»  National Review Online Diary

  January 2007

Unpardonable Border Agents.     My outrage of the month for December was the refusal of George W. Bush to grant pardons to the two Border Patrol agents convicted of shooting at a Mexican drug smuggler, who was granted immunity by the U.S. court so that he could testify against the agents.

Our own Andy McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor himself (and fellow member of my gents' dinner club), weighed in on the side of the feds in a lengthy piece on NRO the other day. You can read Andy's piece here.

Now, there is a great deal to be said about this case — more than I can fit into a diary paragraph, and in any case most of it pretty well covered in outlets like WorldNetDaily. Probably the main thing to be said is, that for all Andy's harping on the "facts of the case," we poor mortals don't know the facts of the case, because the federal government won't release the court transcripts.

Why is that, if the feds are so confident they have the facts on their side? It's been two years since the court case, and there are still no transcripts. How usual is that?

Andy's piece raises questions by itself. He says, for example, that: "The propaganda version holds that Aldrete-Davila [the Mexican drug trafficker the two agents were chasing] got off scot-free, while our brave 'heroes,' agents Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos, are serving heavy-duty jail-time for just doing their jobs."

But Aldrete-Davila did get off scot-free. And then some — he's going to get a big fat settlement from the U.S. government, via a lawsuit he's launched …

Oh, wait a minute — Andy actually says all this himself, later in his piece! Thus: "The alien narcotics smuggler, to the contrary, gets off scot-free, plus, thanks to another congressional statute, he can actually sue the United States — and is reportedly seeking $5 million in damages."

So I guess, Andy, that the "the propaganda version" is, um, true.

Again: If Ramos and Compean are "two rogues who had no business wearing badges and carrying guns," how come they survived five and ten years, respectively, in the Patrol? Doesn't the Patrol have any procedures for weeding our bad apples? (I believe, though I can't find the reference, that one of them got a commendation for his work — Agent of the Year, or some such. "Rogues"?)

Another point: "Once Aldrete-Davila was down from Ramos's shot to the backside, [the agents] decided, for a second time, not to grab him so he could face justice for his crimes …"

How does Andy know that's what they decided? Has he seen the court transcripts? How, since they have not yet been released? And even if he has seen them, on what is this supposition about the decision processes of Compean and Ramos based? On the testimony of the drug trafficker? Presumably it's not on Compean's and Ramos's own testimony.

One more: "Okay, you say. But did the indictment really have to be this severe? After all, the sentences are extremely harsh. Here, the agents have mainly themselves to blame. The government offered them very generous plea deals. Compean and Ramos spurned them."

Yep — just as your or I or any person of honor would do if we felt we'd been unjustly charged. If Compean and Ramos had transgressed as egregiously as Andy makes out, then presumably, with their aggregate 15 years in the service, they knew it, and would have jumped on the prosecutor's generous plea deal.

Contrariwise, they opted to go to trial on the full charges. Do people who know that they are in deep doo-doo normally take that course?

I'll allow Andy's point that federal employees, like these border agents — and like all other public employees nowadays — have a union armed with thermonuclear warheads, which puts up mighty resistance to any of its members getting fired.

There's a similar point that travels with that one, though. Federal prosecutors, and federal ex-prosecutors like Andy, have a solidarity among themselves, and are going to see each other's point of view far, far more easily than they will see yours, mine, Compean's or Ramos's.

Heck, federal prosecutors are federal employees too, aren't they? Halfway into Andy's piece the thought popped into my mind: This is guild work you're doing here, Andy. The thought stayed.

I'd better say that I hold Andy's legal knowledge in the highest esteem. In so far as his column dealt with points of law, I'll take his word on those points. Then I'll say what the beadle said in Oliver Twist: "If the law supposes that, the law is a ass — a idiot."

And setting aside the matter of legal idiocy, there is political idiocy here of a very deep dye — not a thing that federal prosecutors (or at any rate their superiors) should be unmindful of, surely.

For the federal government to engage in a high-profile prosecution like this, and follow it through so relentlessly, when tens of millions of Americans are spitting furious at the dismal state of immigration law enforcement — to throw such massive federal resources into prosecuting border agents on any grounds at all, when the gaping, glaring lack of federal resources given over to enforcement of the people's laws on immigration and nationality is so infuriatingly obvious — is the crassest, stupidest kind of misjudgment.

It is further confirmation, as if we needed it, that this administration is blind and deaf on immigration issues, issues of crucial importance to the future of our nation.

Finally, if our government would like us to judge fairly of this matter, rather than take the words of Compean or Ramos, or Mr. Aldrete-Davila, or U.S. Attorney Sutton, or Andy — if they would like us to judge the rights and wrongs of the matter for ourselves, as competent citizens in a free Republic — why, let them release the court transcripts. Why won't they?


Bleak House.     Speaking of Dickens, our last three rentals from Netflix were the three DVDs of the 2005 BBC production of Bleak House.

My sister over in England recommended this production. Well, I'll second her recommendation, with some qualifications.

The main qualification is, that the gimmicky whooshy sounds and camera zoom-ins each time the narrative switched from a city scene to a country one got on my nerves very quickly. In fact, the Twilight Zone music and sound effects were out of place altogether. I was a big fan of The Twilight Zone, but it doesn't actually have a lot in common with Bleak House.

That said, the production is a good one, and well worth 7½ hours of your time, if you like 19th-century novels, or just a good compelling story.

Esther is exactly right, and that gets you halfway home all by itself. Guppy might have stepped out of a drawing by Phiz.

There are some necessary adjustments to get the thing on screen. The Smallweeds are collapsed down to the single character of Grandfather Smallweed, attended by a silent Judy ("Shike me up, Judy!") Skimpole is more creepily loathsome than I remember, but it's been a while …

Anyway, say what you like about the Beeb — I've said plenty of it myself — when it comes to these dramatizations of literary classics, they can still do the business.


The March of Complexity.     Yet more confirmation this month, if more were needed, of the theory that pretty soon you won't be able to function in Western society unless you have a couple of Ph.Ds.

A good friend of mine bought himself a new TV set, one of these spiffy plasma high-definition models — actually a Samsung HP-S4253. He showed me the instruction book that came with it. The book has sixty-five pages.

Note that this is not one of those multi-lingual instruction books. It's all in English. Presumably there are separate instruction books in Spanish, French, and so on, at sixty-five pages apiece. Note also that the sixty-five pages don't include set-up instructions — that's a separate book!

Ye gods. There are novels shorter than that instruction book. George Bernard Shaw once said — not, if you want my opinion, in jest — that he expected his readers to devote their lives to the study of his works. Pretty soon you'll be devoting your life to mastering the operating instructions for your toaster oven.


Reasons Why New York State is a Fiscal Black Hole, Series #971.     The State Education Department has just mandated that public schools will from now on be required to provide students with calculators.


Where is Mohammed?     Speaking of our public schools here in the Empire State, I have noticed a curious thing about the onward march of diversity.

When my kids ask me to help with their homework, the questions they put in front of me are always scrupulously multicultural, name-wise: "Rogelio has four blue pencils and two red ones; Arjuna has two red pencils and three green ones; Jean has five yellow pencils; Tashika has nine green pencils and one red one; Rashid …"

However, there is never a Mohammed in these questions. Why not? Is there some kind of profiling going on here? Scandalous!

I bet they do things differently across the pond. According to this report in the London Daily Mail, in fact (a newspaper of which it used to be said that it was for the wives of men who read The Times), there is a big push on in Britain to bring multiculturalism into all school subjects.

In music and art, [students] could have to learn Indian and Chinese songs and instruments, and West African drumming. In maths and science, key Muslim contributions such as algebra and the number zero will be emphasised to counter Islamophobia. And in English, pupils will study literature on the experiences of migration — such as Zadie Smith's novel White Teeth, or Brick Lane, by Monica Ali.

No more of that stuffy old Shakespeare and Dickens! Though if they're going to study immigrant lit., why not Timothy Mo? Oh, wait a minute — he's a conservative. The Chinese — or half-Chinese, in Tim's case — seem not to be a Designated Victim Group, anyway.

I note in passing that the number zero is not a "Muslim contribution." As readers of a certain comprehensive and un-put-downable history of algebra will be aware, zero was invented by the Indians.


Poet of the month.     Back to the Eng. Lit. beat for a moment: I happened to ask a very literary acquaintance if there was any English poet more death-haunted than Philip Larkin.

Good heavens, yes, said my friend, there are far worse than Larkin. I asked him to name one. Without missing a beat he said: "Beddoes."

The name didn't ring even a distant bell, so I looked the guy up on Wikipedia. Hoo-ee.

Young soul, put off your flesh, and come
With me into the quiet tomb,
Our bed is lovely, dark, and sweet;
The earth will swing us, as she goes,
Beneath our coverlid of snows,
And the warm leaden sheet.

(The whole thing's here if your stomach can handle it.)

You're not the least bit surprised to learn that Beddoes committed suicide, though it took him a couple of tries. From the introduction to his Selected Poetry (ed. Judith Higgens and Michael Bradshaw): "[In 1848] he slashed at an artery, inaccurately for an anatomist; this necessitated amputation of a leg a few months later. In January 1849 he finally killed himself with poison."

Should you wish to learn more about what is, for my money, the most depressing poet in the English language, contact the Thomas Lovell Beddoes Society, based in (gulp) Derbyshire.


Math Corner.     In lieu of a math brainteaser this month (it's my diary, I can do what I like), here's a Chinese one.

I think by now we are all pretty well used to seeing the names of Chinese people and places written using the pinyin system for transcribing the sounds of Mandarin, right? You know, "Beijing" for "Peking," "Deng Xiaoping" for "Teng Hsiao-p'ing," and so on.

Well, for reasons having nothing to do with NRO I've been spending some time looking up Western writers in Chinese encyclopedias. Every writer has his or her name transcribed into Chinese characters, chosen to approximate the proper pronunciation of the name. Those characters can in turn be written out in pinyin.

OK, here are 30 Western writers:

(1) Camus.  (2) D.H. Lawrence.  (3) Bunyan.  (4) Trollope.  (5) Pushkin.  (6) Edgar Allen Poe.  (7) Donne.  (8) Rousseau.  (9) Yeats.  (10) Cervantes.  (11) George Bernard Shaw.  (12) Wells.  (13) Dante.  (14) Chaucer.  (15) Dostoyevsky.  (16) Kipling.  (17) Goethe.  (18) Kafka.  (19) Dos Passos.  (20) James.  (21) Fitzgerald.  (22) Keats.  (23) Aristophanes.  (24) Gogol.  (25) Hardy.  (26) Charlotte Brontë.  (27) Johnson.  (28) Thackeray.  (29) Flaubert.  (30) Shelley.

Now here, in a different order, are the pinyin transcriptions of their Chinese names.

(a) Guogeli.  (b) Xiaobona.  (c) Alisituofen.  (d) Saiwantisi.  (e) Zhanmeisi.  (f) Gede.  (g) Danding.  (h) Yuehansheng.  (i) Puxijin.  (j) Qiaosou.  (k) Duosi-Pasuosi.  (l) Jiamiao.  (m) Tangen.  (n) Tuosituoyefusiji.  (o) Yezhi.  (p) Fuloubai.  (q) Feicijielade.  (r) Xialuoti-Bolangte.  (s) Jici.  (t) Kafuka.  (u) Sakelei.  (v) Jibulin.  (w) Ailun-Po.  (x) Xuelai.  (y) Teluoluopu.  (z) Hadai.  (aa) Lusuo.  (bb) Banyang.  (cc) Weiersi.  (dd) Laolunsi.

Your task is to match off the second list with the first. You have five minutes to do this, starting … now.