Oh, say, can you see? The first weekend of November saw the annual conference of the Mencken Club in Baltimore. I was there to do a party piece, along with Peter Brimelow, Jared Taylor, and many other friends from senior Alt Right ranks.
It all went off very well. Many thanks to Paul Gottfried and to his wife Mary, who between them did all the organizational chores and kept us in order.
This time around Peter and I took time out for some sightseeing. What's to see in Baltimore? Fort McHenry, that's what.
It was o'er the ramparts of Fort McHenry that they raised the star-spangled banner for Francis Scott Key to see in the distance, by the dawn's early light, on September 14th, 1814. Key actually saw the flag-raising from the deck of an enemy (i.e. British) ship, whither he had gone under flag of truce for some prisoner-exchange negotiations while the British fleet bombarded the fort.
It's a great story and a fine stirring song. It's the more stirring when you stand at the actual place where the flag was raised, and let your imagination take over.
Here are Lydia Brimelow and the boss on those very ramparts.
As was the case during last year's Great Civil War Battlefields Birthday Tour, I was impressed by how well the Parks Service does its Visitors' Centers at these historic sites. At Fort McHenry they show an excellent short movie about Key and the song.
There's a lot that needs abolishing in the feddle gumment, but I hope our new Chief Executive will leave the Federal Parks Service alone.
Civilization gets tweetified. Driving home up the New Jersey Turnpike, we stopped for a bathroom break at the Woodrow Wilson service area. How long before the Social Justice Warriors force a rename of that?
Personally I'm happy with the name. What left me un-happy was the little convenience store in the facility. Among the numerous articles on sale, there was not a single item of printed matter — not a book, not a magazine, not even a newspaper. Walking back to the car I stopped to see if there were at least some newspaper-vending machines in the plaza outside. Nope.
For a writer, that's depressing. I know of course that print on paper is a vanishing technology, but it's still startling to see how far things have gone. I recently visited the spacious home that a wealthy man (not our President-Elect) had purchased a couple of years ago. It contained not a single book. Our host even grumbled about it containing bookshelves! ("What use are they?")
Wealthy men's houses used to contain libraries. True, Daddy Warbucks didn't necessarily use the library much, but it was there when he, or his house guests, needed it.
Now thoughtful 400-page stories and disquisitions on this and that have been replaced by 140-character tweets. Where will that take us, I wonder? Surely nowhere good.
I am thinking of the Sack of Baghdad, when, according to the chroniclers, the Mongol invaders looted the great libraries so thoroughly that the River Tigris ran black with ink from the priceless books and manuscripts thrown into it. Nowadays we of course proceed more gently, but the end result may be the same.
It's useless to complain of course. And there's a silver lining: Second-hand books — those that escape the incinerator — are getting awfully cheap.
On that earlier visit we were introduced to W.G. Sutter, known to everyone as "W.G.," a renowned wood carver specializing in carved models of water fowl. The introduction was at the home of mutual friends. W.G. invited us to drop by at his own home in Trappe before leaving the state.
We did so, and viewed W.G.'s collection of carvings — wonderful, fantastically accurate and detailed creations, all carved from blocks of wood and carefully painted. Mrs Derbyshire posed with one of his works in progress.
Alas, less than a week after we called on him, W.G. passed away, aged 75.
As well as all those marvelous carvings, W.G. left behind him, in the recollections of his friends, the memory of a man gifted with an unusually large portion of the Life Force. He made and lost at least two fortunes, but barreled on forward regardless. As one of Julius Caesar's biographers said of the great Roman, he "lived at a faster tempo" than the rest of us.
One of his friends offered the following tribute, quoted with permission.
W.G. was born on January 5, 1941 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he became a lawyer and a restaurateur before taking up a wide range of business enterprises, from stem cell skin grafts to Arabian horses. He loved the out of doors and continued hunting and fishing right up to the end.
He had a highly retentive mind, which is why he never watched recent movies — too many images of a kind that he didn't want to have in his head. He created beautiful carvings and raised the spirits of those around him.
W.G. was a man who loved living. He never changed his lifestyle or outlook whether he was rich or broke. He always knew about everything and everybody in Talbot County, and when I introduced him to friends from out of town, to my amazement he had detailed knowledge of their home towns and businesses.
Beyond all that, he had heart. He was generous, irascible, funny, and loved a good drink or a good song.
I am sorry the acquaintance was so brief. Our condolences to W.G.'s family and his many, many close friends.
Wearing us down. At month end the political talk is all about recounting the November 8th vote in certain critical states. Friends who, in their blithe innocence, assume I have some inside knowledge of politics, ask me what will come of these recounts.
I doubt anything much will come of them. Over my doubt, though, there hangs a small dark cloud of anxiety. This is for personal-historical reasons, which I shall now relate.
Fifty-three years ago I had just arrived at University College, London for undergraduate studies. The students at UCL had a union to represent their interests to the administration.
Lunchtimes the union held public meetings that all students could attend. It was an interesting and instructive way to spend one's lunch hour, listening to arguments from the union representatives on stage and getting acquainted with Robert's Rules of Order.
The first item of business that fall was to elect a union president. There were two significant candidates. One was left-activist Roger Lyons, who later rose to glory as a senior official in Britain's labor movement, not without some patches of controversy.
The other candidate — I have forgotten his name — was chairman of the college's Conservative (the party, not the tendency) Club.
Lyons campaigned vigorously. He was busy in college affairs, never missed a public meeting, and had mastered Robert's shortly after being weaned. The Conservative candidate was less in evidence. He always wore a smart suit and tie.
When the election ballots were counted, to everyone's astonishment the Conservative had won.
For Lyons and his activists this was of course the wrong result. There followed several exceptionally heated lunchtime meetings of the union, at which the Lyons faction aired innumerable microscopically technical objections to the result. The only one I recall was an accusation of "block voting," whatever that meant.
They wouldn't let up. The lunchtime meetings flowed over into the afternoon, so that those of us keen to actually learn something in our chosen subjects had to leave to attend lectures.
It was all too much for the mass of students like myself, who lost interest and turned to their studies.
Eventually we heard that one of the nitpicky objections had been voted through. The election was re-held. Roger Lyons was elected union president.
From this I learned an important thing about democratic government. I learned that most people — normal people — are not much interested in politics, and can't be bothered with it for long. If some faction has the energy and motivation to keep up the bothering, we normals will at last throw up our hands and say: "Oh, enough already! Do what the hell you like. Just let us get on with life."
Most leftists have internalized this lesson. Most conservatives have not.
Fog over the Channel: Europe isolated. National character is a much under-estimated factor in human affairs.
I've been a U.S. citizen for fifteen years, but at heart I remain a traditionalist Englishman — a cast of mind that is not necessarily congruent with the Englishness of today, afflicted as it has been for decades now by the horrid twin blights of Political Correctness and mass immigration.
I was recently at dinner with friends, one of whom teaches in a New York City public school. He, in common with some others at the table, is a Trump voter of vaguely Alt Right sympathies.
He gave us a hilarious, very cynical account of the staff meetings at his school, at which teachers and administrators sit around solemnly po-faced while the one with the Talking Stick unbosoms himself of his innermost sins of Prejudice, Privilege, and so on.
I was laughing with the rest of them. At the same time, though, I could not suppress the subversive thought, for which I hope my fellow citizens will forgive me: How very American! I was of course much too polite to utter the thought out loud.
And on the topic of my own Englishness, I had a different conversation, one-on-one, with another friend about antisemitism. I explained, as I always do, that in the England where I grew up, what Kingsley Amis described as a "very, very mild" style of antisemitism was common, but the stronger varieties were almost unknown.
Why did I think that was? asked my friend.
I replied that those stronger forms were regarded with suspicion and distaste, as coming within the scope of the most potent negative adjective an Englishman could apply to any phenomenon. Did she know which adjective I meant?
She: "Hateful? Shameful? Evil? Cruel?"
Me: "No, no, no; much worse than that. The adjective is … continental."
In an Englishman's mind, continental covers all the peculiarities, malign or harmless, characteristic of those strange gibbering (or in the case of the Germans, barking) tribes who had the misfortune to be born on the wrong side of the Channel: putting garlic in your food, talking with your arms, Roman Catholicism, the metric system, European Union, the absence of any sense of humor above the slapstick level, and, yes, antisemitism. Continental — yecch!
I cherish the hope that this year's Brexit vote marks a turn back towards traditional Englishness, and away from the nasty-when-not-comical preferences of the beastly Continentals.
Apparently the Japanese have taken an interest in the Alt Right and wanted to interview some representative persons. Heaven only knows how they settled on me; politics-wise, I am not representative of anything. I'm a club of one, just not a joiner.
I agreed to do the spot, though, so I showed up at their studio in midtown Manhattan. A very pretty and charming young lady named Mariko showed me round, then I sat down for the interview with Mr Tsuda (津田大介), who turned out to be perfectly Japanese except for a headful of bright yellow hair.
In line with the near-perfection of his Japaneseness, Mr Tsuda could not speak a word of English. Since I can't speak Japanese, we conducted the interview with Mariko sitting behind him to one side, interpreting his questions for me.
For purposes of TV authenticity, I had to keep my eyes on Mr Tsuda the whole time, listening attentively to his questions as if I understood them. Do you have any idea how hard it is to fix your eyes on Person A while listening to words being spoken by Person B?
Actually, I'll confess that I had ulterior motives for doing the interview. The weekend before, at the Mencken conference, I had mentioned to a friend that I'd been invited to opine on TV Asahi.
"Oh," he said, "you're in luck. I know a guy who did a TV spot for the Japanese. When he'd finished and got up to leave, they handed him an envelope with a $1,000 check in it."
That got my attention. Walk-ins don't normally get paid for TV spots. The TV companies rely on vanity … than which, I'd guess, nothing in the human realm is more reliable. However, I thought I'd cross-check with Jared Taylor, who's done lots of Japanese TV.
Jared: "I never heard of that. They never pay me for going on."
That left my hopes dampened but not dashed. After the interview I lingered for as long as I politely could, but no envelope was forthcoming. Rats.
Possibly that first friend's story was from many years ago, and the Japanese channels have since gotten wise to our commercial practices — appropriated our culture, as they say in the Social Science departments. Ah well.
An encounter with antimatter. I had a PET scan, just for precautionary purposes. Speaking about it to a medical friend afterwards, he pointed out that this is one of the rare occasions when we humans encounter antimatter.
The "P" is for "positron," which is an anti-electron. You get injected with mildly radioactive stuff that decays, emitting a positron. The positron zooms off through your tissues until it meets an electron. Then matter and antimatter mutually annihilate in a flash of gamma rays, which tell the apparatus important things about your cells.
That's exciting enough, but you can actually have more fun with the "T." It stands for "tomography," which of course — like "atom" (you can't cut it up), "tome" (one "slice" of a multi-volume book), and the mathematical term of art "cyclotomic" (to do with cutting up circles) — derives from the Greek word τέμνειν, "to cut, slice."
It's also what I got. As I left, they handed me a nifty little DVD with all the slices on it. I took it home and amused myself for a while by scrutinizing my insides in detail, figuring out which is the pancreas and which is the spleen, and so on.
Amusing, yet disturbing. It all looks so fragile and temporary. Have I really toted this bag of giblets around through seven decades in the material world?
Transcribing Trump. What does "Donald Trump" sound like to Chinese ears?
I think most people know that written Chinese is not alphabetic. To read and write Chinese you have to memorize several thousand squiggles. Each squiggle has a distinct meaning; each is sounded as a monosyllable. There are only four hundred-odd of these monosyllables, so that the mapping from squiggles to monosyllables is many-to-one. My pocket Chinese-Chinese dictionary lists 36 squiggles pronounced fei, for example, with meanings as various as "waste," "lung," "to fly," and "fertile."
Ambiguity is relieved to some degree by the fact of the language being tonal. In standard Mandarin any monosyllable can be pronounced in a high-level pitch ("Yes"), a high rising ("Yes?"), a low rising ("Ye-es?"), or a high falling ("Yes!"), for a total four possible tones. Those 36 squiggles pronounced fei, for example, break out as 11 fēi, 4 féi, 10 fěi, and 11 fèi. It's still many-one, though, squiggles to toned monosyllables.
Does this leave open a playpen for people who like to fool around with language? It certainly does.
It also opens up opportunities for misunderstanding. I recently remarked in conversation with an American friend who speaks no Chinese that "Paris" is rendered in Chinese as two squiggles pronounced Bālí.
"How do they render 'Bali,' then?" he asked very reasonably.
This had never occurred to me, and I did not know the answer. I had to go look it up in a Chinese-language atlas. Answer: Bālí — precisely the same, even to the tones. Only the second written squiggle in each case is different: "Paris" is 巴黎, "Bali" is 巴厘.
So if you want to practice your Chinese at the airline counter in Beijing by booking a ticket to Paris, you might end up somewhere much balmier, or bali-mier. (Although, as my friend observed, with approximately the same chance of being blown up by Islamic terrorists.)
Overall, however, there is not as much misunderstanding as you might think — no more among native Chinese-speakers, in my experience, than is the case for English. Foreigners trying to speak Chinese is a different issue, also in my experience …
Having no alphabet, Chinese writers and typesetters have to do their best to render foreign names with squiggles that will help a Chinese reader sound out the name, so long as he knows his squiggles. This is an approximate business.
In the first place the phonemic "menu" of spoken Chinese — the basic vowels and consonants from which the spoken language is assembled — includes some sounds unique to Chinese, and ex-cludes some sounds common in other languages. This is always the case with any language. To speak another language well you have to forget some of your own language's sounds and train yourself to make unfamiliar ones.
The English "th" sounds, for example (there are two of them: voiceless as in "think," voiced as in "that") are not on the Chinese menu. Furthermore, a Chinese "h" cannot be followed by the "ee" vowel. Back in the 1970s these absences caused serious trouble for Chinese newspapers faced with matching squiggles to the surname of British Prime Minister Edward Heath. They settled on the two squiggles 希斯, written Xīsī in the standard alphabetization, pronounced something like "Shee-sz." Students of Chinese in English universities made sport of this among themselves, referring to the P.M. as "Ksissy." It didn't help that Heath was a lifelong bachelor with no visible interest in women.
In the second place there are no consonant clusters in Chinese. The English style of gluing spoken consonants together in words like "stretched" is a nightmare for Chinese-speakers. (The Chinese "ng" is sounded as the single pure nasal consonant in English "singer," not the "n-g" consonant cluster heard in "finger.") You can see problems with "Trump" right there.
So how are they coping with "Trump"? It depends what you read. There is mainland China, and then there are Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and numerous Overseas-Chinese communities, all with their own newspapers. There is no central authority imposing an official transcription on all of them; and if there were, Chinese editors would ignore it.
The official mainland news agency, Xinhua, seems to have settled on 唐纳德 特朗普, pronounced Táng-nà-dé Tè-lǎng-pǔ for "Donald Trump." You're not meant to read the meanings of the characters, although they try not to use unflattering or inauspicious ones unless they really dislike you. For what it's worth, the surname Tè-lǎng-pǔ means "eminently clear (and) universal."
The big Hong Kong paper Sing Tao (星島), which has Chinese-language editions in the U.S.A. and Canada, is following mainland practice, but other offshore publications like Epoch Times and World Journal favor 川普, pronounced Chuān-pǔ, for "Trump," with meaning "streams universal."
Chinese orthography, like human nature, is a knotty wood from which nothing straight will ever be made.
New frontiers in anarcho-tyranny. Having mentioned Edward Heath there, I note the following news story as illustrating how deep Britain has sunk into anarcho-tyranny: massive law enforcement efforts to no rational purpose, while the authorities ignore actual crime.
The Sir Edward Heath child sex abuse investigation could be shut down amid mounting criticism over its cost and lack of progress …
Wiltshire Police's Chief Constable Mike Veale, who is in charge of the inquiry, has been called to an urgent meeting with the force's Police and Crime Commissioner, Angus Macpherson, to discuss the case …
Operation Conifer, which was launched in August 2015 — more than 10 years after Sir Edward's death — has a team of 21 officers and staff and has already cost ₤700,000, with just two arrests. [Sir Edward Heath sex investigation could be shut down as police expert says satanic ritual abuse claims are "pernicious fabrication" by Martin Evans; Daily Telegraph, November 27th 2016; my italics.]
Yep, Ksissy died in 2005 at age 89. The accusations against him refer to incidents that someone said happened in the early 1970s.
Twenty-one officers and staff! Seven hundred thousand pounds!
This is even more fantastically irrational than the "child abuse" hysterias in the U.S.A. twenty years ago. The imaginary outrages being prosecuted then were at least supposed to be recent, and the targets of the prosecutors were at least alive.
Meanwhile friends and relatives in England tell me: "There's no point having nice things in your house, they'll just get stolen by burglars. The police? Ha ha ha ha ha!"
That brought me the following email from an Israeli listener.
A bunch of Trump supporters here in Israel have been bandying something else about that I think you'll find amusing.
First, do you know what a gematriah is? In the Hebrew language, each letter is assigned a numerical value; the first ten get 1-10, then the next nine go at jump of ten (thus 20-100), then the last three get 200, 300, and 400 respectively. This means that any Hebrew word has an easily calculable numerical value, called a gematriah, which the commentators sometimes exploit in noting relationships between different Biblical passages.
Anyways, some overexcited people have been noting that Donald Trump, spelled in Hebrew, has the same gematriah as Moshiach Ben David, the Davidic Messiah. To which someone else (allegedly Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, but as he passed away several years ago, that's probably not true) responded that Donald Trump (and Moshiach Ben David) both have the same gematriah as "chatzi mana falafel" — a half serving of falafel. So let's all just calm down a little bit.
Interesting. You can of course do the same thing with our alphabet, mapping the letters A-J onto the numbers from 1 to 10, K-S onto the numbers 20 to 100, and T-Z onto the numbers 200 to 800. JOHN DERBYSHIRE then works out to 1141. That's my Latin-alphabet gematriah. Hey.
I then of course fed HILLARY CLINTON into the algorithm, fully expecting that her gematriah would be the Number of the Beast. Disappointed: the lady's gematriah is a pedestrian 1270. If you add in her middle name, which — I bet you didn't know — is Diane, it brings you up to 1339, suspiciously close to two Beasts (2 × 666 = 1332). Draw your own conclusions.
I'm sure there must be some apt phrases whose A-Z gematriahs (gematriae? gematrihim?**) are equal to Mrs Clinton's. I leave this as an exercise for the reader.
[**Added later: I am reliably advised that the correct plural is "gematriot."]