»  VDARE.com Monthly Diary

  October 2022

The End of the End of the End of History?     The most-discussed geopolitical essay of the past forty years has been Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History," published in the Summer 1989 issue of The National Interest. Fukuyama of course upgraded it to a book: The End of History and the Last Man (1992).

Fukuyama's essay and book are not as unreservedly triumphalist as they have sometimes been made out to be. He is a political scientist of depth, with a solid grounding in history and philosophy. He does, though, have a way of expressing himself that sometimes leaves you — well, me — wondering what the heck point he's trying to make.

For example: He started off the original 1989 essay by telling us that:

The century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle to where it started: not to "an end of ideology" or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.

Say what? If, at the end of the 20th century, mankind was returning full circle to the "self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy" that was current (although by no means universal) around 1900, might not Fukuyama's readers reasonably expect the 21st century to be blighted by political horrors like Leninism, Hitlerism, and Maoism, as the 20th century was?

Whatever. Once you get into the weeds about what Fukuyama was actually saying, and engage with his admirers and detractors, you have opened the door to a lifetime of disputation. My main point here is that Fukuyama's argument was taken to be triumphalist.

This was especially the case with his book, which came out the year after the Soviet Union disintegrated and just months after Deng Xiaoping's Southern Tour pointed China in the direction of economic liberalization. For a while there in the early 1990s it was really possible to believe that humanity at large had turned some decisive corner away from despotic government towards open societies everywhere.

Then came the 2000s: Islamic terrorism, the rise of Putin, and the clear determination of China's leaders that economic opening not be accompanied by any serious political reform. Fukuyama's triumphalism, or what had been popularly taken to be his triumphalism, now looked naïve. We started seeing articles (and eventually of course books) under the title "The End of the End of History."

Growing national wealth and autocracy have proven compatible after all. Autocrats learn and adjust. The autocracies of Russia and China have figured out how to permit open economic activity while suppressing political activity. They have seen that people making money will keep their noses out of politics, especially if they know their noses will be cut off. New wealth gives autocracies a greater ability to control information — to monopolize television stations, and to keep a grip on Internet traffic — often with the assistance of foreign corporations eager to do business with them. ["The End of the End of History" by Robert Kagan; The New Republic, April 23rd 2008.]

Whether or not the credit for early-1990s geopolitical optimism properly belongs to Fukuyama — please don't email in to argue the matter — that optimism may be making a comeback. Political Scientist Richard Hanania opened the month with a Fukuyaman bugle call at his Substack account.

After scoffing at the notion that Muslim fundamentalism is any kind of threat to advanced nations, Hanania glances at present-day China and Russia, then tells us:

Although we have three months left, I think that regardless of what else happens 2022 will be notable for being the year that both of these threats to liberal democracy collapsed. And the fact that they collapsed in such different ways indicates that there is something extremely robust in Western societies that will allow them to dominate the world for the foreseeable future. ["The Year of Fukuyama" by Richard Hanania; Substack, October 1st 2022.]

Hanania then takes on China and Russia at more length — considerable length: the piece is nearly 4,000 words. Some samples for the flavor.


Noah Smith last year noticed the crackdown on business and asked whether perhaps Xi simply isn't very competent. But it may be simply a matter of him not caring all that much about economic growth. If you assume his priorities are maintaining control over a passive citizenry, he looks like a genius.


As the West cuts it off from advanced technology and Europe finds alternative sources of energy, Russia is certain to remain a poor, backward country indefinitely into the future, regardless of whether it adds a few million more pensioners in the Donbas.

Is it possible "to create a great power dictatorship that combines social stability, economic growth, and the ability to inspire others to accept, or least respect, its model of societal organization"?

I think if you cloned Lee Kuan Yew and put him in charge of modern Russia or China, you would see great successes. But critics of democracy have to keep bringing up Lee Kuan Yew because there have been so few like him. Despite history providing us with hundreds of dictators to learn from over the last few centuries, it says something that those partial to monarchy or technocratic authoritarianism are forced to keep talking about a man who was in effect the mayor of a city-state.

What do I think of Hanania's neo-Fukuyamanism? I'm doubtful. As we have seen in the last couple of decades with the rise of smartphones and social media, it is information technology that's driving the great social changes of our time. It will inevitably drive political change, too.

Big Data combined with Artificial Intelligence hold great promise for totalitarian governments. After another decade or two of development in those fields it will be possible for the authorities to know, at any moment in time, precisely where every citizen is, what he is doing, what he is saying, and who he is in company with, and thence accurately to predict whether he is a threat to the party-state. This has been the dream of despots since time immemorial. China is already well on the way there.

Still, I am glad to know that the wheel Francis Fukuyama got turning 32 years ago still has some angular momentum. I look forward to the first opinion column titled "The End of the End of the End of History?" No, wait a minute: I just wrote it.


Invaded calm.     It's October and the leaves are falling. Having fallen, they have to be gathered up and disposed of.

Here Satan saw an opportunity. Into the world he sent gasoline-powered leaf blowers to deprive us of our peace and, he hopes, eventually drive us all mad.

In my own suburban neighborhood the landscaping firms start work around eight a.m., mowing and blowing. The noise, most of it from blowing, is deafening; the Prince of Darkness is smiling.

Sure, I own a blower myself. It's electric-powered, though — nothing like as noisy as the gas-powered models. In any case I hardly use it. For my paltry one-sixth of an acre, an old-fashioned leaf rake does the job almost as fast, and gives me some exercise. (One of my neighbors has a cordless, battery-powered blower that is very nearly silent … but doesn't blow very hard.)

The English poet John Betjeman had a friend named Martyn Skinner, also a poet, who left his suburban home to seek peace and quiet in the countryside. Betjeman made gentle fun of Skinner in a 1961 poem, contrasting the noise of the countryside — tractors, motor-bikes, trucks grinding up narrow country lanes "in bottom gear," low-flying planes — with suburban tranquillity.

Return, return to Ealing,
Worn poet of the farm!
Regain your boyhood feeling
Of uninvaded calm!

(Ealing is a very pleasant middle-class London suburb where I lived myself in my student days. However, it is not in fact the suburb Skinner left. Betjeman just needed a suburb, and I guess Ealing offered a tempting rhyme.)

Obviously there weren't gasoline-powered leaf blowers in 1961 suburban England. Old Scratch was busy with earlier projects: brutalist architecture, perhaps, or post-modernist philosophy.


A Moving story (sequel).     In last month's diary I told of my adventures with some big, heavy, old-style furniture pieces my wife wanted installed in our bedrooms. The chest and two bedside companions were successfuly wrestled into the house, up the stairs, and into place, mainly by my muscular son and an equally muscular friend of his. But then:

There remains the dresser — or, as it has come to be known in our household, the Beast. At month end it's still sitting there in the garage, grinning insolently at us. The engineering consensus (me, our son, his friend) is that it's too big for stairs, landing, and doors. Measurements appear to confirm this. What to do?

That was the state of play at the end of September. I measured and remeasured for every conceivable angle: there was no way we could get the Beast up our stairs.

The only way to get it into our bedroom was through a second-floor window. The main house windows were too small, though. The only windows big enough to feed the Beast through were the west-side sunroom windows — the ones facing right here. It would fit, I checked, and there is a wide-enough door direct from the sunroom to the master bedroom. Still there were difficulties to overcome: a not-very-robust fence and gutter, the sunroom wall likewise, lots of greenery, the too-close proximity of our neighbor's house.

As narrated in my October 7th podcast, a Radio Derb listener leapt to the rescue. A ladder was strategically placed, with suitable protections for fence, guttering and sunroom wall against the weight of the Beast. The Beast itself was cushioned and furnished with mover's straps. Sawhorses were set up in the sunroom to receive the Beast.

Our benefactor — may his tribe increase! — took the mover's straps up to the sunroom window, where my son and his buddy were stationed. With he pushing from below and they pulling from above, the Beast came up the ladder and through the window, to rest on the sawhorses inside the sunroom.

From there it was an easy lift to the master bedroom, where the Beast now sits happily in place. (The door at the right there goes out to the sunroom. And yes: My lady hangs bright red tassels off light fixtures and door handles. It's a thing she does.)

Heartfelt thanks to all who helped, especially of course our generous listener. And nyah-nyah to a different friend of Junior's — a guy whose job involves frequently moving heavy things around — who had assured Junior the thing was impossible. This is America, pal, the can-do nation. Nothing's impossible. USA! USA! USA!


No laughing matter.     Frans Hals' portrait of a Laughing Cavalier, painted in 1642 when Hals was in his early forties, is one of the world's best-known paintings. I engaged with it in my childhood: at some quite early point therein, when I was already addicted to jigsaw puzzles, my Aunt Muriel gave me a several-hundred-piece one of Laughing Cavalier which, to my great pride, I completed.

Somehow I accomplished that and then passed through the subsequent seven decades without noticing, or having been told, that the Cavalier is not laughing, only smiling.

Art historian Robin Simon explains in the October issue of Literary Review while reviewing a new biography of Hals.

The funny thing about the Laughing Cavalier is that the cavalier isn't laughing at all. He has a merry eye but is surely smiling, not laughing, beneath those famous whiskers. And that was just as it should be in 17th-century Haarlem, at least if you were of some social standing. Hals loved to show his sitters in good humour. Along with the legendary brushwork, this is the most distinguishing feature of his work. But heaven forfend that his sitters should actually laugh. Remember the advice of the 18th-century Lord Chesterfield to his son: "I would heartily wish, that you may often be seen to smile, but never heard to laugh while you live. Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill-manners; it is the manner in which the mob express their silly joy at silly things; and they call it being merry. In my mind, there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter."

There was a crucial distinction between smiling and laughing and it had long been entrenched in European societies. We seem to have forgotten it, but it is one of the secrets to interpreting Hals's art, where posh people smile and the lower classes laugh — indeed, in Hals's pictures, they are often laughing their heads off. Hals never blurred the distinction.

So people of quality in premodern Europe (Hals' dates are 1582-1666) did not laugh. Only proles laughed. Perhaps this was one of the restraints that was dropped with the rise of the Romantic Movement.

How manners change! If you could arrange for a time machine to drop you among 17th-century European gentlefolk, you'd find the company disconcertingly joyless, if not downright weird: nobody ever laughing, just … smiling.


Bookstores not yet extinct.     A year ago I lamented the loss of my village's bookstore, and the decline of bookstores in general.

October 19th I had a dinner date at NYU in downtown Manhattan. I took the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station, walked the long 34th Street block to the Broadway Local subway station (still the BMT to us subway veterans), and boarded a train to take me to 8th Street as usual.

Thinking idle thoughts somewhere around the 23rd Street stop, I got to wondering if The Strand was still in business. It was New York City's foremost independent bookstore way back when time began — which for me, so far as New York is concerned, was 1973. I hadn't paid the store a visit for years, though; since moving out of the city in 1992, I think.

I still don't own a smartphone. If I had one, I suppose I could have satisfied my curiosity online. In lieu thereof, and being early for my dinner date, I got off the subway at 14th Street to take a look. The Strand is at Broadway and 12th; I could walk the five short blocks from 12th to NYU.

Yes, The Strand is still there, and thriving. At six o'clock on a weekday evening, it was crowded. Too crowded: after fifteen minutes happy browsing I headed to the checkout line with a book I wanted to buy. The line snaked way back through the store, though, and wasn't moving much. I was no longer early for my dinner date and had five blocks to walk. I conscientiously took the book back to the shelf I'd found it on and bailed out.

I'm glad to know The Strand is still there, bucking the trend. And yes! they still buy used books. Gotta get down there with a few truckloads of mine …


The transience of earthly glory.     Standing around having pre-dinner drinks with some extremely smart people, the topic somehow came up: How far back can we trace the idea of romantic love? What was the earliest recorded instance?

One of the company promptly offered Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 29:xviii). The historicity there is dubious, but it was a sufficiently good answer that the conversation stalled.

Among the company was classicist Josh Katz, who was fired from his tenured professorship at Princeton for Wrongthink earlier this year, to the everlasting shame of that university and its spineless woke-enforcing president Christopher Eisgruber.

I happened to know from a previous conversation that Josh Katz has studied the Hittites and engaged with their language at some level. Trying to keep the topic alive, I asked him: "Are there love stories or love poems in the Hittite language?" He said yes, there are.

The conversation then went off in other directions and I didn't pursue the matter. I was, though, glad to learn that the tender passion was known among the Hittites.

I've been nursing a mild fascination with the Hittites since reading Eric Cline's 2014 book 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Of all the great and potent empires of antiquity, theirs is the least known or remembered.

For centuries — all through the middle and later second millennium B.C. —  they ruled over most of Anatolia. In the early thirteenth century B.C. they even took part of present-day Syria and pushed south down the east-Mediterranean coast towards Palestine.

Unfortunately this was just when Egypt under Rameses II (Yul Brynner to movie buffs) was pushing north up that same coast. Armies of the two empires met at the Battle of Kadesh, the earliest great clash of national armies for which we have reliable documentation. (The result was a tie.)

Thinking about the Hittites induces melancholy. Untold millions of people much like you, me, him, and her, living and loving, working and fighting, praying and worshipping, reading and writing, plotting and scheming, singing and dancing, befriending and betraying, for hundreds of years; yet we have forgotten all about them. The Hittites don't even occupy tiny neglected corners of our minds, as the Egyptians and Babylonians do. Only one Hittite person is much known by name (see below) and he only to, I would guess, some single-digit percentage of present-day Americans.

This is doubly unfair because the Hittites were linguistically closer to us in common ancestry than Tutankhamen or Hammurabi. Their language was Indo-European, like ours but unlike Egyptian or Akkadian. The Hittite word for "water" was wātar; their verb "to be" was es-, close to Latin esse from which English gets "essence"; "woman" was guen-, close to Greek gyne and English "queen" … and so on. (I'm working from the lexicon here.)

It's not as if the Hittites left us nothing at all. There are some fine ruins and lots of literature.

And then of course there's their DNA. Like the ruins, it's been knocked about some; but — also like the ruins — it's still very informative.

That's by way of advertising Razib Khan's current series of posts on the population genetics of Anatolia. Nobody does pop-gen like Razib. Sample:

Of course, there are 22 references to the Hittites in the Hebrew Bible. These figure most prominently in the story of Uriah, a Hittite soldier whom King David explicitly ordered be put in harm's way in battle so the king could take Uriah's widow, Bathsheba, for himself, after Uriah's death. [2 Samuel, Ch. 11.] But now we know the truth is that the "Hittites" of the Bible actually hailed from small Luvian and Aramaean statelets in Syria that had once been under the rule of Hatti [i.e. part of the Hittite Empire], but carried on independently until their 8th century A.D. [Razib surely means "B.C."] conquest by the Assyrians (imagine colonial Italian Libya as all that was left of Italy after World War II). These Neo-Hittite principalities were of little account in the Bible, so early 20th-century archaeologists were shocked to discover they were the rump of a great civilization that had dominated Syria, northern Mesopotamia and Anatolia.

If the ancestors of the Hittites (and Luvians, Palans and Lydians) did arrive in the western and central regions of the [Anatolian] peninsula from the east before 3000 B.C., then they were the last major genetic input to the peninsula until the Byzantine loss at Manzikert opened up the interior to Turkic pastoralists at the end of the 11th century A.D. ["Hittite Words, Byzantine Walls: what the West as we know it owes Anatolia's empires" by Razib Khan; Substack, October 17th 2022.]


Disappointment of the Month.     That was the 39th Annual Oyster Festival in the township of Oyster Bay, eight miles east of us, October 14th and 15th. We'd never attended the Oyster Festival before and thought it high time we gave it a try.

What mainly disappointed was, there were no oysters to be seen. I like oysters. I was looking forward to oysters. What's the point of calling something an Oyster Festival if there are no oysters on offer? We spent an hour and a half strolling among the crowds in streets lined with stalls selling tchotchkes, T-shirts, toys, and snack food, but … no oysters. Yo, guys: perhaps you should rename your township Tchotchke Bay.

True, we only arrived late on the 15th when things were starting to wind down. And on top of that, we had to cruise around for half an hour to find a parking space. And some of the snacks were delicious, as are the horseradish pickles we bought a jar of. (Sorry: "of which we bought …" aw, the heck with it.) The crowds were in high spirits, and it's hard to feel sour amid throngs of people having a good time. Really, though: no oysters at the Oyster Festival?

There were no rides, either. I didn't mind that, but it must have made the event boring for little kids.

At least my own municipal pride got a boost. Our township's festival is way better. Наш лучше! (That's what we media professionals call a segue. It's also the punchline of an old Cold War joke: next segment.)


Spooks to crooks.

Warning:  I'm about to opine on movies, about which I know next to nothing. I have a handful of favorites I cherish, but most movies send me to sleep. I should really leave the movie criticism to Steve Sailer. However, the Mrs and I rent a DVD from Netflix for weekend watching, and where's the fun of having an opinion column if I can't occasionally bring forth an opinion from out of my own personal zones of ignorance?

Our mid-month rental was John Wick, a 2014 revenge flick starring Keanu Reeves. Eh, not bad; although Wick's pistol marksmanship was improbably better than that of the umpteen villains shooting at him simultaneously.

Those villains were Russian gangsters, which I thought interesting. There were Russian movie villains way back in the Cold War years — Rosa Kleb! — and I guess Russians made such good villains Hollywood couldn't let go of them. Back then they were intelligence operatives, now they're gangsters. Spooks to crooks.

There is something about the Russian language and accent that makes it work. What Vladimir Nabokov called "my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue," while perfect for poetry, can easily be made to sound dark.

It's those palatalized consonants, I think: ny—, ty—, vy—, and the "hard '' " that sounds like you're swallowing something with difficulty, and "the sixty-one vowel" (ы) that non-Russians can never get right.** 

The sounds of Russian can threaten as well as soothe, transmit a cruel sneer as easily as a sweet lisp. Yes, Russian is the ideal language for villainy.

I'm sure someone must have plotted the trajectories of movie-villain ethnicity down through the decades. Brit villains have held steady, I think. Nothing — well, nothing not Russian — says "villainy" like a dry, sarcastic, upper-class Brit accent. Anthony Hopkins was the last one to register with me, but I'm sure the line continues. Nazi villains of course long outlasted the actual Nazi Party: there were some in Die Hard (1988), if I remember right.

Did the early-21st-century panic about Islamic terrorism offer us any Muslim villains? I had given up on movies by that point, other than to please my wife. I remember Arab terrorists in True Lies, but that was mid-1990s, before the panic.

Probably our neurosis about race is in play there. To show Muslim movie terrorists would be islamophobic — eeeek! Best to keep the villains white. Blacks in today's movies are solving crimes or putting astronauts in orbit. Chinese? Not since the 1960s rash of Fu Manchu flicks; and the villain there was Christopher Lee — a Brit in yellowface.

I predict that Russian movie villains will lead the pack for many more years yet, with Brits and Nazis in supporting roles, nonwhites nowhere to be seen.

**  "Make an 'oo' sound but with your lips shaped for an 'ee' sound" were the instructions I got from my own Russian coach. Uh-huh. Having — at an early age, under the patient guidance of my older sister — mastered the art of patting my head while simultaneously rubbing my tummy, I thought a mere manipulation of the vocal apparatus would be a breeze, or a brыze, but … it isn't.

Oh, the old Cold War joke? It was a spoof on the fact that in Soviet propaganda to their own people, everything Soviet was superior to its American equivalent. So:

Boris is a senior Soviet official, a Politburo member. Nadya is his wife. Boris acquires a mistress, one of the dancers at the Bolshoi Ballet. Nadya finds out from a third party. Confronted, Boris confesses but won't give any further details.

The next time Boris and Nadya attend a performance of the Bolshoi together, when the corps de ballet is on stage facing the audience, Nadya scans them with her opera glasses looking for the pretty ones. "Is it that one with dark hair third from the left?" she asks Boris.

"No," he replies, "that's Polyansky's mistress."

She continues scanning. "Is it that very blonde one just right of center?"

"Yes," says Boris. "That's the one."

Nadya gives a sigh of satisfaction. "Ah! Nasha luchshe." (Ours is better.)


Math corner.

•  The Pan-African Math Olympiad.  Nationwide and international math competitions offer us race realists the opportunity to sit back, relax, and shoot fish in a barrel.

In between the nationwide and the international competitions there are what I guess we should call "continental" ones, like the annual Pan-African Mathematics Olympiad (PAMO). The winners of the 2022 PAMO were announced back in July; I apologize for not having posted sooner.

Morocco's national team achieved outstanding results at the 29th edition of the Pan-African Mathematics Olympiad, placing first in both the individual and team categories.

Moroccan student Mouad El Noua won first place in the individual category with a score of 24 out of 24. The Moroccan national team ranked first in the teams' category, alongside Tunisia, with both teams receiving a score of 152. South Africa finished third with 119 points. ["Morocco, Tunisia Win Pan-African Mathematics Olympiad 2022" by Sara Zouiten; Morocco World News, July 5th 2022.]

Oh, that South African team? Here they are. And let's not forget "the top young mathematician in Africa" back in 2016.

•  Progress on the Riemann Hypothesis?  Nine years ago here at VDARE.com I reported having attended a dinner for Prof. Yitang Zhang, a number theorist who had just resolved a long-outstanding conjecture in that field.

I found Prof. Zhang to be a cheerful and engaging fellow. Math is his whole life, though. A total loner, he cares nothing about money, status, or academic rank: he just wants to solve math problems. Another Paul Erdős, in fact.

In 2016, Zhang was made a tenured professor of mathematics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. But he didn't have many teaching tasks, and he just liked to stay at the school and think. He also had no research pressure, because he didn't need to publish papers continuously to receive more funds.

In fact, after becoming famous, loneliness was Zhang's normal state, but he still maintains strong concentration and acumen. He dedicated all his remaining time to the major problem he had been determined to work on since his youth — the Landau-Siegel zeros conjecture. ["Mathematician Yitang Zhang's Pursuit of the Landau-Siegel Zeros Conjecture"; Pandaily (a China-tech webzine), October 18th 2022.]

Well, in a (Chinese) online forum, Prof. Zhang says he believes he has resolved the vexed issue of Landau-Siegel zeros. If he has — we'll have to wait a few weeks for his paper to be formally published — then his result will have implications all over number theory. It might, for example, resolve — that is, either prove or disprove — the fabulous Riemann Hypothesis.

If you have an hour and nineteen minutes to spare you can watch a YouTube clip of Prof. Zhang talking about Landau-Siegel zeros at the Institute for Advanced Study here.

•  Brainteaser solution.  Instead of a brainteaser this month, here's a solution to a brainteaser.

I introduce the solution thus.


In the Math Corner of my January 2021 Diary I included the following brainteaser, which I'd found in the "Problems" section of the January 2021 MAA Monthly. The problem was submitted by Jovan Vukmirovic of Belgrade, Serbia.

Problem:  Let x1, x2, and x3 be real numbers, and define xn for n ≥ 4 by  xn =  max{xn−3xn−1} − xn−2. Show that the sequence x1x2, … is either convergent or eventually periodic, and find all triples (x1x2x3) for which it is converegent.

I added the following comments:

Well, that caught my eye so I fiddled with it for a couple of hours … and got absolutely nowhere. Usually I can at least glimpse a way to the solution, even when I can't be bothered to slog my way through to the end. Here I got no handle on the thing at all.

The time lag between a problem's being posed [i.e. in the MAA Monthly] and its solution being posted is considerable; average about fifteen months, I think. So if you are stumped by a problem in this January 2021 issue, you'll probably have to wait until Spring of 2022 to be destumped

So now I have to wait until next year for a worked solution, unless some reader more mathematically adept than I am — not a high bar — can help me out.

No reader could; and the time lag on this one was actually twenty-one months. A solution appeared in the October 2022 MAA Monthly.

I can't truthfully say I'd been holding my breath those twenty-one months. After that early fruitless fiddling I'd forgotten all about Vukmirovic's problem. Seeing the solution in this October 2022 issue, though, I thought I should present it and pass some general comments.


That's the introduction. I've copied it over from here, where it is followed by the full solution.