"Sp—" watch. I wondered aloud in a previous diary why, when orthodox — I mean, politically correct — writers want to tell us that someone or other is guilty of voicing heterodox opinions, they reach for an "sp—" word.
Heterodox Harry didn't say the offending thing, or write it, or utter or pen or express it: He spouted it, or spewed it.
To quote myself:
Why is it that only an "sp—" word will do for remarks that journalists find unacceptable? And why do they so rarely venture beyond "spew" and "spout"? There are, after all, plenty of other "sp—" words that could be deployed for these purposes. [Yankees pitcher] David Wells might have "spritzed" those words into the phone, or "sputtered" his vile anti-endomorphist insults, or spat them out in a spasm of splenetic spite.
It's a sad comment on our times when even sports writers can't alliterate imaginatively.
Well, I missed one.
You'll recall that White House speechwriter Darren Beattie got fired in mid-August for having attended the 2016 H.L. Mencken Club annual conference along with notorious thought criminal Peter Brimelow. In the CNN report on the firing, I got a mention too.
The schedule for the 2016 conference listed panels and speeches by white nationalist Peter Brimelow and two writers, John Derbyshire and Robert Weissberg, who were both fired in 2012 from the conservative magazine National Review for espousing racist views. [Speechwriter who attended conference with white nationalists in 2016 leaves White House by Andrew Kaczynski; CNN Politics, August 22nd, 2018.]
The verb "to espouse" is old and respectable. The online Shakespeare concordance lists four occurrences each of "espouse" and "espoused" in the Bard's works. John Milton used "espouséd" in a well-known (and very lovely) sonnet.
It is not much used nowadays, however. In my own output of several million words across thirty-plus years, I seem never to have used it. (A scan of my website turns up seven occurrences in my archives; but every one of them is from quoted material.)
It's just not a common word nowadays … except when some mainstream-media reporter or commentator wants to tell us that a person holds heterodox opinions. The thought criminal, in the cant of media orthodoxy, does not in fact hold those opinions, or believe them, or express them, or affirm them, or cherish them, or promote them, or confess to them, or cleave to them, or merely have them: he espouses them.
Check it out next time you see a media report on Brimelow, Taylor, Derbyshire, Weissberg, or some other heretic: nine times out of ten we are espousing our deplorable views.
I tell you: that "sp" consonant-cluster has a mighty gravitational pull on the dull, crabbed minds of media hacks. They write in formulas because they think in formulas; and their formulas are constructed from a little tin toolbox of cant words and phrases.
Why "sp—" words, though? This ought to be something an expert in neurolinguistics could explain. On the off-chance some such expert is reading this, give us a hypothesis, please, would you?
The de-hobbying of the personal computer. Sharp-eyed readers who opened some of the links in that previous segment will have noticed that my personal website has advanced from http://www.johnderbyshire.com to https://www.johnderbyshire.com.
That "s" cost me close to $200. You have to do it, though. Keeping your website at dull old "http," with no "s," means that when people link to your pages, they come up with a message saying not secure at top left on every screen — a deterrent to many readers. Furthermore, the big search engines are pushing "http" websites down their rankings in favor of "https."
That was one of my computer projects this month, upgrading the site from "http" to "https."
(If it's a thing you want to do, make your first call to whomever hosts your website. My people, Hostway, were helpful, efficient, and nicely in the middle of the price range.)
Another August project was to purge Adobe Flash out of my pages. Flash has been under suspicion of being insufficiently secure, how justly I do not know. In response to all the anxiety, Adobe has declared they will stop supporting Flash in 2020. Since all the audio files in my Readings pages used Flash, I've had to upgrade them.
HTML has been around for thirty years. You'd think that the people who write browsers (Chrome, Firefox, etc.) would all be in line with it by now. Apparently that's too much to ask.
And then, OneDrive. Just shoot me, please.
OneDrive is a personal cloud service for users of MS Windows 10. It sounded spiffy when I read it up in David Pogue's book. The Cloud is the way to go, right? The way of the future! You don't want to be left behind, do you?
I yielded to all the propaganda and signed up for OneDrive. What a blunder! The thing is a total dog. I'm working on a file. Where is it? I mean, where actually is it? Is it on my disk drive in my PC, or is it in the Cloud? I never had a clue.There is a syncing process you can set up, but I never mastered it. When I temporarily switched off OneDrive as an experiment, half the files on my PC were out-of-date versions. Copying big files took forever.
At last I bit the bullet: painstakingly restored from OneDrive all the files I knew to be out of date, then switched the damn thing off and uninstalled it. Good riddance! Now I know where my files are: they're on my hard drive. For backup, I bought an 8-terabyte external drive with RAID. The hell with the damn Cloud.
So that's some of the stuff that's been wasting my time this month — a lot of my time. Running your own website is getting more and more difficult.
This is an instance of a universal rule applying to all technology: a de-hobbying rule. Fifty years ago the usual Saturday-morning occupation of young American males was tinkering with cars in their driveways. You could walk down an average suburban street and there they were: driveway —young guys tinkering, driveway —young guys tinkering, driveway —, …
You never see that now. To tinker with a modern vehicle you need a hundred thousand dollars-worth of diagnostic equipment and a Ph.D. in Computer Science. Automobiles have been de-hobbied. Tinkering with cars now makes as much sense as Ham Radio.
The same's happening with personal computers and websites. When I bought my first PC I bought a book on 8086 Assembler Language along with it. I could make that machine sing and dance. When the internet came up I learned HTML in the same spirit (after a brief, disastrous detour through MS FrontPage).
Now it's all being de-hobbied and professionalized. I guess I'll end up with my website on WordPress or some damn thing, if I don't fall off my perch first. I'm not sure which I'd prefer …
My own immediate forebears were comparatively well-behaved. Grandad Derbyshire did have drink issues, and Grandad Knowles did engage in a little poaching to supplement the family diet; but nobody was firing off shotguns in the parlor.
A couple of generations further back, though, there is a career criminal in my family tree. This was George Paddy (sometimes spelt "Paddey"), born in 1815 or 1816 in Staffordshire, England.
George was first arrested for stealing "a quantity of wearing apparel" in 1835; he got a three-month sentence. He was convicted again in 1839 "for stealing 3 hen fowls & 20 chickens"; this time he got seven years — the authorities in mid-19th-century England were not tolerant of repeat offenders — which he seems to have served on prison hulks.
In 1848 he was convicted again "for stealing 8 fowl" and sentenced to ten years with transportation (i.e. to Australia). While in the Millbank Gaol (site of the present-day Tate Gallery) awaiting transportation, he was visited by his wife Charlotte. She brought with her their son John, then nine years old, and a ten-month-old daughter also named Charlotte. We know this because visitors to the gaol had to sign in, and a relative in England who is digging into the family history unearthed the relevant record.
The Archives Office of Tasmania has a record of George's arrival down under in November 1850, with a brief description of the man (though it's hard to read). He was back in England with Charlotte in the 1861 decennial census, but I don't know when he landed.
That record of the prison visit is very poignant. Baby Charlotte died in infancy, but nine-year-old John lived to a good age and begat my maternal grandmother. I remember Grandma Knowles very well. She died when I was fifteen.
So John (of whom I possess a photograph) was my great-grandfather, and George my great-great-grandfather. (They changed the family name from Paddy to Perry at some point, I suppose because of George's notoriety).
George's wife Charlotte had three more children when George was in Australia. Her residence was listed on the birth certificates as "workhouse," which means that she was destitute. I suppose the three babies were a consequence of her doing what a girl had to do to stay alive before the welfare state came up. Hard times.
Remonstrance in Peking. One of the more comical aspects of our current political environment is that Goodwhites really do, in their imaginations, see themselves as the underdogs. They still, without any apparent irony, describe themselves as "speaking truth to power," when in actual fact all the power centers of Western society today are on their side.
Alt Right vlogger Ramzpaul caught the absurdity of this when he mocked the little knot of CultMarx demonstrators outside the 2014 American Renaissance conference. "Do you really imagine you're sticking it to the Man?" he jeered. "You are the Man!" [Radio Derb, January 27th 2017.]
We ragged legions of the Dissident Right are the ones really speaking truth to power in the Western world today. We are, thank goodness, still free to do so. We may have trouble booking a hotel conference center, and the CultMarx information moguls of Google, Facebook, and Twitter may do all they can to depreciate or ban our voices, but we don't yet face physical danger from agencies of the State (unless you want to argue that the Antifa is an agency of the State — a defensible position, I'll grant).
Speaking truth to power in a nation under despotic government is much more hazardous to your health. If there are any dissidents from state orthodoxy alive in North Korea, they are chained in deep dungeons and given daily beatings.
China is an interesting case. The government is certainly despotic and intolerant of dissent. However, Chinese people are encouraged to take pride in their nation's long intellectual history, a major component of which consists of treatises on statecraft.
A key notion running through that tradition is remonstrance (諫勸 jianquan, pronunciation here). What is remonstrance? It is speaking truth to power, that's what: lower-level court officials, or even scholars from outside the court, telling the Emperor when they think his policy is wrong.
The concept of remonstrance is so ingrained in Confucian statecraft, it was sometimes a major nuisance to the despots. Any policy was displeasing to someone. If that someone was a scholar ambitious to get his name in the history books as a fearless critic of Imperial policy — and there were plenty like that — he could harass the Emperor with petitions.
When there were enough of these nuisances and the Emperor was weak or badly advised, the Son of Heaven must have felt he was being attacked by a swarm of wasps. One of the Ming emperors, fed up with it, ordered 146 remonstrators to be beaten with whipping clubs, thirty strokes each. Eleven of the remonstrators subsequently died of their injuries. You read this stuff, a canceled hotel booking doesn't look quite so bad. (You can read about that particular episode in Chapter 3 of Ray Huang's little classic 1587, A Year of No Significance.)
Well, the principle of remonstrance is still alive in today's China under the rigid, intolerant despotism of Xi Jinping's Communist Party. On July 24th this year Xu Zhangrun, a professor of law at Tsinghua University in Beijing, published a long and scathing remonstrance against China's current rulers.
You can read Geremie R. Barmé's translation at ChinaHeritage.net. I don't recommend doing so, though. The text is hard to follow, pedantic and dense with allusions. This is not the translator's fault. The Chinese text is just as difficult: Prof. Xu really knows his Confucian classics, as well as recent Chinese political history.
Fortunately Prof. Xu's remonstrance was widely noticed and written up by reporters like Chris Buckley in the New York Times. (This is Chris Buckley the China-watcher, not Chris Buckley the novelist son of William F.)
In his essay, Professor Xu challenged another political taboo, urging the government to overturn its condemnation of the pro-democracy, anticorruption protests that erupted in Chinese cities in 1989 and ended after the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Next year is the 30th anniversary of that bloody upheaval, and promises to be a tense time for the government. [As China's Woes Mount, Xi Jinping Faces Rare Rebuke at Home by Chris Buckley; New York Times, July 31st 2018.]
Next year also marks the centenary of the May Fourth Movement, a key turning-point in modern Chinese history. There's a chance — not a certainty, but a fair chance — that China may not look quite so arrogantly monolithic this time next year.
Book of the Month. Isles of Illusion by "Asterisk."
This book was recommended to me by a friend who read it some years ago. He: "Never has any expatriate so vividly documented his own failures and frustrations in Asia and the South Pacific."
It wasn't easy to find a copy. Amazon has one of those on-demand photocopied jobs, but I've been disappointed with those and now steer clear of them.
(This one, for example, whose title proclaims it as containing both the Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker and Flecker's play Hassan, in fact has only Hassan; the Collected Poems are represented by a single page, a photocopy of a short notice in the New York Times, no poems at all. Grrr.)
Abebooks came through with a real edition of Isles of Illusion (Century Hutchinson, 1986) at a second-hand booksellers in Amsterdam, one of those deals where the postage costs more than the book. I bought the item anyway and read it with much pleasure.
Isles of Illusion is about the Melanesian islands in the southwest Pacific, where "Asterisk," an Englishman, lived for some years. The book consists of letters he wrote to a friend from 1912 to 1920. Nowadays these islands are the nation of Vanuatu, but at that time they were the New Hebrides, co-administered by Britain and France.
Says Gavin Young in his Introduction to this edition:
We know now that poor Asterisk was not at all happy when he learned that Lynch had edited his personal letters and had them published. All the same, Isles of Illusion sold well and was translated into several languages.
"Asterisk" was eventually unmasked as Robert Fletcher (1877-1965), an uncle of the novelist Penelope Mortimer. Dissatisfied with his career as a schoolmaster and inspired by the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson, who had spent the last years of his short life in Samoa, Fletcher headed for the South Seas.
He did not find what his reading of Stevenson had led him to expect. Isles of Illusion in fact belongs to the subgenre of ill-natured travel writing — imagine a more misanthropic version of Paul Theroux on a bad day.
Fletcher is displeased with most of what he sees and experiences, is unimpressed by the scenery, regards the natives with disgust and local expats (mainly Australians) with undisguised snobbery. This cranky negativity is what makes the book so enjoyable. The only thing he's positive about is the cuisine: "I must confess to liking native food and cookery."
To make allowances, the author is ill much of the time: frequent malaria, dysentery, prickly heat, dhobie itch (I had to look that up, eiuw), etc. Bugs? Hoo yeah:
This very night I caught and slew over 30 fleas inside and outside my trousers … That's why I don't keep a dog. The poor brute's life would be one long martyrdom. Young Ashby … keeps Irish terriers, and I have seen the poor things with their bellies literally black with fleas.
Fletcher takes in a local woman. This is just for sexual relief, but, while his feelings for her never rise much above a mix of paternalism and contempt, she softens his misanthropy somewhat.
I grieve to confess to you that the thing is rather growing on me. The oddness and quaintness of the little person appeals to me. I didn't believe Kanakas were capable of affection; but I have had two rude shocks lately. One was when the lady hit a lady friend over the head with an axe for trying to steal a handkerchief of mine from the wash …
Fletcher even gives the impression that for occasional short spells, at least, he was not miserable:
We splash about on the reef — she stark naked, I clad in lava lava to protect the non-sunburned parts of my body — spearing fish, catching trocas [? troca is a shellfish — JD] and generally playing the Kanaka.
Not even an Englishman can be disgruntled all the time.
A quiet passing. Heartfelt thanks yet again to the numerous listeners and readers who — by email, tweet, and in a couple of cases snail mail — offered us condolences on the passing of Toby.
The little fellow died as he lived: quietly, making no fuss, and causing us no inconvenience. He had been fading for some weeks and on Thursday, August 23rd, stopped eating altogether. We squirted fluids into his mouth with a rubber ear-wash bulb, but it was plain he was going. I told the Mrs I'd be surprised to see him still alive Friday morning.
He was, though; and on Saturday morning and Sunday morning, too. As a wise friend observed: "He really doesn't want to leave you."
We'd agreed, as I'm sure pet owners always do, that if he was in pain or distress, we'd take him to the vet for what was necessary. He never was, though: just lay there very quietly, making occasional little snuffling sounds.
He passed precisely at noon on Sunday August 26th, lying out in his bed, in a shady spot on the deck. Again, no fuss. We checked: he was breathing. We checked ten minutes later: he was not breathing. There's a thing that is not vouchsafed to many of us, alas: to die quietly in our own bed, in our own house.
It happened just by chance that our daughter was on her once-a-month visit to us from the South Shore, so the whole family was present for the interment, along with a kind neighbor. Junior had dug a fine deep grave, drawing on his military experience. Chatting with him while he worked, I learned that there is an Army regulation size for a foxhole: two rifle lengths side to side, one rifle length front to back, deep to the nipples of the tallest guy in the platoon. Those weren't the dimensions of Toby's grave; it's just a thing I learned from Junior.
Now Toby is sleeping out there under the trees in the back yard, together with his favorite toys, blankies, and bowls, a few yards away from Boris. Goodnight, old pal.
Math Corner. I have two cool websites for you, and an unrelated brainteaser.
The websites, brought to my attention by readers (thank you!) concern polyhedra — solid 3-dimensional geometrical objects with plane faces. I have a longstanding fascination with these little blighters, confessed in Chapter 13 of my book Unknown Quantity.
Making physical models of geometric figures was … a favorite pastime for mathematicians and math students through most of the 19th and 20th centuries, and I regret that it seems no longer to be done. I myself spent many happy and instructive hours at it in my adolescence, practically wearing out a copy of H. Martyn Cundy and A. P. Rollett's 1951 classic Mathematical Models. My pride and joy was a card model of five cubes inscribed in a dodecahedron, each cube painted a different color.
Well, here are two neat websites. The first is part of the excellent Math Is Fun series; it includes stellated polyhedra. The second is a stand-alone classification of convex polyhedra, no stellations. You can, on both websites, rotate a polyhedron for inspection using your mouse cursor.
The brainteaser is from a three-year-old news report I missed at the time, about then-eighth-grade math prodigy Wentinn Liao of Tracy, California. I don't know what has subsequently become of young Wentinn, but here's the report.
Quick, the arithmetic sequences a1, a2, a3 … and b1, b2, b3 … consist of 40 distinct positive integers, and a20 + b14 equals 1,000. Compute the least possible value for b20 + a14.
Stumped? A math problem such as this one can bring along headaches and dread, but to 12-year-old Wentinn Liao, such mathematical problems are easy. [12-year-old likes LEGOs, music, advanced calculus by Nicholas Filipas; RecordNet.com, June 10th 2015.]
What is the solution to the problem stated in the first paragraph there?