friends to a big range nearby, of which one of my own friends is a member. We shot skeet with three different shotguns, we shot half a dozen pistols, we shot two rifles.

Star of the show was the AR-15, which turns even a duffer like me into a marksman. We were clipping the bullseye at 100 yards. "A bad workman blames his tools"; conversely, when a tool does a superb job for you, you bask in quite unjustified pride.

Then, back home, out come the cleaning rods and patches and oil and Hoppe's No. 9.


Why you should make friends with guns     Apart from the fact that guns are fun, you should give some thought to the direction the U.S.A. is headed.

As municipalities sink under the weight of pension and benefits liabilities for their employees, with stagnant or falling revenues, law enforcement will be one of the things to go. In some place this has already happened. East St. Louis announced at the end of July that they are to lay off 19 of their 62 police officers. Back in June the city of Maywood, California went further, laying off all its employees. Sure, these are poor cities (statistics here and here), but the rot will climb up the pilings, you may be sure.

When it does, Joe Citizen, you'll be on your own law-enforcement-wise. Get yourself some guns. Learn how to use and maintain them. Teach your family members how to use them.


EFTA revisited     Not that law enforcement is in such great shape anyway. You could ask our own Conrad Black, now out on bail after serving three years of a 6½-year sentence for … what? Nobody can explain to me.

Coincidentally, the July 24th issue of The Economist ran an article on the ferocious enforcement of pettifogging laws. We read about the hapless George Norris, 65 years old and a collector of orchids. Because the paperwork was not correct on some orchids he'd imported from South America, Mr. Norris was in technical violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, to which the U.S.A. is a signatory. Mr. Norris's home was stormed by a SWAT team, he spent 17 months in prison, and his life and health have been ruined. Oh yes: "For bringing some prescription sleeping pills into prison, he was put in solitary confinement for 71 days."

This is the state of affairs described by the late Sam Francis as "anarcho-tyranny." In spheres where the government should be busy in action — guarding the nation's borders, for example — anarchy reigns. In trivial matters that, in a sane order, would not concern the government at all, they practice a savage tyranny.

The main way they do this is by creating so many laws and regulations, and signing on to so many of those busybody Conventions cooked up by dimwit bureaucrats in Karachi or Kuala Lumpur, that anyone they decide to pick on is bound to be in violation of something.

The Economist:

There are over 4,000 federal crimes, and many times that number of regulations that carry criminal penalties. When analysts at the Congressional Research Service tried to count the number of separate offences on the books, they were forced to give up, exhausted. Rules concerning corporate governance or the environment are often impossible to understand, yet breaking them can land you in prison. In many criminal cases, the common-law requirement that a defendant must have a mens rea (i.e., he must or should know that he is doing wrong) has been weakened or erased.

The main driving force here is sloth. Throwing 65-year-old orchid fanciers in jail is nothing like as much hard work as tracking down terrorists or people smugglers. Anarcho-tyranny is just EFTA at work: the Easier-For-Them Association.


More EFTA     For a look at EFTA in action on the local level, consider the experience of my next-door neighbor. He'd left his truck parked in his driveway in our uneventful, law-abiding suburban neighborhood. In the wee hours one morning, thieves broke into the truck and took what they could find, including his wallet. They mainly just wanted his money, but took out his credit cards anyway, and scattered cards and wallet over a nearby lawn.

However, there was one credit card they hadn't been able to pull out, though obviously they'd tried — it was stuck halfway out of its pocket. My neighbor showed this to the police, saying: "You should be able to get really good prints off that." The police laughed at him. "We don't do prints for theft-from-vehicle."

This, please note, is one of the most extravagantly-remunerated police forces in the nation. With vacation and various other negotiated time allowances, Suffolk County cops work fewer days a year than schoolteachers. They are, in other words, spoiled rotten.

They are members of EFTA, though, so they can do what they like. What they like is, to do as little as possible. They won't catch many thieves if they don't dust for prints on a vehicle break-in; but hey, so what? — not dusting is Easier For Them.

Stick around. Pretty soon they won't dust for prints on burglary with assault. Then they won't dust for prints on rape. Then they won't dust for prints on murder. They'll still be locking up 65-year-old orchid fanciers, though. Anarcho-tyranny — It's Easier For Them.

Get yourself some guns.


County heroes     Suffolk County Police Department may be spoiled, rude, arrogant, and deeply unhelpful, but our Sheriff's Office is an entirely different matter.

I refer of course to the case of Derbyshire vs. Loathsome Dog-Mauling Hippie Scoundrel. I am glad to report that the long trek through the county courts, and the Sheriff's Office that enforces the orders of the courts, is at last over. I got my check, with interest!, and it is now safely deposited in my puny bank account.

Moral of the story: you can get satisfaction out of the Small Claims system, if you peg away doggedly (ha!) at it. This is still a nation of laws, not hippies. It just needs a year or so of your time.

Meanwhile: All glory, laud, and honor to the noble Sheriff of Suffolk County and his heroic deputies! May their tribes increase! May the wombs of their wives be ever fruitful! May their sons be manly and their daughters chaste! … Etc., etc.


The office and the man     Manly, yes. There's been a meme floating around recently to the effect that our president is a bit of a girly man.

It seems to have started with this picture, taken at the G8 summit in June. Leaders of the Free World are assembled for a photograph. A comely young woman drops her papers and bends down to gather them. Sarkozy and Berlusconi are leaning over at gravity-defying angles to get a look at the lady's posterior. Harper seems to be trying to see which part of his anatomy the lady is checking out. The Japanese guy, whoever it was that month, wants her to notice his seersucker. Medvedev is thinking about potatoes. Obama looks the way he mostly looks, i.e. as if about to preach a sermon on sin and redemption.

As evidence that the president is a girly man, this is thin stuff. I'm not sure that leering at women's backsides tells us anything about a guy, other than that he's straight; but if it does, what should we make of this?

Sarah Palin none the less picked up the meme in her famous cojones remark. You can see her point, in relation to the topic she was talking about.

There's a case to be made on other grounds that Barack Hussein Obama is actually Beta High-strung Obama. There is that horrendous autobiography, for example, long stretches of which read like the diary of a whiny, self-obsessed, teenage girl. And then, I don't recall any evidence of Obama ever having done anything dangerous or physically strenuous.

Wait a minute (you cry): Didn't Obama, in his Community Organizer days, live and work in Chicago's rough'n'tough South Side black ghetto? Some danger points for that, surely.

Actually, no. As Steve Sailer points out:

Obama didn't live in any of the communities he putatively organized. Obama would commute to the slums he was supposed to organize from the security of Hyde Park. Going back two decades, he has made his home in that sliver of the South Side that's so well organized by a rich institution, the John D. Rockefeller-founded University of Chicago, that it has its own private police force.

It's been a soft, easy, non-character-forming kind of life, floating ever upwards on the praise, adulation, and projected hopes of others, without ever actually having done anything much — certainly nothing that might break a nail.

On the other other hand, you could say the same of many other presidents, some of them fine conservative heros. My own favorite, Calvin Coolidge, never did anything more dangerous than farm work (though farm work is strenuous) and riding a mechanical horse for exercise in the White House. Ronald Reagan rode actual horses — as Coolidge must have done on the farm — and furthermore performed as much military service as he reasonably could; but his life was hardly an action movie.

I leave the matter open. For sure Barack Obama is facing some severe stress tests in the years to come. Let's see how he copes; and for the sake of the country, let's hope he copes well.


Long Live Our Glorious Asbestos!     I had a bit of fun on the July 23rd Radio Derb with serpentine, the California state rock. Serpentine is common in California — that's why they made it the state rock — but some varieties contain traces of asbestos.

Once mined enthusiastically in California, asbestos is now the most politically incorrect mineral known to man, at least American Trial Lawyer man. Its fibers are implicated in lethal lung diseases, so that trial lawyers have for decades been hunting down anyone suffering from those diseases and bringing lawsuits on their behalf against the nearest deep-pocketed entity that could be connected in some way, however tenuous, with use of asbestos.

With the serpentine-asbestos link firmly established, that would include pretty much any private or public enterprise in California. Banks, for example, whose counter tops are often made from polished serpentine, on account of its color resembling the green ink used on paper money. Imagine the joy on the faces of trial attorneys when they learned this fact. We can sue every bank in California!

With this in mind, the trial lawyers are sponsoring a bill in the California state senate to defrock (de-rock?) serpentine — i.e. strip it of its status as State Rock.

Well, I had just got through recording that Radio Derb segment when I paid a visit to the Russian Children's Welfare Society in New York City. There I met a new hire, a very beautiful and charming young lady named Yana. She was of course Russian. Making small talk, I asked where she had been born. "In the Urals," she replied. "A small town named Asbest." Asbest? "Yes, like in 'asbestos'."

Sure enough, there it is, up in the Urals: Asbest. Population 72,822 in 2006, according to Britannica, and still digging out asbestos by the ton. I bet in the Soviet period there were billboards at the approaches to the town boasting LONG LIVE OUR GLORIOUS ASBESTOS! Perhaps they are still there.

So when the trial lawyers get through stripping California banks of their assets, perhaps they'll all head over to try their luck in the Urals. Hey, I can dream.


The paragon of animals     I was talking to a friend who had for some years run a small retail menswear store in the Midwest. He also had an academic career to take care of, so from time to time he would put managers in to look after the store.

He:  The thing that makes a good manager is, the ability to hire good employees.
Me:  What's the definition of "good employee"?
He:  One who doesn't steal too much.
Me:  Say what? Do employees really steal so much?
He:  There's always a proportion. Rarely less than a quarter, maybe a third of the people you hire. You have to try to keep it down.

Later in the conversation we circled back to his retail experiences. He got on to customer pilferage.

Me:  So the customers are stealing too?
He:  You can't imagine.

What a low-down, nasty piece of work is man!


Under the tombstone     Turning out some boxes in the back of the garage, I came across a lucite "tombstone", recording for posterity an issue of mortgage-backed bonds in June 1984, face value $152,713,000.

Here are the names of the underwriting firms:

The First Boston Corporation
Salomon Brothers Inc.
Merrill Lynch Capital Markets
Bear, Stearns & Co.
Goldman, Sachs & Co.
Lehman Brothers
Morgan Stanley & Co.
Drexel Burnham Lambert
E.F. Hutton & Company, Inc.
Prudential-Bache
L.F. Rothschild, Unterberg, Towbin
Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co.
Thomson McKinnon Securities Inc.

Where are the snows of yesteryear? Well, of those particular snows, only two are still clinging to the mountainside: Goldman Sachs (who dropped the comma at some point in these 26 years: I never noticed that before) and Morgan Stanley. The rest are gone, gone with the wind — actually, mostly swallowed up by bigfoot megafirms like Morgan and Citigroup.

What was that about "too big to fail"? Seems there were a lot more small fishes in the pond in 1984 than there are now. That's pond life for ya, I guess.


Israel deports illegals     Isn't there some way we can hire in Israelis to run our immigration system? They sure know how to do it.


U.S. economy dodges a bullet     Nellie Derbyshire started her first real job this month, as an intern on the trading floor of one of the downtown exchanges. She is thrilled with it, and the Derbs are infinitely grateful to the friends down there who gave her the opportunity.

There has only been one Maalox moment so far. Three or four days into the job Nellie arrived home, ran right upstairs to my office, burst right in without knocking, and told me in great excitement: "Dad! Today I entered my first trade!"

I was at the computer concentrating on something and didn't process the words properly. I thought I heard her say she had made a trade. Great thundering cascades of alarm and anxiety neurons fired off in my brain. My ditsy 17½-year-old daughter is trading options on commodity futures? OMG! Call broker! Short the market!

In fact all that had happened was that a trader, having made his trade, had passed the numbers to Nellie to enter into the computer. (Under the eye of an experienced trading assistant, let me add, and the numbers to be then subjected to several levels of validation by the trading systems. This is not even conceivably a fat finger situation. Let me further add that my daughter is only somewhat and occasionally ditsy, while beautiful, smart, and charming withal.)

For a fleeting moment there, though, I thought our name might go down in the annals of infamy as having supplied the straw that broke the back of the poor, staggering U.S. economy.


Math Corner     I was totally overloaded with responses to last month's puzzle, the famous (notorious?) "Tuesday's Child" conundrum. Many thanks to all who participated. I'm sorry I couldn't respond personally to more than a fraction. My solution here.

Rather than offer a puzzle this month, I'm just going to direct your attention to this news story about dominos, which Jamaica is striving to make an Olympic sport.

The status of Olympic sport is still a long way off but Jamaica is hoping that by playing host to the 10th World Domino Championships in 2012, it will be able to push the more professional side of the game.

Why does everything have to be so serious nowadays? Wait a minute, though:

Domino competitions see players setting up from daybreak and going through until the early hours … A "Q," or quarter-litre bottle of white rum, is often a key element of the event.

Now that's more like it! Dominos and alcohol go together in England, too, where it is (or was, don't ask me) a popular pub game. My grandfather John Henry Knowles was a keen player. Among my remotest memories are visiting with him and Grandma at their collier's cottage in Staffordshire. He'd take down his box of dominos from the top shelf of the dresser and I'd play with them for hours: not playing the game — I could barely count — just stacking them up into towers and walls.

There's considerable math to be mined from dominos. Try this site for example. Number 2 and Number 5 look interesting.