I must begin this week's podcast with an apology for short measure. I am on the road — to be precise, in Baltimore, Maryland, attending the H.L. Mencken Club conference.
The necessary traveling, along with domestic dislocations sufficiently described in my October Diary last week, have left me seriously pressed for time to prepare and produce my podcast. Radio Derb is therefore shorter than usual in duration, although I hope and believe with no fall-off in quality. I beg your pardon for this, and shall try to resume full normal service next week.
Perhaps I should add also that this week's recording is being done in my Baltimore hotel room. This may affect sound quality. I apologize in advance for any background noise: a/c systems firing up, drunken Mencken Club attendees crashing into laundry carts as they stagger back to their rooms, gunshots from the street outside, police sirens, cries of "Hands up, don't shoot!" and so on. I am doing my best here.
Here goes, then, with an abbreviated Radio Derb.
02 — Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan in New York. On the campaign trail coming up to the 2012 election, Republican hopeful Herman Cain confessed to not knowing who was the president of, quote, "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan," end quote.I had a soft spot for Cain, although in retrospect it was probably just solidarity with a fellow 1945 baby and math geek, and desperation at the awfulness of the other Republican candidates. I bet Cain still doesn't know who is the President of Uzbekistan. I don't either, and I can't be bothered to look it up. Not all knowledge is worth the trouble of acquiring it.
New York city got a little taste of Uzbekistan this week, though, when a native of that country, inspired by radical Islam, deliberately, with malice aforethought, drove a truck along a Manhattan bike path, killing eight and injuring a dozen more.
The Uzbeki, name of Sayfullo Saipov, 29 years old, married with either two or three young children, came to the U.S.A. in 2010 on a Diversity visa. He's worked as an Uber driver, perhaps having misread the word "Uber" in the job ad as "Uzbek."
It's well known, I think, that there is a desperate shortage of Americans that know how to drive automobiles, so it's right and good that we import drivers from Central Asia to alleviate the problem. Otherwise vehicles would be left rotting in the garages.
Seriously, though, as I whined in my monthly diary the other day, for commentators like myself, who have been writing about the nation's immigration follies for, in my case, nigh on twenty years, it's hard to come up with anything to say that we haven't said a dozen times before.
Mark Steyn, as imaginative and creative a writer as we could wish for on our side, has fallen back on just cutting and pasting from articles he wrote back in the first George W. Bush administration.
I can do even better than that. I have pieces pointing out the insanity of U.S. immigration that I published back when Bill Clinton was President.
Cut'n'paste from me, National Review Online, October 17 2000, cut'n'paste:
This lunacy has even affected the Higher Journalism. The current (Sept/Oct 2000) issue of Foreign Affairs has a piece titled "Out-of-Control Immigration" by one James Goldsborough, bylined as "Foreign Affairs Columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune." Mr. Goldsborough takes us through all the idiocy of current immigration practice (there doesn't seem much point to saying "law"), and gives a grim picture of the prospects for massive civil disorder if the economy takes a downturn and all those aliens suddenly have no jobs. After all this good sense, he concludes as follows [inner quote].End cut'n'paste.If Congress and the next president do not come up with reasonable solutions along the lines proposed by the Jordan Commission, the field will be clear for the unreasonable solutions advanced by politicians such as Pete Wilson and Patrick Buchanan and discriminatory initiatives like Proposition 187.[End inner quote.] Those "unreasonable" solutions and "discriminatory" initiatives include such measures as denying welfare services to illegal aliens and free public education to their children. Patrick Buchanan favors — oh, my God! — arresting illegal aliens and deporting them.
I'm sorry to have digressed so far from Monday's atrocity. I intend no disrespect to Mr Saipov's victims. I only want to make the point that the pros and cons of immigration issues are not difficult to grasp; but getting them into the public square for open, honest discussion is difficult. There are tens of millions of intelligent adults in the U.S.A., but discussion of anything to do with immigration is conducted at a moron level.
If you don't mind, I'll give over another segment to this general topic, with passing reference to Mr Saipov and his horrible deed.
03 — Prudence ≠ hate. I cheated a bit there. My cut'n'paste from seventeen years ago dealt with illegal aliens — a topic that has been fairly openly discussed in respectable circles for twenty years or so — although even then, with the fair application of sensible laws gasped'n'sputtered at as "unreasonable" and "discriminatory."Mr Saipov, though, entered the U.S.A. legally, via the Diversity Visa lottery. Legal immigration is virtually un-discussable in our public square. There is almost nothing you can say about it without loss of respectability points — nothing, I mean, other than that immigration is a jolly good thing, it enriches and refreshes America, we are a nation of immigrants, and so on. Anything negative draws frowns, sneers, and accusations of bigotry.
Consider for example the suggestion that we should stop permitting Muslims to settle in the U.S.A., and ask foreign Muslims resident here to leave, with of course a decent interval to close out their affairs.
We could allow temporary exceptions for diplomatic or commercial purposes, or in the case of real, credentialed scholars, or persons who have performed dangerous and difficult services on behalf of our country, or wives and dependent children of citizens; the suggestion is that we decisively turn our faces away from entry of any other Muslims.
If you say that in the public square you are denounced for bigotry and hate; but that, like so much of our public language nowadays, is infantile. I favor the suggestion I just spelled out; but I don't mind Muslims or Islam. I certainly don't hate them or it.
I have argued this at length more than once. Here I was ten years ago, for example, also on National Review Online, after some exchanges with famous Islamophobe author Robert Spencer, cut'n'paste again:
A fighting faith is of course a proud faith, and nothing pumps poison into the bloodstream like pride brought low. Inside every Muslim today there is a voice whispering [inner quote]: "Our faith is so pure and true, our civilizations lasted so long and ruled so many, our God was so potent: yet here we are in the modern world, backward and poor except where accidents of nature have blessed us, our rulers corrupt, our culture mocked or ignored, our people squabbling among themselves, or fleeing the homelands to work as taxi drivers and menials in the great glittering cities of the infidels, those homelands themselves part-stolen by the wretched Jews. It's all wrong, wrong, wrong! Grrrrr!!!" [End inner quote.]End cut'n'paste.
That's the Islam we're up against. I don't myself believe we can do much to reform it. Muslims have to do that for themselves. Any helping hand we reach out will be spat upon. While they sort out their problems, though, I do think we should keep Islam at arm's length, for our own safety. Keep 'em out; fence 'em off; send Muslim visitors home; keep a wary eye on Muslim citizens.
Leave them the consolations of their faith, though; stop trying to convince me that there is no good at all in that faith; and, if you're the praying type, pray that the good will prevail at last.
Is that hateful? I don't see it. The title I gave to that piece was "Islamophobophobia." I was expressing my mild aversion to Islamophobia, and to Islamophobes like Robert Spencer … who, by the way, I also don't hate. He strikes me as a decent sort of chap, but with a bee in his bonnet. Can't we do anything about this childish usage of the word "hate"?
The policy I'm suggesting is of course discriminatory; but as I and everyone else on our side of the issue has been saying for years to anyone willing to listen, the entire point of immigration laws is to discriminate: to discriminate between people you want entering your country, and people you don't.
Nobody thinks there are none of the latter. Even open-borders cranks would keep out, for example, known criminals on the run. At any rate, I assume they would. If they wouldn't, they're over the line from crankiness to madness.
I was arguing there — and wouldn't retract a single word now, ten years later — that while the Islamic world is in the condition it's in, while it's afflicted with the common psychopathologies we see expressed in cases like Mr Saipov, we shouldn't give visas to any but a tiny number of Muslims.
That's not hatred, that's prudence. I certainly don't hate Islam. To hate it, I'd need to have an informed opinion about it.
Robert Spencer does hate it, and does have an informed opinion. He's read the Koran, in the original classical Arabic. Should I take him as an authority figure, and hate Islam along with him? I decline to do so, for reasons I spelled out at length when reviewing one of his books. I decline to have an opinion about Islam.
A thoughtful, responsible citizen is not obliged to have an opinion about everything. To have a properly informed opinion about Islam I'd have to read the Koran. I refuse to do so. I have tried reading other people's scriptures. I had a go at the Bhagavad Gita once — hoo-ee! I've tried the Book of Mormon, too. Sorry, and no offense to anyone — certainly not Hindus or Mormons — but life's too short.
There is a Taoist bible, did you know that? Yes, the Taoist religion — not to be confused with Taoist philosophy, of course — the Taoist religion has a bible, the Daozang. It's very big — fifteen hundred volumes, tens of thousands of pages. You can buy an English-language companion to it, with thumbnail descriptions of all those volumes. That companion book is a mere eighteen hundred pages long.
I have no plans to read the Taoist bible, nor even the companion book. I wouldn't read it even if Taoists were blowing up people at marathons or pop concerts, or mowing down cyclists on bike paths. I feel no necessity to have an opinion about religious Taoism.
If Taoists were doing those horrible things, though, I would raise my voice in favor of U.S. immigration laws discriminating strongly against Taoists. Why wouldn't I? That would just be a sensible prudence.
Not hate; prudence. They're different things.
Those are accurate statements, so far as I know. They wouldn't have been very controversial prior to this summer's spasm of hysteria over historical statues. They were not very controversial when President Eisenhower had a portrait of General Lee in his White House office. As Ike pointed out when someone grumbled about this, the constitutionality of secession was an open question in 1861.
Lee was not a fan of secession. Once it was a fait accompli, though, he had to choose his loyalty, state or nation. As General Kelly said, he chose his state, and acted with unfailing courage and dignity in defense of that cause. And defense it was: As Southerners tell you, the Confederates didn't want to take over the U.S.A; they wanted to get out of it.
And as historian Gene Dattel points out in his new book Reckoning with Race, if toleration of slavery is the touchstone, we had better get busy renaming Washington Square, Madison Avenue, Yale University, the innumerable places and institutions named after Ben Franklin, and so on.
Even some neocons came to the defense of Generals Kelly and Lee — Ralph Peters in the New York Post, for example. Edited quote from him:
Now we're re-fighting our Civil War with neo-Stalinist, fact-purging propaganda that makes cartoon villains of the dead. We rush to tear down statues of men we refuse to understand. We rob one group of citizens of their heritage to please another …End quote.
Lest I sound like a Southern sympathizer, let me state that my sentiments are pure Yankee. I lost an ancestor who wore blue and recently visited his grave in the National Cemetery in Beaufort, SC.
As Colonel Peters implies, we are seeing a deliberate revival of sectionalism, a wilful re-opening of wounds we thought were long healed.
This is not, like mid-nineteenth-century sectionalism, strictly geographical. To be sure, maps of last year's election results down to the county level show blue oases — mainly coastal and urban — in a sea of red, but the old South, the Confederacy, is not especially red.
This new sectional division is all over. Like the old one, it's mainly whites against whites, with other races in supporting or auxiliary roles. That's why I've been calling our current cultural conflict the Cold Civil War. Today's Johnny Reb, though, is as likely to be a Minnesota machine-tool operator as an Alabama farm boy, as likely to be a computer programmer in New Jersey as a stevedore in New Orleans. The dividing line between the sections is no longer the one drawn by Mr Mason and Mr Dixon; nowadays that line runs through every state, every town, perhaps every street in the nation.
The passions are as strong as the old sectionalist ones, though. Have you had one of those encounters with a person you didn't know well, where it somehow emerged that you are a Trump supporter, and the other person flushed angrily, pursed her lips, perhaps said something vituperative, then turned on her heel and stormed off? I had one just the other day.
The awful thing — I don't think it's a stretch to say the tragic thing — is that those fomenting this new sectionalism, by for example striving to demonize, or re-demonize, figures like Robert E. Lee, are un-stitching a fabric that was sewn together, very deliberately and painstakingly, by Americans who had actually been through the Civil War.
I'm indebted here to a friend who has just recently lent me a book I did not know about, title The Road to Reunion, 1865-1900 by Paul Buck, published around 1923. It is, simply, the story of that stitching together — as the author says in his introduction, quote: "The history of how two bitter foes were reconciled, two rival societies harmonized."
The aspect of this stitching-together that is I think best known, and which I already knew, was the failure of the movement for treason trials after the Civil War, and the release after two years' imprisonment of Jefferson Davis. His bail was posted by prominent Union figures and abolitionists like Horace Greeley and Cornelius Vanderbilt.
One of the most moving passages in this book concerns the last days of Ulysses S. Grant. I'll quote at some length, quote, following some words about Grant's desire for peace between the sections:
From this point of view, his presidency was a failure, the magnanimity of Appomattox giving way to the excesses of Reconstruction. But in retirement the sturdy qualities of the soldier reappeared. There was something about Grant which suggested indifference to petty quarrels, the bigness of a man who once having fought deplores the indulgence of continued strife. His life closed as did his Memoirs with a fervent prayer for good feeling between the sections. Gradually succumbing to an incurable disease his tranquil and manly fortitude at Mount McGregor won the sympathy of the nation. Throughout his suffering he gave evidence of a hearty and unreserved friendliness toward those who had fought against the Union. The magnanimity of his last words revealed a spirit which went far in composing lingering differences.End quote. One of the observers described that spectacle as, quote, "the virtual conclusion of sectional animosity in America," end quote.
He would not have been displeased, therefore, had he been able to witness the union of the sections around his outworn body. The entire country felt the bereavement of his loss. Distinguished Confederate generals wearing gray sashes served as pallbearers with leading officers of the Union army. The spectacle was striking and sincere.
That was in 1885, twenty years after the war's conclusion. That was the fabric of national unity stitched together so carefully by the Civil War generation.
Now it is being unstitched. That's the meaning of this renewed hostility to the Confederate flag, to monuments of Lee and Jackson, even to the banning of that fine American book and movie Gone with the Wind.
We are seeing the rise of a new sectionalism, a sundering of what our great-grandfathers so painstakingly put back together.
The agitators who are doing this are driven by a poisonous and fanatical ideology, to which the very idea of a nation is hateful. Americans who love their country and want to see it carried forward to the future whole and healthy, should resist these agitators with all our might.
Imprimis: This coming Tuesday, November 7th, is the centenary of Russia's October Revolution. The Bolshevik takeover happened in October on the old Julian calendar; the revolutionaries switched their country to the newer Gregorian calendar, which had got ahead of the Julian by thirteen days.
So next Tuesday is an appropriate day to reflect on the horrors and cruelties of Soviet communism. It is also, though, election day in New York; and the communist mayor of New York City looks set fair to win another four-year term, to the city's everlasting disgrace.
It's not that Bill de Blasio faces no credible opposition. The Republican candidate for mayor, Nicole Malliotakis, is smart, capable, and experienced. She'd make an excellent mayor.
The problem is that ordinary New Yorkers don't vote. De Blasio was elected on a 24 percent turnout. There's no reason to suppose turnout will be any better this time around. It may even be lower, since local media have been pounding it into everyone's head that de Blasio's re-election is inevitable.
That leaves the decision to block-voting by the city's public-employee unions, whom de Blasio has bought off. He's their creature and other New Yorkers don't much care.
I guess we should be thankful at least that New York City doesn't have any kulaks for de Blasio to persecute, exile, or murder.
Last week I had a segment on "Real estate and the National Question," in which I bloviated for restrictions on the ability of foreigners to buy up American real estate.
A friend who lives in New York City drew my attention to a news story from October 29th, headline: Russian oligarch buys 4th townhouse on street as slap in face to de Blasio, end headline.
The story is, that Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, estimated net worth $9.6 billion, and one of the powers behind the ascendancy of Vladimir Putin twenty years ago, has surreptitiously bought the townhouse at No. 9 East 75th Street in Manhattan. Since he already owns Nos. 11, 13, and 15, Abramovich now has four in a row, total market price close to a hundred million dollars. Presumably he'll combine them into one grand townhouse, the grandest in the city.
Why is this a blow to Mayor Bill de Blasio? Because Bolshevik Bill wept when the U.S.S.R. fell apart, and has hated everything that's happened over there since. He has described oligarchs like Abramovich as people who, quote, "basically stole the wealth of their country with the help of their government."
That is actually true; but it was just as true of the Soviet Nomenklatura; a thing of which, if de Blasio ever deigned to notice it, he would never had uttered a word in criticism.
I may as well note that Vladimir Ilyich de Blasio owns properties in tony Park Slope, Brooklyn, total current value close to four million dollars, and he charges steep rents for them. On his primary residence there, which he left to go live in the mayoral mansion, he charges $4,500 a month.
Isn't it great being a Progressive? You just have to say the right things, show up at the right events, send out the right virtue signals, and the rest of the time do as you damn well please. You could ask the late Leonid Brezhnev, or Bill de Blasio … or for that matter, Harvey Weinstein.
It's one I heard in my childhood, from parents or possibly grandparents. The recording here is from 1912. The singer is Billy Williams, an Australian who became a star of the English music-hall circuit at that time — that's vaudeville, to you colonials.
Williams didn't just perform on stage; he got in early on the recording business, too. This was just when sales of vinyl disks were pulling ahead of the older cylinders; Williams recorded on both from 1906 onwards, with great commercial success.
There wasn't a U.K. Hit Parade in 1912; but if there had been, Billy Williams would have been at the top of it. Forty years later, when I was in second grade, his songs were still widely known, heard on radio request programs and such.
Williams died young: in 1915, aged just 37, from a prostate infection. Now I think he's quite forgotten by all but a few eccentrics like your correspondent here. Let us pause a moment for melancholy reflection on the fragility of life and the transience of fame … OK, that's enough.
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Billy Williams "When Father Papered the Parlour."