Vermont mystery solved. We began August with a trip to Vermont for the Coolidge centenary. I have sufficiently documented that trip at Radio Derb; but we came away from Vermont with one small non-Coolidge-related mystery I only solved — on the internet, of course — after we got home.
The centenary celebrations over, we had driven up to the Shelburne Farms Estate up on the shore of Lake Champlain for some sightseeing.
The mystery had appeared as we hiked through some dense woodland near the Inn. The trees, we'd started to notice, were connected to each other by thin plastic tubes — miles and miles of them stretching back from the trail, looped and joined in all sorts of improbable ways. What were they?
The best guess we could come up with was that this was some mass-production method for extracting maple syrup from the trees. The objection to this was, that the tubes were much too narrow: the maple syrup would just clog them.
Eh, townies! In an idle moment back home I looked up the Shelburne Farms website in hopes of enlightenment. They did not disappoint. Yes: those trees are maples and the hollow tubes — technically "sap lines" — are tapping them for maple sap … which is watery stuff much less viscous than the maple syrup produced from it.
The whole process is very well explained by the two videos here. The sap lines are introduced at 8m25s into the first video.
And the mystery turned out to have been not totally unrelated to the thirtieth president. His father told one of Coolidge's early biographers that "Cal could get more sap out of a maple tree than any boy I ever saw."
No, I don't have anything like a review of either movie to offer. As I am sure I've mentioned before, I'm just not a movie person. I've watched plenty and enjoyed many, mostly the big old classics, but never engaged in any serious way with what the studios put out. For movies, Steve Sailer's your guy.
Now I'm less and less interested. Most likely it's not them, it's me. I was a bookish child, and am now well into second childhood.
Mrs Derbyshire is much more of a movie buff. We rent a weekly DVD from Netflix to watch on Saturday evening after dinner. It's unusual for me to stay awake all the way through a two-hour movie. For anything longer than that, it's unknown. Oppenheimer is three hours — no chance. Barbie is only 1h54m, but … nah.
Some of the cultural side-effects of Oppenheimer have caught my attention, though. (I was originally going to say "some of the cultural fallout," but I thought better of it.)
One of those side-effects has been a renewal — actually, by my memory, a re-re-re-re-re-renewal, at least — of outrage at the horrors we inflicted on the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when we dropped atom bombs on their cities.
Those cities were hit on August 6th and August 9th 1945, so the outrage ignited by Oppenheimer was waxing especially hot early this month. Horrific clips from the 1983 Japanese anime movie Barefoot Gen have been much aired on our social media. How could we, supposedly a civilized people, inflict such cruelty? moan the commentators.
Yes, it's a terrible thing to have a nuke dropped on your town, and Barefoot Gen communicates the horrors very well. Every time this has come up across the years, though, I think of Dennis. I'll give Dennis a segment of his own.
A childhood encounter. I don't think that Dennis was the guy's real name. I don't actually remember his real name. I remember the man, though: a perfectly normal, cheerful English working man with a wife, children, and a dog.
This was the early 1950s. I was seven or eight years old, living in my home town of Northampton, England. Summertime we would go to the seaside for a week — to Hunstanton, eighty miles away on England's east coast.
My parents rented a caravan — which is to say a mobile home — for the week. We kids would play on the beach, build sand castles, splash in the sea, explore rock pools, go to shows featuring clowns and magicians in local theaters, … all the traditional seaside stuff.
My father was antisocial by temperament and not much of a beach-goer. He preferred to stay in the caravan or on a deckchair outside, reading or listening to the radio. It was mostly my mother who took us to the beach. She would sit on a towel watching us play.
Mum would have a book or magazine to read. She was, though, in contrast to Dad, very sociable, and would strike up acquaintances with other people on the beach — working- or lower-middle-class English people like ourselves.
Dennis and his wife were among those acquaintances that Mum made there on the Hunstanton beach one year. They were chatty, agreeable people with kids of their own (I forget how many) and a big, friendly dog — the one in this picture. They had, however, one memorable peculiarity. I heard about it at second hand from Mum, then and occasionally in later years. It stuck in her mind, and her relating and re-relating of it stuck in mine.
Dennis had served in WW2 in the Far East. He'd been captured by the Japanese and held as a prisoner of war, I don't know for how long. The experience had left this amiable English bloke with a passionate, seething hatred of the Japanese.
Mum heard this all from his wife. Mrs Dennis, Mum told me — and my mother was a practical, level-headed person not prone to exaggeration — lived in a state of constant terror that Dennis might encounter a Japanese person. If he did, his wife was quite certain, he would commit homicide on the spot — with his bare hands, if necessary.
Fortunately Japanese people were extremely rare in the East Midlands of England during the early 1950s. I can't recall ever encountering one. I hope Dennis made it through life with no opportunity to vent his rage.
Terminological notes. The other day I gave a passing mention to Adam Ellwanger, Professor of English at the University of Houston. Prof. Ellwanger had posted an excellent piece August 14th at The American Mind on terminological creep, citing as an example the creep from "illegal alien" via "illegal immigrant," then "undocumented person," through to "migrant worker," the term preferred during the Obama administration.
The terminology has since crept further, passing from the mere blamelessness of "migrant worker" to the heartstring-tugging sympathy of "asylum seeker," as if every one of those well-dressed, tough-looking young men with smartphones was a desperate, helpless refugee escaping political or religious persecution.
How much further can it creep? Will it go all the way to sanctification? Ten years from now shall we be referring to illegal aliens as "blessed children of sorrow"? I wouldn't be surprised.
Meanwhile the people promoting this linguistic legerdemain have been de-moting their political opponents from mere "Republicans," "conservatives" or "reactionaries" to the scarier-sounding "MAGA Republicans," "white supremacists," and "Nazis."
Efforts by our own faction to perform similar magic have had little success, mainly of course because the other side controls all the major media outlets and we don't. "The left," "progressives," and "radicals" are still, after several decades, common terms of reference used on our side of the divide for the other.
The word "woke" and its derivatives — I particularly like "the Great Awokening" — have added something new, but the connotations are lightweight; the image conjured up is more of fussy schoolmarms than stone-faced commissars.
When Bill de Blasio was Mayor of New York City I took to referring to him as a communist, very reasonably — the guy took his honeymoon in Fidel Castro's Cuba, for Heaven's sake, violating a U.S. embargo to do so.
Peter Brimelow told the American Renaissance conference back in 2021 that:
We have to recognize that we are in the early stages of a communist coup. It just crept upon us.
The Boss has been repeating that warning ever since, with useful explanations as to why the word "communist" is apt in current circumstances.
Other writers at VDARE.com have followed suit. Tracking back just through this month I see usage by Lilith Powell on the 29th, Carl Horowitz on the 27th, Patrick Cleburne and A.W. Morgan on the 23rd, Federale on the 21st, Washington Watcher II on the 20th, Former Agent on the 19th, …
We are leading the way here, and picking up followers. Most recently I spotted Laura Loomer on Twitter, August 28th.
I don't have a problem with "communist" — obviously! — but we are pressing forward against headwinds of ignorance. Astonishingly to anyone acquainted with the appalling massacres and cultural destruction wreaked by communists, those horrors are not taught to children in our schools.
For decades now it has been possible, indeed normal, to grow up in the U.S.A. exposed to mainstream media and entertainment outlets, educated from kindergarten through to graduate school, without hearing anything about the atrocities of communism. A quarter-century ago I published a book that contained passing references to the great Mao Tse-tung famine of 1959-61, whose death toll was so great it is not known even to the nearest ten million. A common question from the audiences on my book tour was: Did such a famine actually occur?
To most Americans, the word "communist" is a quaint mid-20th-century relic, only mildly pejorative, if even that. The word is associated in some way they vaguely recall with the unjust persecution of Hollywood names seventy years ago. "Communist" has no power; nothing like the power it should have, nothing even close to the power of "fascist."
Are there any other calumnies we can deploy? I've long had a fondness for H.L. Mencken's mocking term "world-savers," which he applied to Woodrow Wilson and FDR. That fondness is rooted in having heard my dear old Uncle Fred Littlehales — an ordinary English working man of not much education — scoff at the 1970s U.K. left as "the love-the-world people."
I doubt either term will ever get much traction in our political vocabulary, though. "World-savers" fits Republican neocons just as well as it fits lefty ethnomasochists. As for "love-the-world people": our opponents would take that as a compliment. In their outlook, loving the world is far superior morally to such antiquated, deplorable attachments as loving your country.
As a footnote here: I get occasional emails from readers asking whether I am the originator of the term "congresscritter."
No, I am not. I picked it up from the late Jerry Pournelle. He and I were both participants in Steve Sailer's HBD email group back in the late 1990s, and Jerry was a frequent user of "congresscritter" and related terms. Whether he was the originator of it, I have no idea.
Consolations of a language dunce. In the world of education, alarm bells have been ringing all over about the decline of interest in learning foreign languages.
You can hardly open an education website nowadays without being presented with something like this: a graph showing the number of high-school seniors in England taking the Advanced-level exam in German. The number dropped from 4,866 in 2011 to 2,864 in 2019.
Here in the States we read that West Virginia University "is poised to jettison all of its faculty dedicated to teaching Spanish, French, Chinese and other foreign languages." (Washington Post, August 18th.)
Meanwhile, on the particular subject of Chinese-language teaching, The Economist reports a steep decline in interest.
In America, for example, the number taking Mandarin courses peaked around 2013. From 2016 to 2020 enrolment in such courses fell by 21 percent, according to the Modern Language Association, which promotes language study. In Britain the number of students admitted to Chinese-studies programmes dropped by 31 percent between 2012 and 2021, according to the Higher Education Statistics Association, which counts such things (though it does not count those who take Mandarin as part of other degrees).
China may be the top trade partner of Australia and New Zealand, but in those countries, too, local enthusiasm for learning Mandarin is flagging. Enrolment in university courses fell by a whopping 48 percent in New Zealand between 2013 and 2022. The dynamic looks similar in Germany, where the data show a decreasing appetite for Chinese studies among first-year university students. Scholars in Nordic countries report similar trends.
To be sure, the study of modern languages is falling across the board in many rich countries. In general, students are drifting away from the humanities. Mandarin seemed like it would buck this trend. However, the study of it in American universities has fallen faster than enrolments in all foreign languages combined. ["How do you say 'not interested'?" The Economist, August 26th 2023.]
A falling-off of interest in foreign languages isn't the whole story. As Steve pointed out in his coverage of the West Virginia case, plain demography comes into it. The tide of college-age youngsters has already turned; in a year or two it will be in full ebb.
And as that Economist piece says, the humanities are less and less popular with students, probably for reasons to do with the cost of living — especially the cost of housing — turning them more careerist, and the easy access to knowledge supplied by smartphones.
With Google Translate to hand, why bother to learn a foreign language? With AI improving ever faster, this question will be asked more often, and louder.
As a foreign-language dunce, I don't much mind this on my own account. It's a shame, though, that some intelligent youngster, captured by some quality of magic that appeals to him in some foreign language, will find it ever harder to pursue that magic to graduate level. Not every smart kid wants to be a doctor, lawyer, or software engineer, dammit.
And I'll note that the English-speaking world can afford to be less bothered by all this than than is the case elsewhere.
People from very small language-groups — speakers of Estonian, Tagalog, Dogul, Lezgian or Haitian Creole have no choice but to learn a foreign language — probably English — if they want to get ahead in any kind of profession.
And learn, they do. Mid-August I spent a very pleasant evening with two young friends from the Balkans. Both were raised speaking one of the minor languages of that region. Both now speak English with a fluency that would put many American college graduates to shame.
Halfway through the evening, when I quoted my favorite opening words from one of H.P. Lovecraft's stories: "Life is a hideous thing …," they both, in unison, completed the long sentence, and then most of the next. To be sure, all three of us are Lovecraft enthusiasts, but I had only those first five words in my memory.
When I am with people like this, raised speaking a language unknown outside their own tiny geographical patch yet super-fluent in English, I feel myself their intellectual inferior.
To salve that, I reflect with pride on the remarkable fact that the whole world wants to learn my language, the language of my ancestors (nearly all of them, according to my 23andMe scan) — a language descended from a cluster of obscure north-Germanic dialects carried by illiterate settlers to some inconsequential damp offshore islands in the Atlantic sixteen hundred years ago.
I understand of course that neither my pangs of inferiority nor my pride is entirely rational.
(How do you say "not interested" in Mandarin? 不 感 興趣, pronounced "bù găn xìngqù." It's right there on Google Translate, see? …)
Jonathan Swift does early 21st-century China. Arthur Meursault's 2016 novel Party Members is fantastical, often funny, sometimes plain silly, relentlessly nihilistic, and frequently disgusting. I couldn't put it down.
And yes, the author's name should be in quotes because it's a pseudonym, as anyone acquainted with mid-20th-century French literature will have guessed. The author explains his choice of pseudonym around the 70 percent point in this interview.
Party Members is about China. The characters are all Chinese. The action takes place across a few months during the first decade of this century, or not far into the second; that is to say, when China was under the Paramount Leadership of Hu Jintao (2002-2013), or possibly a year or two later, in Xi Jinping's early supremacy. (Neither Paramount Leader is named in the book.)
China was quite open to foreigners during that period, much more so than it has since become. I recorded my own last visit to China — three weeks in September 2019 — here at VDARE.com. We didn't personally encounter any negativity from the authorities; but Xi Jinping had decisively consolidated his power two years previously and was, we now know in retrospect, already tightening the screws.
The two best China vloggers, Matthew Tye ("Laowhy86") and Winston Sterzel ("SerpentZA") both lived in China during the years in which the story of Party Members takes place. Tye left in 2018, Sterzel in 2019, both fearing for their safety. (Both are still posting on YouTube.)
In the introduction to that author interview mentioned above we read that:
Meursault left his native England as a teenager, throwing himself into the zeitgeist of China in the 2000s. He quickly became fluent in Mandarin, so much so that it earned him appearances on Chinese national television. With over seventeen years of China experience, he has a deep understanding of the country but a faded passion.
So the view of 21st-century China given in Party Members is a negative one? Oh yeah.
Meursault doesn't just concentrate on the negatives, he exaggerates them, like a publisher of vacation postcards adding extra color to the scenic views.
Air pollution? The story takes place in Huaishi, "a backward, third-tier city in the provinces," not subject to the air-quality controls of major metropolises like Peking and Shanghai. So:
The smog that choked Huaishi that day was particularly bad — worse than Yang Wei could remember it had ever been before. The [Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet] was invisible from the steps of the [adjacent] Ministry building. In all directions a thick, noxious, yellow and grey gloom had descended on the city like somebody had placed a gauze over the sky. People on the street were smoking just to filter out the air. The thick haze stung the eye, making anything further away than five metres practically invisible.
Corruption? Of course. Yang Wei, the novel's protagonist, has gone into real estate development. His project requires the demolition of an apartment block occupied mainly by old people, including his own parents.
Defiantly, but soon to be humbled, the folorn apartment block with its decaying grey and red granite front stood starkly amidst the glittering surfaces of the shopping mall that overshadowed it. By coercion, by bribery, by empty promises, by sheer brute force: the building had been emptied of its residents … A substantial bribe had been hand-delivered to the Beijing Princess ["the daughter-in-law of a cousin of a relatively senior politician within the Central Government" who owns some of the apartments] over a dinner of Peking duck in Beijing itself; the Princess, thus satisfied, had demurely given her blessing for the project to go ahead.
The contempt of city people for peasants?
As luck would have it, one of China's irregular earthquakes had brazenly defied Central Government policy and had struck an undeveloped region of the country's vast interior. Happily for the Party, the only people to have perished were a few thousand ignorant farmers who had not yet had the sense to board a train and go and stand next to a factory production line. These backward peasants were nothing but a burden on the more productive citizens of the coastal areas and their deaths meant nothing in a billion-plus sea of humanity.
The rabidly anti-Japanese theme in popular entertainment?
Yang Wei was searching through the TV channels for anything at all that featured Japanese people being killed. It was one of the few thing he liked to watch …
A flick of his thumb instantly brought up an hour-long compilation of "This Year's Best Japanese Deaths," and he settled down to enjoy sixty minutes of Chinese actors dressed up as Japanese kamikaze pilots being decapitated.
I hope Dennis, our seaside acquaintance, made it through to the 2000s and got the chance to watch some ChiCom TV.
The overall effect is early 21st-century China as it might have been drawn by Jonathan Swift.
Meursault is not as good a writer as Swift; I am not sure he knows the difference in meaning between "forbidding" and "foreboding," for example. He does, though, have a more matter-of-fact attitude to ordinary body functions than Swift's. In China satire, I'll take what I can get.
An eye-popping 77 percent of Americans feel that President Biden is too old to effectively govern if he wins a second term in office, according to a new survey.
Misgivings about the octogenarian's age were shared across the board, with 89 percent of Republicans concerned about Biden's age hindering a second term and 69 percent of Democrats feeling the same way, per an Associated Press-NORC poll released Monday …
Only 51 percent of respondents felt that Trump's age would prevent him serving a second term effectively, including 71 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of Republicans, the poll showed.
Biden would be 81 years old on Election Day 2024, while Trump would be 78.
All this talk about geezers running the show puts me in mind of an argument I had with a colleague way back when I was gainfully employed writing code for a bond brokerage sometime around 1990.
The topic of the argument was Tennyson's 1842 poem Ulysses, which either I had introduced to my colleague or she already knew — this was (and still is, bless her) a well-read lady.
The poem is spoken in the first person by Ulysses, the great Homeric hero, in his old age. He is king of Ithaca, of course, but finds little joy in his royal duties. He thinks fondly of the grand adventures of his youth, and decides at last to go adventuring again.
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
To the degree the poem is known at all, it is known for its closing lines. Here Ulysses addresses his former comrades: "My mariners, / Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me," but who now, like him, are old.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
My colleague took a strongly negative line. "Silly old fool! Get some carpet slippers, a nice armchair by the fire, some books …" (or words to that effect).
I argued in favor of Ulysses. Sure, we lose our abilities in old age: Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait and so on. Still, I said, there is nobility of spirit in trying to keep youth's flame burning; and contrariwise something ignoble in surrendering to time.
Now, thirty-some years on, I've come round to my colleague's point of view. Life has stages: to attempt to revisit an earlier stage is folly. Ulysses' late-life seafaring adventure with a ship manned by Bidens, Trumps, and McConnells would most likely have ended on the rocks, literally and soon.
Life has stages. The only religion to spell this out explicitly, so far as I know, is Hinduism. The old ashrama ideal is that life be traversed in four stages:
- (up to about age 25): the student, acquiring life skills and basic religious ideas through listening and
- (up to about age 50): the householder, married with children, striving for worldly and professional success while improving
his religious understanding;
- (up to about age 75): the hermit, living in a forest hut with only minimal possessions, teaching both worldly and spiritual
wisdom to those who come seeking it;
- (thereafter): the sannyasi, home and all personal possessions and relationships renounced, living by begging, wandering the highways and byways, resigned to death as a release from worldly bondage.
[Added when archiving: James Fulford, when posting the diary to VDARE.com, added a reference to Kipling's 1894 story The Miracle of Purun Bhagat, which is about a sannyasi. James also linked to some commentary on the story here.
The sannyasi figure caught the imagination of other British writers about India: there is one in The Raj Quartet.]
I hope that's right; I'll take correction from readers better versed than I am in Indian philosophy.
And no, I'm not taking those four stages as my own precise life plan. Sure: I've been a student and a householder, and I am available for consultation by younger citizens seeking wisdom — Long Island Expressway, Exit 44, third forest hut on the left.
But … wandering the streets a penniless beggar in my late seventies? To get hustled off to spend the night in a "homeless shelter" among lunatics and crack addicts if I'm lucky, or to be kicked to death by street people if I'm not?
No thanks. I won't be going sannyasi. I prefer my colleague's prescription: carpet slippers, armchair by the fire, books. Ahhhh …!
Math Corner. Here's an easy one.
Brainteaser: Find all nonnegative integer solutions to the equation 15x + 10y + 9z = 71.