»  VDARE.com Monthly Diary

  October 2021


Visiting Berkeley Springs.     Mr and Mrs Derb (and Basil) started the month with a weekend trip to the VDARE castle in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. I had been to the castle before, but for Mrs D it was a first.

The Brimelows were as generously hospitable as ever, their three little girls were delightful and entertaining, my lady was impressed and fascinated by the castle, and a good time was had by all. The only negativity came from Basil, who disgraced himself, although so slyly it wasn't discovered until after we'd departed on the Sunday.

We took time out from the castle to explore Berkeley Springs itself and find out something about the place. It's a charming little town, the people friendly and helpful.

Before Berkeley Springs was a town at all, it was a spa: a place where 18th-century American colonists — including the teenage George Washington — went to "take the waters."

You can still do that. The spa district is now a pleasant state park, where you can sample such delights as a mud wrap, a sugar scrub, and a hot stone massage. I wish I could tell you what those treatments are, and what it's like to experience them; but you need to book in advance and we hadn't. Next time.

More particularly to my interest in the state park was a little museum with displays on the history of the place.

I love these local museums. There was — and still is, I see — one in my home town back in England. It sits in an old manor house in a beautiful park. My sister and I spent many happy childhood hours mooching around the place, which was gothic enough all by itself, inspecting such wonders as Civil War (England's, not America's) cannonballs, Victorian dolls' houses, a picture of the fattest man in 18th-century England, and the blackened, shriveled hand of a mummy that some local egyptologist had brought back to the town.

The Berkeley Springs museum is not quite as creepily thrilling as that, but very well done. There is no entrance fee, but I always think I should support these local enterprises, so on my way out I purchased a book from them: Berkeley Springs in the Images of America series from Arcadia Publishing. Like others in the series, it is a collection of photographs through the years, with brief captions.

I am sorry to say that one photograph got my particular attention. While exploring the lawns of the little State Park I had spotted a bronze plaque set into the grass. The plaque explained itself: It covers a time capsule buried there in 1963, to be dug up and wondered at in 2063. In case you miss the plaque among the grass, there is a post nearby with a board telling the same story.

I learned from the Images of America book that this spot was not always thus marked. Americans of 1963 were very much aware they lived in the Space Age, and they erected an appropriate monument to mark the location of this time capsule. This erection was, however, subsequently removed and replaced by today's more modest markers. Why? See if you can guess.

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China retreats into xenophobia.     Some weeks ago my wife and I attended a dinner party at a Chinese restaurant in New York City. The occasion was some old college classmates of Mrs D's visiting from China with family members. Some other classmates long since settled in the New York area were also present, along with an elderly couple who had been teachers at the college before settling in the U.S.A. in the late 1980s. I'll call this couple the Mengs. It was all very gemütlich.

Some of those present we had not seen in person since our trip to China two years ago. I remarked on our happy memories of that trip, and particularly on the celebrity-level hospitality we'd received from the college president and his staff.

After hearing that, Professor Meng frowned and shook his head. "It wouldn't be like that if you visited nowadays," he said. "Two years ago, policy was to be nice to Americans. Today policy is totally the opposite."

That came to mind when, in early October, I was chatting with a new acquaintance, an American I'll call "Joe," who knows China very well. When I replayed Professor Meng's words to him, he nodded agreement. The ChiComs seem not to want any foreigners in China at all, he told me. It's even hard now to get into China on a student visa, to study at a Chinese university. (While we of course continue to hand out visas to Chinese students like Halloween candy.) Joe actually owns property in China, but even that doesn't help him get an entry visa.

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What Critical Race Theory is all about.     In December last year I passed some remarks about humiliation. When a human being has power over other human beings there is, for certain personality types, one aspect of that power that is especially delicious: the power to humiliate.

I quoted one of the most-quoted remarks on this topic. It's so good I'll quote it again.

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.
— Our Culture, What's Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses by Theodore Dalrymple.

That's what Critical Race Theory is all about. Just take a moment to link to that astonishing 2017 YouTube clip of black land whale Ashleigh Shackelford telling a roomful of captive whites what scum they are. The whites sit there meekly taking it in. Nobody storms out, nobody throws anything at the speaker, nobody even laughs. They don't dare. They know that if they did any of those things their employer, who has set up Moby Dick's presentation and paid good money for it, would fire them.

So they submit to humiliation; and in the back rooms the people who have set up the show are chuckling with glee.

On October 24th our own Paul Kersey posted a great comment on this theme, relating it to the current erasure of America's past. Taking down statues and monuments, Paul wrote, was what conquerors do to humiliate the conquered.

It's odd, though, that this particular conquest has taken so long to complete. The Confederacy was defeated militarily 156 years ago; yet only recently have its emblems been proscribed and its statues taken down.

There has been a great change here, and very recently. Ten years ago I don't think the ruling class would have dared to remove the statues of Lee and Jackson. Ten years ago I doubt a roomful of whites would have sat still and respectful while Ashleigh Shackelford insulted them. Fifty years ago? Fugeddaboutit!

America's white working class is crushed and hopeless as never before. They will bow their heads to any humiliation. They will obediently murmur assent that yes, the Emperor's new clothes are magnificent, and yes, the deer is a horse.

Our Deplorables are now, at last, thoroughly defeated. Our elites are celebrating total victory and tasting the sweet, sweet pleasure of humiliating a beaten foe. That's what Critical Race Theory is all about.

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Adventures in the skin trade.

The story so far. In last month's diary I recorded having had a tiny blemish removed from the side of my nose by Dr Nguyen, our town dermatologist.

Standard dermatological operating procedure is to send the removed item to a lab for biopsy. My biopsy found signs of melanoma, a variety of skin cancer. Dr Nguyen handed me off to Dr Chen, a dermato-oncologist (onco-dermatologist?) at a nearby cancer center. I signed up for an October 13th appointment with Dr Chen. Now read on.

Dr Chen drew a perfect circle on the side of my nose, one centimeter in radius, centered on the site of the original blemish. He then removed the surface skin from that circle, all 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971 … square centimeters of it.

The point of this, he explained, was that the original site was likely located within a larger area of diseased tissue, shaped like an irregular splotch. If that splotch was entirely contained within the excised circle, job done — we had removed the whole thing. If, however, the splotch reached all the way to the circle's perimeter — the "margin" — that would mean diseased tissue outside the circle, with more excising to be done.

Off to the lab for a "margin test" went my little circle of nose skin. I was on tenterhooks for a couple of days waiting for the report. No offense to Dr Chen, who did what he had to do efficiently and painlessly, after some local anesthetic; I just didn't want to lose any more of my skin. The old idiom, "It's no skin off my nose," does not apply here. This is skin off my nose.

The margin test came back clear, thank goodness, so Dr Chen handed me off to Dr Dagum, a plastic surgeon, to restore my nose to its former majesty.

That was a much longer procedure than Dr Chen's: I was in Dr Dagum's chair for an hour and a half, whispering to myself the words I reserve for such occasions: "When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold."

Dr Dagum made the whole grisly business as bearable as it can be made, amusing me with trade stories of re-attaching severed fingers and twelve-hour sessions in the OR with car crash victims. In the matter of having great stories to tell, doctors are up there with cops and combat veterans.

That was done on October 22nd. Here I was setting up to record Radio Derb that evening, a few hours later.

October 27th, the last dressings came off. October 29th, sutures removed. Here I am at month end: not really gold, but decently presentable. Sincere thanks to all those medical people for getting me through this with maximum speed and minimum pain.

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Dermato-oncological humor.     It's encouraging and cheering, and I think speaks well of human nature, that minor medical adventures of this sort seem to bring out people's sense of humor. Some samples:

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Rhinotomophobia.     Dr Dagum, the plastic surgeon, knows the history of his art. Chatting with him, I mentioned 16th-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who lost his nose in a sword duel when a student. Brahe spent the rest of his life with a prosthetic nose made, according to latest scholarship, of brass. (Older books say gold, silver, or silver-gold amalgam. The precise composition of Tycho's proboscis prosthesis has been a subject of fierce controversy among historians of science for four hundred years.)

Dr Dagum replied that in those days, when smart young men wore swords as an item of everyday dress and duelling was common, fear of losing one's nose, or perhaps just the tip of it, was widespread.

That had never occurred to me. So now at last I have an explanation for Nikolai Gogol's very weird short story The Nose, in which a respectable citizen of Tsarist Saint Petersburg wakes up one morning to find his nose has gone missing.

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Indelible images.     In my October 29th podcast I mentioned Dominic Behan, an Irish writer, songwriter, and drunk who was a well-known Liverpool character when I lived in that city during the late 1960s.

I saw Dominic Behan in performance a couple of times. The venues weren't very grand. In England back then there was a lively subculture of events staged in the back rooms of pubs. The audiences were young educated bohemian types, college students and such; the acts were all in the general zone of folk singing, poetry slams, and stand-up comedy.

Dominic Behan would sometimes show up at these events, generally three sheets to the wind, and make random contributions to the entertainment. I remember him singing a spirited a cappella version of the old music-hall ditty "Has Anybody Seen Our Cat?."

He also had a nice line in observational anecdotes, mainly to do with Dublin and Liverpool street life. In one of them he told about walking along a street in a poor part of Dublin where some old biddies were gossiping around one of the doorsteps. As Behan got closer he heard enough to gather that the topic of their gossip was a young woman of the neighborhood who had married a Negro.

Then as he passed by them he heard one of the old biddies shriek: "Sure, I wouldn't have one of dem black fellers on top of me — no, not if his arse was studded with diamonds!"

For me that belongs in the category of things that, once heard, are never forgotten.

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My abusive relationship with The Economist.     I keep meaning to cancel my Economist subscription. Their cheerleading for elite fads — open-borders globalism, the "climate change" racket, Trump Derangement Syndrome — is so annoying. Every single issue of The Economist contains something, often just a sentence or two, that causes me to hurl the damn thing across the room.

(In the current, October 30th issue, these two sentence on page 36, in reference to Joe Biden: "By recent standards, his administration has performed creditably. It is led by serious people, unlike its predecessor.")

Then, in among all the snobbery and error, I invariably read something that causes my fingers to hover uncertainly over the cancel-my-subscription email and hit the "delete" button at last.

In the August 28th issue, for example the magazine's "Science & Technology" section was entirely given over to a 3-page article on the state of our understanding in fundamental physics. The whole thing is very well done, really good pop-science writing. I liked it at the time. Re-reading it the other day, I still liked it, which doesn't happen often.

After some short general remarks on the subject, the leader introducing that article closed with the following.

That the human intellect struggles with all this should not be surprising. It evolved so that a social primate could find food and mates and keep safe by interpreting a world halfway between the submicroscopic realm of the quantum and the cosmic vastness of relativity. It has become a commonplace that human brains are lumbered with these limitations — cognitively, socially and politically. How surprising and gratifying, then, that humanity occasionally manages to use mathematics, observation and experiment to transcend its own limits so spectacularly.

That is very well said. Of course it's not original. I dimly recall from way back in my adolescence some British egghead on the radio (Berlin? Ayer?) saying something like: "The human mind is a food-seeking mechanism, no more capable of apprehending ultimate truth than a pig's snout."

Probably some Greek said a similar thing 2,500 years ago. We more often need to be reminded than informed, though, and The Economist's phrasing of that truth is memorably eloquent.

So … looking forward to next week's issue.

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Math Corner.     There is somewhat of an overlap between math play and word play. The late Martin Gardner enjoyed word play, and gave over at least one of his "Mathematical Games" columns in Scientific American to it.

With that as an excuse, here's a word-play challenge (wordteaser?) It's inspired by this, from a reader:

The idea is to write something intellibible using only letters that are composed entirely of straight lines.

The enforced absence of B, C, D, G, J, O, P, Q, R, S, and U imposes an elliptical and archaic diction, but the following I think almost resembles sense.

MANY A TIME HAVE I MET MEN THAT, TELL WHAT TALE THEY WILL, TALK WHAT VAIN INANITY THEY LIKE, WE THAT KEN THE THEME WILL MEET IT WITH A HEALTHY YAWN, FLAIL IT AWAY WITH A WINK, I MEAN THE LIVELY KINK IN THE EYE THAT WILL ANNIHILATE THE VAIN, LAZY KNAVE THAT FEELETH AMAZEMENT AT ANY TINY ANTHILL WHILE HE VIEWETH WITH ENVY THE FAMILIAL TALENT, THE LIVELY ZEAL, THE KEEN, KNIFE-LIKE, ALKALINE WIT THAT WILL FIX IN LITTLE TIME WITH MINIMAL HEAT THE FLAXEN TINT IN A FILM-THIN, NEATLY KNIT, FINE NEW LINEN MANTLE, VENTILATE THE VILE FLEA-HIVE IN A FILTHY FELT TENT, MAKE FINE THE LAWN TWILL IN A MILK-WHITE TEXTILE, THEN, FINALLY, TWEAK WITH A VITAL YET FATAL FLAME MY MEAN, LEAN ENTHYMEME.

I think that's pretty darn good. It got me wondering, however, about the complementary problem of writing something intelligible using only those other letters: B, C, D, G, J, O, P, Q, R, S, and U. I can't get much beyond low nonsense like DO BOGUS GODS JOG, POOR JOB? If anyone can do better, I'll publish it.

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