»  National Review Online Diary

  September 2011


The Sovereignty Caucus.     Did you know that the U.S. House of Representatives has a Sovereignty Caucus?

Well, has or had. Just googling around, the Sovereignty Caucus seems to have quiesced. It was formed two years ago in reaction to the administration's nomination of Harold Koh as Legal Adviser to the State Department. Koh is keen to extend the authority of trans-national outfits like the International Criminal Court over U.S. domestic policy and jurisprudence.

I just heard about the Sovereignty Caucus last week. It struck me as a bit peculiar that a national legislature should need a caucus promoting the nation's sovereignty. The caucus had/has at least 25 members. How did/do the other 410 congresscritters feel about U.S. sovereignty? Best not to ask, perhaps.

The occasion of my hearing about the Sovereignty Caucus was a CIS event promoting a new book by John Fonte of the Hudson Institute. Title of the book: Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others? John spoke to us very eloquently on the topic of sovereignty.

He writes just as eloquently. Here's the first paragraph of Chapter Fourteen:

A "struggle for a new world" has begun. Across a broad range of far-flung, often obscure, but nevertheless vital fronts, the liberal democratic nation-state is locked in an intense ideological and institutional conflict with the forces of global governance. At the center of the coalition supporting liberal democracy stands an independent sovereign American nation-state. Across the trenches, the overarching goal of the global governance party is the subordination of American constitutional democracy to global authority.


Heart and head on immigration.     On the particular topic of illegal immigration, awareness seems slowly to be dawning at high levels of the GOP that this is a deal-breaker for some quite big segment of the Republican voter base. What has caused the dawning has, of course, been the fast drop in Rick Perry's poll numbers following his defense of the Texas DREAM act in that disastrous — for him, I mean — September 22 debate.

The open-borders faction of the GOP is busy doing damage control. Here was Linda Chavez in my Saturday edition of America's Newspaper of Record:

The illegal immigration issue is easy to solve — and at far less cost than building a nearly 2,000-mile fence along our southern border. Create a legal way for workers willing to do jobs that Americans shun — even during periods of high unemployment — and you will eliminate about 90 percent of illegal immigration. And those new, legal workers will pay taxes, buy American services and products, rent and buy homes that now sit vacant, and bolster the economies of communities that are now suffering.

The implication here is that there is no "legal way" for foreigners to come and work in the U.S.A. In fact there are at least a dozen legal ways for them to do so. I have listed the relevant visa categories here.

As can be seen from that list, there are "legal ways" to enter the U.S.A. for every kind of worker, from concert pianists to fruit pickers. To pretend otherwise is just dishonest.

And then: "those new, legal workers will pay taxes." The New York Post version of the piece came decorated with a photograph of Ronald Reagan, caption: "Reagan: Believed legal immigration produced taxpayers."

Hmm. Ronald Reagan was a great president, but he wasn't infallible. Of course legal immigration does produce taxpayers. It also produces tax-eaters. An interesting question about immigration policy would be: How can we so adjust our policy to maximize the tax-payers and minimize the tax-eaters? This is not a question you hear much discussed. To put it mildly.

What the open-borders folk want is for anyone who can get themselves onto U.S. soil to be given an immigrant visa and work permit. That's a tenable position that can be argued on its merits. It's just a terrifically unpopular one; so open-border proponents have to fudge and obfuscate with accusations of unkindness (Perry) or dishonest flim-flam about there being no "legal way" for foreigners to come and work here (Chavez).

There are plenty of legal ways. In fact, if a foreigner is smart enough and willing to game our leaks-like-a-sieve "refugee resettlement" programs, we'll even pay his fare to come here, give him free accommodation, and put him on the welfare rolls the day he lands. (Refugees are immediately eligible for all welfare programs.)

It's not heart that's lacking in our immigration policy, it's head.


A millstone for Christie.     That last segment includes a link to a piece I wrote that includes a link to a September 2010 Paul Mulshine op-ed in the New Jersey Star-Ledger that includes a link to a Lou Dobbs TV clip from April 2008 of which Mulshine observes: "If Christie really intends to make a move nationally, he'd better buy up every copy of" it.

Follow that? The heck with it: just watch the clip.


The problem of evil.     As part of the 9/11 commemorations (of which I have registered my general disapproval elsewhere), Former President George W. Bush made a speech at Shanksville, Pa., near where Flight 93 hit the ground. Now, I know, I know, "in lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath." He should, though, try to make some kind of sense. Quoth W:

"One of the lessons of 9/11 is that evil is real."

What does that mean? Is W taking a position in the ancient debate between realists and nominalists? Is he asserting that evil is a kind of stuff in the universe — perhaps a greenish miasma like the one that saw off Egypt's first-born in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments?

If so, that's interesting — to hear a public person talking metaphysics, I mean. If, on the other hand, W is just saying that people really do do evil things, that's a truism not worth stating, equivalent to "folly is real," or "creativity is real" or "nose-picking is real."

Human behavior is real. It issues from human beings, who are real creatures. Some kinds of behavior we designate as evil. We are prompted to do so in part by wired-in deep mental structures evolved through our long history as social animals, in part by refinements of those structures we acquire from our upbringing and socialization.

Just what counts as evil varies to some degree from time to time and place to place. Heresy, buggery, and usury have moved from the "evil" column to the "not evil" column, while slavery, wife-beating, and witch-burning have made the opposite journey.

Evil is a fascinating study. It is being studied, too — by psychologists, ethologists, anthropologists, and neuroscientists. Let's hope they come up with some way to cut down on evil.

Evil? I'm against it.

To tell us that "evil is real," though, and that we need dramatic events to teach this to us, is absurd.


Punctilious, or snotty?     You be the judge.

I can be obnoxious, I'll admit it. It's usually in the cause of Truth, though.

As it happens, we had our block party on September 11. Some neighbors wanted to perform a little service of commemoration there in the street. Some others of us, taking my point of view, disapproved, thinking the whole commemoration business too narcissistically yellow-ribbonish. We dissenters were in a minority, though, so for the sake of neighborly harmony we swallowed our grumbles and bowed our heads with the rest.

The neighbors leading the service were Jewish. They had printed up the Kaddish, in both Hebrew script and a Latin-script transliteration. "We're all going to say the Kaddish in Hebrew," they announced.

I'm not Jewish, but as it happens I know the Kaddish. Well … Definition of "know," there: I once memorized it in honor of a friend. This was back in pre-internet days: I actually memorized it from a neat little chaplain's handbook that I had picked up in a bookstore in Cape Cod back in the 1970s.

Along with memorizing the Kaddish, I read up on it, and learned the interesting fact that it is said not in Hebrew but in Aramaic. Perhaps by way of having had to swallow my dissent, I cornered the neighbor and pointed this out to him.

"No, no," he insisted, "it's Hebrew. Look, see! — Hebrew script!"

I was going to observe that many, many different languages are written with Latin script, so it wouldn't be amazing to find languages other than Hebrew written with Hebrew script. I realized, however, that I had crossed some line. I backed away silently.

Afterwards I checked on the internet. Yep, it's Aramaic.

All right, it was kind of snotty. I can be kind of snotty. I like to get things right, though, and I hate to see other people wandering in error. (A little sneaky etymology there …)


The joy of coding.     I took my first job as a computer programmer in 1969. That was of course about forty years too soon. In the September 11 issue of New York magazine, Chris Beam has a fascinating piece on the bright young programmers — "coders," they say nowadays — of Silicon Valley, "the last bastion of full employment" in a cratering U.S. jobs market.

The piece included the following touching little anecdote about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg:

Zuckerberg doesn't code much for Facebook anymore, the same way that Steve Jobs never hand-coded software for the iPhone. But, as the Groups team was adding the finishing touches to its product, Zuckerberg said he wanted to write a few lines. "Everybody was like, Ohhhh, Zuck's gonna write code," says Feross. Someone set up an easy bug for him to fix — adding a link to a picture, or something — and he went to work. Five minutes passed. Twenty minutes. An hour. "It took him like two hours to do something that would take one of us who's an engineer like five minutes," says Feross. It was like a retired slugger coming back for one last at-bat, for old time's sake, and finding he'd lost more of his game than he'd reckoned. Still, he got props from Feross & Co. for getting his hands dirty.

Remember please that gnarled, stooped, toothless, snowy-haired Mark Zuckerberg is all of 27 years old. Imagine how I feel.

I'm still up for a little coding, though. I recently bought myself a new laptop, and found myself looking at Windows 7, my first-ever advance beyond XP. No prob: everything's upward-compatible, isn't it?

Alas, no. My little suite of Visual Basic 6 programs, that I use to do general massages, stats, and maintenance on my web site, no longer work. I've had to upgrade to VB 2010 and learn the .NET framework. Worth the trouble, and actually pretty neat — my .NET source code is half its VB6 size — but I don't think I'll be checking out the Silicon Valley job ads.

Instead, to push away the regrets, and as an antidote to Chris Beam's piece, I think I'll just re-read Half Sigma's classic 2007 article on "Why a career in computer programming sucks."


Top of the Pops.     I closed out the last Radio Derb of September with a brief clip of the Beatles performing "Yes It Is," which I said I thought "is melodically and lyrically one of their best."

Several RD listeners have commended my choice. Try this out: Listen to "Yes It Is" — it's on YouTube, of course — over breakfast, then tell me it wasn't humming away in your head all day long.

One listener wanted to know my favorite Elvis song. Well, if you asked me on another day I might come up with a different answer, but this one is definitely way up near the top. It passes the breakfast test for sure.


A new Hank Williams album!     Speaking of mid-20th-century musical genius, we have some new Hank Williams songs to look forward to. Well, new Hank Williams lyrics; these are hand-written songs from Hank's old notebooks that he never got round to working up tunes for. Bob Dylan has produced an album of them.

The album collects the lyrics for a dozen unrecorded songs by Williams, set to melodies and recorded by an array of rock and country stars, including Jack White, Norah Jones, Merle Haggard and Sheryl Crow. "The Lost Notebooks" is being released on Oct. 4 on Mr. Dylan's imprint, Egyptian Records, in conjunction with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Columbia Records.

You need to take a little care playing Hank Williams songs, at least around my house. A great favorite of mine is the CD I Saw the Light, a collection of Hank's religious songs. This is the death-haunted religion of the South — of the old, weird America.

That's probably the appeal. The South is, to my sensibility, the most English part of the U.S.A. For an Englishman like myself, making his first landfall in New York, America sure seems like a foreign country. You find yourself among people named Grodzinski, Paparelli, Schnitzelkopf, and Rodriguez, with only an occasional O'Flaherty to even faintly remind you of home. Then you go to the South and everyone's named Freeman, Williams, Cobbins, and Smith. Hallelujah!

And there's a lot of English sensibility down there, too, including the death thing. There's not much use trying to explain this to people who don't get it; but those who understand, will understand. And there it is in Hank's religious songs. Which is a problem chez Derb.


News from Northamptonshire.     Here's a very moving story from my home town newspaper, the Northampton Chronicle & Echo. That's Northampton, England, of course.

In cloudy conditions on October 11, 1944, three B-17 Flying Fortresses collided over south Northamptonshire during the height of World War Two.

Although one of the stricken aeroplanes managed to limp back to its base, the other two crashed, leaving 11 servicemen dead.

While the crash was remembered well by many people in the county, the exact spot where the planes came down was not known until last year, when a team of archaeologists and aircraft enthusiasts excavated a field in Woodend, just outside Blakesley.

The team discovered a number of amazingly well preserved pieces of one of the planes, including parts of its windscreen, one of its wheels and a pedal from the cockpit.

But the most important discovery they made was a small, silver bracelet, which had the 24-year-old pilot's name, Nicholas Jorgensen, etched on the back.

Following the discovery, the Chron tracked down the pilot's remaining relatives in America and his nephew, Philip Jorgensen, flew over to England this month to watch the memorial being unveiled.

Mr Jorgensen, who travelled from New Jersey to watch the ceremony on Saturday morning, said he believed his uncle would have been tremendously proud of both the memorial and the fact that more than 200 people turned out to see it unveiled.

He said: "It was a beautiful service, it actually left me a bit overwhelmed. I was lost for words.

"It's lovely to have a memorial to my uncle and his colleagues and it's incredible that so many people came to see it unveiled."

I grew up in Northampton, a sleepy country town with USAF bases in the countryside around. With some mild reservations — they had so much money! — we liked the big bluff Yanks. The shared sacrifices of wartime had left a lot of warm fellow-feeling. Nice to know some of it still survives a half-century later.


Smoking through an operation.     The Age of Tobacco is now receding into history. It's already hard to recall how universal cigarette smoking once was.

People even smoked in hospitals — heck, I can remember that. I didn't realize how far it went, though, until I read this in the Fefermans' biography of logician Alfred Tarski. The subject here is Stanisław Leśniewski, who had been Tarski's dissertation adviser at the University of Warsaw. Leśniewski is having surgery for thyroid cancer. This is 1939.

The operation was conducted without anaesthetic, because the anaesthesiology of the time had no methods which did not constrict the blood vessels around the thyroid. He was permitted to smoke during the operation!

The Fefermans caution that this account — it's by one of Leśniewski's students, not Tarski — "may be inaccurate since it contradicts known surgical procedure." From what I recall of the Age of Tobacco, though, I wouldn't be surprised if it were true.


Math Corner.     This month's puzzle is from a reader, an engineer, who tells me that: "This puzzle arose out of work I was doing for a client, Solyndra."

Hmm, rings a bell. Anyway, here's the puzzle:

It is a tiling problem of sorts, arising out of placing solar panels on a roof.

We wish to mount a group of solar panels on a roof. Let's use 15 as an example. The mounting system requires that each panel touch at least one other along an edge. The panels are rectangular, and all must be oriented the same way.

Obviously we could create a 3×5 grid. We could simply string the 15 panels in a row. We could create a 4×4 grid with one hole. There are many, many combinations that meet the constraints. But, for a given number of panels, exactly how many?

(On a practical basis, this comes up because roofs have projections — chimneys, vents, etc, and you must install around them. We usually solve it empirically.)

After a fair amount of noodling, I decided I didn't have enough math to solve it. It's easy, for example, to determine the number of ways you can select 15 items from a set of 225 (15×15) but many of those selections are illegal. Panels must be coterminous along at least one edge.

Is this trivially simple? Or interesting? Or brute-force only?