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Here is an old Soviet-era joke, from the subgenre in which dimwitted peasant Khruschev plays Costello to smart seminarian Stalin’s Abbott.

Stalin and Khruschev are touring the East European satellites in Stalin’s personal locomotive.

They are sitting in the carriage chugging along when Khruschev leans over to Stalin and says: “Comrade Yosif Vissarionovich, help me please. I never know which one of these countries is which. Where are we now?”

Stalin: “What time have you got?”

Khruschev, looking at his watch: “Ten AM.”

Stalin: “Well then, according to the schedule this must be Czechoslovakia.”

Time passes. Again they are back in the carriage chugging along. Again Khruschev asks Stalin: “Where are we now?”

Stalin: “What time have you got?”

Khruschev, looking at his watch: “Four PM.”

Stalin: “Then this is Hungary.”

More time passes. Again Khruschev leans over to Stalin: “I’m sorry to be a nuisance, Comrade, but I’ve lost track again. Which country are we in now?”

Stalin: “What time have you got?”

Khruschev pulls back his sleeve to check the time. “My watch! It’s gone!”

Stalin: “Ah, then this must be Romania.”

This joke is a slur on the noble Romanian people, whose hospitality I once briefly enjoyed. My wife also reminds me that her first dentist in the USA was Romanian, and a very fine dentist he was and apparently still is. The stereotype of Romanians as a nation of thieves is, ethnic Romanians are not shy to tell you, the fault of the Gypsies, who are especially numerous in that neck of the woods.

Here I must insert the usual disclaimer for the benefit of readers too feeble-minded to grasp sophisticated mathematical concepts such as “average” and “variation.” I am sure—I have no doubt whatsoever—that there are many worthy and talented persons of the Gypsy ethnicity.

Gypsies in the generality, however, are bad news, working as little as they can while stealing as much as they can. Romanian Gypsies seem to embody the negative side of Gypsyhood in a particularly concentrated form. In Britain, to which they have had some limited access since Romania joined the European Union in 2007, they have specialized in stealing entire houses while the homeowners were on vacation.

(“Anti-racist” hysteria has reached totalitarian levels over there, so the fact of the thieves being Gypsies is rarely mentioned. If you talk to British people, however, you will learn that, as the Brits say, “even the dogs in the street know it.”)

At the beginning of next year, just nine months from now, that limited access becomes unlimited. Romanian Gypsies will then be just as British as the British, or at least as British Gypsies.

Except that they won’t. I lived for 35 years in Britain and don’t recall any news stories about Britons—no, not even British Gypsies—stealing the houses of vacationing fellow citizens. The “squatting” phenomenon has been around for a while, but it targets abandoned or long-unoccupied buildings.

I am speaking here of human group characteristics at the ethnic or national level. Although a deeply unfashionable topic nowadays, peculiarities of national character used to supply much of our humor, from Shakespeare’s comic Welshmen to late-20th-century Polish jokes. National Lampoon did a fine compendium of the underlying stereotypes at about the last moment when it was possible to do so without being hauled off to the Ministry of Love for interrogation.

The concept of national character may be making a comeback, at least in Europe. One recurring theme in commentary on the troubles of the euro this past five years has been the difficulty of yoking the continent’s north and south in a single banking and fiscal system. This, it has been argued, made no more sense than the idea of Silvio Berlusconi being a conceivable Prime Minister of Denmark. A northern fiscal union might have had a chance, people say, with the currency of course named the neuro.

Veteran British commentator Max Hastings was working this theme just the other day, writing about the Cyprus crisis:

It always appeared absurd for the Germans, who — like the British — obey rules, pay taxes and tell the truth in financial documents, to form a financial union with the southern Europeans, who do none of those things, and are never likely to.

It may just be that big nations or unions are not a very good idea, except for purposes of self-assertion. Professor Bauer, in his fine book about the Chinese soul, passes the following remark:

Because of the unification of the empire [in 221 BC] and its division into provinces, the sense of intimacy due to the smallness of a single state gave place overnight to the feeling that one was living in a gigantic dominion governed by a distant capital.

The subsequent history of the Chinese Empire leaves one wondering whether developments might have been happier if East Asia, like post-Roman Europe, had remained a collection of competing small feudal states.

 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: European Union 

At a Library of Congress function some years ago I encountered the well-known British historian Paul Johnson. This was not long after Michael Fumento’s 1990 book The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS came out, and people were still discussing that issue. I asked Johnson whether homosexuality would one day be seen as perfectly normal.

It might, he allowed—but it could also be the case, for all anybody knows, that fifty years in the future we shall be burning homosexuals at the stake: “You can’t second-guess History.”

This may not seem the most obvious reaction to the wall-to-wall triumphalist Main Stream Media [MSM] coverage of this week’s U.S. Supreme Court hearings on gay marriage. But it is worth remembering that pendulums swing both ways.

Of course, it is depressing to compare t he progress made by the patriotic immigration movement with the progress made by homosexual activists.

When VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow published Alien Nation in 1995, twenty states still had anti-sodomy laws on the books. It was a mere nine years since Chief Justice Warren Burger’s opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick: “To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching…” etc.

Now, two further nine-year spans on from 1995, the homosexualist cause has advanced with astonishing speed, to the point where the U.S. Supreme Court is solemnly pondering whether homosexual marriage is required by the Fourteenth Amendment.

If the speeds of advance of the two causes had been reversed, we would still today have anti-sodomy laws in twenty states, but we would have an Israeli-style fence along our entire southern border, a foolproof visa monitoring program, universal compulsory E-Verify, birthright citizenship annulled by either congressional action or constitutional amendment; and, of course, an immigration moratorium.

Talk about being on the wrong side of history!

The contrast is even more striking if you consider that immigration restriction is, or ought to be, a much less emotional matter than sexuality and marriage.

From a viewpoint of, say, thirty years ago an American might have supposed that constitutional accommodation of homosexuality would be fought over with much heat and passion, while the control of voluntary population inflows could be debated in a spirit of calm rationality.

You would expect people to feel really strongly about their teenage sons being taken off on a camping trip in the woods by an openly homosexual scoutmaster. But the requirement for skilled foreign workers ought to be a matter of cold arithmetic.

But well-nigh the opposite has been the case. The public has acquiesced meekly to the normalization of homosexuality, while immigration restriction has been fought with venomous passion.

Why? Possible explanations:

  • Immigration restriction would cost major businesses a lot of money by tightening the labor market. Homosexual “rights” are probably a wash economically.
  • With homosexuals at three or four percent of the population, they are also a wash politically. Just legal immigration at current levels increases the population by three percent—equal to the entire homosexual cohort—in less than ten years. And recent immigrants vote overwhelmingly Democrat, explaining the party’s enthusiasm for Electing A New People.
  • Aversion to homosexuality, while frowned on by the Overclass, none the less has religious sanction, which still counts for something in the U.S.A. Scriptures of the major religions have little to say about immigration (although not quite nothing). This might have worked against the homosexuals and in favor of immigration patriots—except for the dramatic Political Correctness infection of church bureaucrats, especially in the major denominations, which has essentially reversed the effect.
  • Immigration restriction is easily smeared as racism, which has been propagandized over the past half-century as an evil beyond compare, motivated by “hate.” You can work up a thesis that disapproval of homosexuality is likewise driven by “hate,” based on scattered incidents of violence, but it’s more of a stretch, and some “anti-racists” think the comparison is offensive because it trivializes their pet cause.
 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity 

“One in, one out,” my mother was sometimes heard to remark after her regular evening perusal of the Northampton Chronicle and Echo. We knew, without needing to ask, that this was a reference to her favorite section of that newspaper, the “Births, Marriages, and Deaths” columns—the “Hatched, Matched, and Dispatched” in our household’s micro-dialect. Her meaning was that some family we knew had been blessed with a new baby while some other family had suffered a bereavement.

This past week was a bit like that on the patriotic immigration front. We lost one big name, but gained another.

The “one out” was Rand Paul. Was he ever actually in, though? My colleagues think not. He had depressed me, too, with his response to the State of the Union speech in February.

Two and a half years before that I had actually asked Paul face-to-face for his thoughts on immigration. This was during his Senate run in 2010. He had dropped in to the National Review offices to give us face time, as candidates do. (See Ten Things You Should Know about Rand Paul, by Kevin D. Williamson,[July 13, 2010] which doesn’t mention immigration).

I can’t locate any video of the meeting, and all I can find in my notes is:

immigr: not much clue

…but I am a poor note-taker, so that can’t be taken as dispositive as to Rand’s 2010 immigration position.

Paul made his exit from the zone of immigration patriotism—or, if you prefer, made it indisputably clear that he had never really belonged in that zone—with a disgraceful speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

For Senator Paul to speak at all to an organization whose name contains the word “Hispanic”—a bogus ethnicity concocted for political purposes by Nixon-era bureaucrats—was sufficiently regrettable.

But Paul compounded the offense by delivering part of his speech in Spanish. John Quincy Adams refused on principle to use his fluent German when courting German-speaking voters. However, “on principle” is not a phrase that leaps to mind when one surveys the present-day Republican Party. (With a few honorable exceptions.)

Nor does the actual content of Paul’s speech bear very close inspection. One-third of the Spanish-language section was given over to a quotation from poet Pablo Neruda. Like Paul, Neruda served in his nation’s Senate…but representing the Chilean Communist Party. Neruda’s poetry may be first-rate for all I know, and it has often been remarked that politics makes strange bedfellows; but it seems odd for a libertarian to seek inspiration from a recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize.

The rest of Paul’s speech is a drivel of clichés, drawn about equally from George W. Bush’s fatuous “compassionate conservatism” (“we also must treat those [illegals] who are already here with understanding and compassion”) and from the left-activist prompt book (“the struggle for a good education is the civil rights issue of our day”). (In regard to that latter, I note once again in passing the now-routine yoking of the two great soft-headed feel-good fantasies of our time: educational romanticism and immigration romanticism).

Of course, Paul’s defection—clarification, whatever—is a blow to patriotic immigration reform. The man is a national legislator, a United States Senator. He is also an adornment of the Tea Party, which can fairly be credited with the GOP’s 2010 triumph in the House of Representatives. Rand Paul is a serious congressional player, directly and indirectly. That the congressional Treason Lobby has acquired a new recruit is a major reverse for good sense on immigration.

Looking at wider trends, Paul’s defection represents a triumph of globalist, nation-denying neolibertarianism over paleolibertarianism, defined by Arthur Pendleton on VDARE.com as “the once-promising intellectual movement that stayed true to libertarian principles while opposing open borders, libertinism, egalitarianism, and political correctness.”

What made this happen? Did the money people get to Paul?

 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity 
Understanding the fundamentals.

A couple of months ago here on Taki’s Mag I reviewed responses to geek website edge.org‘s Annual Question. The 2013 question was: What should we be worried about? The leadoff answer was from evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, who thought we should be worried about Chinese eugenics. I expressed some skepticism.

Leaving aside my skepticism, which is still intact, and leaving iceberg-avoidance prospects for another time, what exactly are the ChiComs up to?

There is no short answer to that question. This is really complicated stuff. The accounts given in the better-quality US news outlets aren’t bad, but if you want to understand what’s going on, you have to invest a little time in getting to grips with the fundamentals.

How much time is “a little”? Well, 1h33m32s has to be close to the minimum. That’s the length of this excellent presentation given by Steve Hsu at Michigan State University last month called “On the Genetic Architecture of Intelligence and Other Quantitative Traits.” You can even shave five minutes off that: The emcee (who’s not identified but looks like cognitive-science boffin Taosheng Liu) makes a lengthy meal of introducing Steve

I can’t claim that the following notes are a substitute. I simply want to point up some highlights and offer a helping hand to the math-challenged.

That word “quantitative” is a good start. A trait is quantitative if it can vary smoothly across a range (such as height), as opposed to a yes-no trait such as earwax texture (sticky or crumbly) or hairiness of elbows. Height is a handy notion to help you remember what “quantitative” means here. And as Steve says at 11m40s, if the idea that some people are intrinsically smarter than others is intolerable to you—as it is to most well-socialized 21st century Americans—you can substitute “height” for “intelligence” in the rest of the lecture, because intelligence is a quantitative trait, too.

The diagram at 12m22s (slide 3 here) is very informative. The collection of all your genes is your genome; the collection of all your traits is your phenome—how you appear to the world (from Greek phainein, to appear). When, one day, we are possessed of perfect knowledge, we shall understand how our genome shapes our brain structure, how our brain structure shapes our mentation, and how our mentation shapes our abilities, which are part of our phenome.

We are far from that yet, but we can take a shortcut—what Steve calls “a cheap statistical hack” (12m37s) and “just a little bit of math” (1h24m15s)—from the genome to the phenome. Just assemble a large number of subjects with some interesting oddity in the phenome (e.g., they are very smart or tall) and try to find corresponding oddities in their genomes. That’s called a GWAS, a Genome-Wide Association Study.

That’s what these researchers are trying to do, with intelligence as the focus of interest. Previous attempts have been dry wells. As Steve says at 39m56s: “At the genome-wide level of significance so far there are no hits.” That does not mean that genes have nothing to do with smarts. We know from twin studies (30m40s and more pointedly—“It’s almost all genetic!”—at 1h12m18s) that intelligence is highly heritable, so that genes must be implicated. What it does mean is that we haven’t yet used big enough samples, as Steve explains very elegantly at 40m49s. That’s what they’re trying to do.

It’s tough because there are a lot of genes involved. Earwax texture is determined by only one gene, eye color by a dozen or so, and height by hundreds. Each one of those hundreds contributes a teeny bit to shaping the trait, but the most powerful one we know affects no more than three or four millimeters of height. Intelligence is probably like this, but more so: The more genes involved, the less effect per gene.

If you are either kind of creationist, or if your specialty is some pseudoscience such as economics—James Heckman gets unhorsed by Steve at 1h27m32s—you will scoff at all this. (For pity’s sake, don’t send me creationist email, I beg you.) But if you respect empirical inquiry and don’t mind a bit of math, this genes ‘n’ smarts project is worth your attention.

And even if you’re not interested in it, it’s interested in you—and in your kids, your grandkids, and your civilization. Answering a question at 1h19m35s, Steve goes into the Idiocracy zone.

And now modern life has probably flipped the sign, so…everybody can reproduce now, and the smartest people seem to have the most trouble. I’m 46 and I have 7-year-old kids, and I only have two….Anybody, if they wanted to, could have five kids nowadays….

Thence (1h20m15s) to what I am going to christen Neo-Social Darwinism, AKA “survival of the richest”:

In economic history there’s good data on wills and family records in China, medieval Germany and medieval England. You can see that in those days economic success was incredibly correlated with reproductive success…so there was very strong selective pressure even in recent history. But that’s all gone now.

Ron Unz turned his plow into this field over at The American Conservative a few days ago. Ron’s piece is titled “How Social Darwinism Made Modern China: A thousand years of meritocracy shaped the Middle Kingdom.” Well, maybe it did and maybe it didn’t (I had things to say in a follow-up piece); just be sure you’ll be seeing a lot more on these themes over the next few years. As a primer in the underlying science, an hour and a half with Steve Hsu will be time well spent.

 
• Category: Science • Tags: IQ 

I don’t have sufficient experience or knowledge to call myself an Old China Hand, but I can claim to be something of an authority on China punditry—an Old “Old China Hand” Hand, as it were. I think I’ve read ’em all at some time or other in the past forty years, from Matteo Ricci and the Abbé Huc to Bill Gertz and Richard McGregor.

The spectrum of opinion on China and her prospects is, and always has been, very wide. At one end of the spectrum is the “sleeping giant” school arguing that if China can get her sociopolitical ducks in a row and keep them there, she will bestride the world like a Colossus, at least commercially.

This view has deep roots in the Sinophilia that swept 18th-century Europe (and was derided by the unfoxable Sam Johnson). Its present-day proponents include Thomas Friedman and practically all educated young Chinese people..

At the other end of the spectrum are the China skeptics. Forbes.com Asia columnist Gordon Chang holds the current franchise, but he has had many predecessors.

A personal favorite of mine among those predecessors is Rodney Yonkers Gilbert, a Harvard-educated American businessman and journalist who went to China shortly after the 1911 revolution and stayed through the ensuing two decades of chaos. Gilbert’s 1926 book What’s wrong with China is a bracing antidote to Sinophilia; or perhaps, depending on your point of view, a sad record of “China fatigue”—a psychological ailment known to afflict many Westerners who stay too long in that country.

Gilbert leaves no positive stereotype unexploded. The hard-working Chinese?

The Chinese day labourer, working for another at a daily wage without adequate supervision, would furnish a striking cinema picture of slow motion. He will move no faster than he is driven, and it is no exaggeration to say that a dozen Chinese pick-and-shovel men, left to their own devices, will do less work in a week than two white labourers will do in a day.

(On the same theme, here is a scrap from the notes I took while living in China thirty years ago. It is extracted from an article titled “Studying in the United States,” which appeared in The World of English, a bilingual magazine published in Peking for advanced students, January 1983 issue: “Work in general is something that is highly valued in American society. Since hard work is believed to help people get ahead, Americans often work long hours and do not take afternoon naps as we do . . .” My italics.)

Gilbert was experiencing China at the lowest point of a dynastic cycle, though. For a cooler view, somewhere around the middle of the spectrum, I recommend Robert Fortune, an English botanist who traveled around China in the 1840s, in the lull between the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion.

Fortune adopted Chinese dress and spoke the language well enough to pass himself off as a traveler from a distant province. His observations overlap somewhat with Gilbert’s of eighty years later. Both authors, for example, note how extremely rare it was to see a Chinese person reading a book for pleasure—another stereotype exploded.

Fortune is less bombastic and more just than Gilbert, though. Occasionally he is rhapsodic:

I fully believe that in no country in the world is there less real misery and want than in China. The very beggars seem a kind of jolly crew, and are kindly treated by the inhabitants.

One lesson I have taken from all that reading is that it is a mighty difficult thing to make accurate predictions about China. The Chinese themselves are not much good at it, as I noticed in the case of Liu Binyan five years ago. For foreigners it’s a mug’s game.

That game, though—let’s call it the Great China Guessing Game—is irresistibly fascinating to many of us, and new rounds of it are constantly being played.

Especially popular recently are debates about whether China’s managerial authoritarianism is competitive with, perhaps even superior to, the increasingly dysfunctional—and increasingly questioned, both in print and in pixels—welfare democracies of the West.

(To see two knowledgeable Chinese writers sparring on this topic, check out the exchange between Yasheng Huang and Eric X. Li in the January/February 2013 issue of Foreign Affairs.)

Now Ron Unz has put his oar into these murky waters with a piece titled “How Social Darwinism Made Modern China.” American Conservative, March 11, 2013 The great interest of Unz’s article is that it introduces human biodiversity [HBD] a.k.a. race into the argument.

 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: China, Chinese Evolution, Ron Unz 
Things don't change much, until they do.

Nelson Mandela is home from the hospital. The guy is 94 years old and not in bad shape—perhaps illustrating the black-white mortality crossover.

Mandela and I go back a long way. When I started my university education in the fall of 1963, the Student Union at my college was dominated by a leftist faction headed by an economics major named Roger Lyons, who went on to a long career in the British labor movement. The big issue at the Student Union that fall was Lyons’s campaign to elect Mandela honorary union president.

This was gestural. Mandela was already in jail and had surely never heard of the University College, London Student Union. He was the leftist cause of the day, though, and thus he was elected honorary president. To their credit, the college Conservative (as in “Tory”) Society put up a creditable rearguard action, arguing that Mandela was a communist terrorist. They were, of course, right.

Reflecting fifty years later, I marvel at how little change I have seen across large regions of human life. When we are not reflecting, we tend lazily to think that change is continuous, that life in 2013 differs from life in 1963 to the same degree that life in that latter year differed from life in 1913. This is not at all the case.

There is steady change at a low, superficial level, to be sure: Toothpicks and bar soap give way to dental floss and shower gel. At any level much above that, though, the common rule is that a short burst of dramatic change will be followed by decades of stasis.

Consider male clothing fashions. The necktie I wore to a minor local function last night was one my mother gave me for my sixteenth birthday in 1961. True, I am not a fashion plate, but nobody noticed the tie. It’s a plain four-in-hand tie, not a bow tie, puff tie, ascot, kerchief, stock, cravat, or ruff. It took us five centuries to get from the ruff to the necktie, but nothing much was changing for most of those years, and nothing much has changed since the necktie arrived in my grandfather’s time. Karl Marx and Thomas Kuhn got that much right, at least: Most change is sharp, revolutionary, and discontinuous. In between changes, we coast.

In large social and political matters, we have been stuck in a rut since the early 1960s, as Mandela-olatry illustrates. That slight Thatcher-Reagan detour notwithstanding, managerial socialism is still the ruling economic orthodoxy for practical purposes. If Paul Krugman were to be indisposed, we could have the cryogenics lab revivify J. K. Galbraith to write Krugman’s New York Times columns; nobody would notice the difference. One thing that makes geezers such as me weary of politics is that today’s orthodoxies are the same as those of our student days, only now there is no elite opposition.

In the battlefields of sex and race, there is a willed desire to keep the reference frames unchanged. Sandra Fluke desperately wants us to believe in a patriarchal plot to keep the gals corralled into the realm of kinder, kirche, and küche. Sheriff Rainey may have gone to his long home, but in the minds of professional blacks, his spirit walks among us daily. What would they do for a living otherwise?

 

The other lazy assumption about social change is that it all goes in one direction. Here there is actually a case to be made; but if there is indeed a slow-rising monotone across the centuries, there are some mighty harmonic waves imposed on it.

There has recently been a modest rash of news items about habitable planets in orbit around other stars. This started just before Christmas and put me in mind of a story from my sci-fi-soaked adolescence: J. T. McIntosh’s 200 Years to Christmas. (You can buy it in book form.)

The story belongs to the multigenerational starship subgenre within sci-fi that scorns easy copouts about warp drives, Lorentz time dilation, or wormholes in spacetime. In these stories, to get to other solar systems you only have to plod along through interstellar space for a few centuries, with generations living and dying on the ship. This allows for some interesting sociological explorations.

200 Years to Christmas is by no means a stellar [sic] example of the subgenre. (For a better one, try Brian Aldiss’s Non-Stop.) It has serious literary shortcomings even by sci-fi standards. It does, though, contain one interesting idea.

 
• Category: Ideology 

It’s been three months: time for another potpourri of unrelated items.

Assholes. To make up for not reading half as many books as I’d like to, I read about books. An excellent resource is the London Literary Review, of which I remain a faithful subscriber notwithstanding the fact that the bastards haven’t sent me a book to review FOR 22 YEARS.

In the February issue they review a book with the arresting title Assholes: A Theory by philosophy professor Aaron James. From the review, which is by Michael Bywater:

James fingers, among others, Donald Trump, Silvio Berlusconi, Simon Cowell and Mel Gibson. He claims, plausibly, that George W. Bush wasn’t an asshole, but was in thrall to a lot of them, most notably the asshole’s asshole, Donald “Asshole” Rumsfeld….We live under what he terms asshole capitalism: a proposition with which few would argue.

I certainly wouldn’t argue with it, though I would argue with the choice of verb in the first sentence there.

Parsifal at the Met. If you think business and politics are plagued with assholes, check out high culture. Paul Johnson covered some of this ground in Intellectuals, showing us what intolerable assholes Shelley, Tolstoy, Hemingway, et al. were. Johnson’s 416 pages are barely enough to cover just the literary side of the field, though. Picasso was an artistic asshole, Sir Isaac Newton a mathematical one. And then there was Richard Wagner, who discovered and explored entire new continents of assholery.

Wagner’s on my mind because I went to see Parsifal on Saturday at the New York Met. The orchestra and singers were superb, but the director should be run out of town on a rail. His sets were minimalist—bare soil and rock. This makes nonsense of the libretto (“Here in holy forests,” Act One) and the stage directions (“Tropical vegetation; most luxuriant wealth of flowers,” Act Two), all of which were written by Wagner himself. If it’s OK to mess around with Wagner’s stage directions, why isn’t it OK to do the same with the music? Why not have the orchestra play while blindfolded or wearing boxing gloves? Pshaw!

Some nitwit at the Huffington Post calls those sets “thought-provoking.” The thought they provoked in me was that the spectacle would have been more atmospheric if they’d staged the thing in a Walmart parking lot.

Parsifal in 150 words. Most operas have longueurs, but Wagner has more than the average. (“Wagner has great moments but dull quarter hours.” —Rossini.) During those boring stretches I amuse myself by mentally condensing the plot of the thing into a few stanzas of doggerel.

Parsifal concerns the medieval Knights of the Holy Grail and Holy Spear. Here are four and a half hours of opera condensed to less than 150 words. You’re welcome.

Act One
Knights guard Grail, the Spear’s gone missing:
Stolen while the Prince was kissing,
Then used to give him wound that’s cruel,
Which none can heal but virgin fool.

Female messenger is mocked.
Swan gets shot; the knights are shocked.
Knights assemble, worship Grail.
Shooter joins them, hears Prince wail.

Act Two
Spear’s in wizard’s castle tower.
And messengeress is in his power.
He tells her to use charms upon
The teenage fool who shot the swan.

She tries her best, but kid gets smart;
He’s immune to all her art.
Grabs the wizard’s holy Spear —
Wizard, castle disappear!

Act Three
Years pass. Fool gets back to knights.

Grail’s power denied, they’re sorry sights.
Racked by wound, Prince wants to die.
Begged to show Grail, he won’t comply.

Messengeress sees fool can save her.
Bathes his feet; he shows her favor.
Fool heals Prince’s wound with touch.
Christian allegory, much?

Worries. Following my January 17th column titled What, Me Worry? I got a few emails from readers wanting to know what, if anything, I really do worry about.

As a temperamental fatalist I can’t be much of a worrier, but I do occasionally find my dark tranquility disturbed by thoughts of calamities that might befall me. As a trained statistician I instinctively rank those calamities by probability, which saves me fretting about asteroid strikes, terrorist nukes, or decimating plagues. All of those are certainly possible, but there are way-higher-probability things just as personally devastating to worry about.

My top three would be: (1) death or maiming of wife or child in a car crash; (2) having a stroke; (3) losing all my savings in a financial calamity. The first is far too common—around 34,000 deaths in the USA last year, five Gettysburgs or ten 9/11s. For the second, there’s some family history. The third is worry-worthy for anyone who believes, as I do, that human events are smarter than human beings and will catch us out eventually.

Horsemeat. It’s been in the news. Why do people mind it? The most sensible man his wife ever met (according to her) had an opinion:

It is not very easy to fix the principles upon which mankind have agreed to eat some animals, and reject others; and as the principle is not evident, it is not uniform. That which is selected as delicate in one country, is by its neighbours abhorred as loathsome. The Neapolitans lately refused to eat potatoes in a famine. An Englishman is not easily persuaded to dine on snails with an Italian, on frogs with a Frenchman, or on horseflesh with a Tartar.
Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland by Samuel Johnson

Reactionary wisdom. When some new fad comes up, we of a reactionary temperament give it a few years to run its course. If it shows no signs of doing so, we grudgingly incorporate it into our lifestyles.

My reactionary wisdom has been vindicated regarding Facebook:

Facebook has made the startling admission that teenagers are becoming bored with the social networking giant.

Thank goodness. Now I’ll never have to bother with the fool thing. Teen enthusiasms occasionally have staying power—Elvis, Monty Python—but that’s not the way to bet.

 
• Category: Ideology 

As you read through a book, as the pages clock by, hints of the author’s underlying attitudes accumulate until, by halfway through the thing, you have a clear picture of those attitudes. In the case of a certain type of author—a person with not much power of imagination or self-examination—you may have a clearer picture of his attitudes than he has himself.

So with Immigration Wars, the new book by Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick. I just got through reading the book on Kindle: the square brackets in what follows refer to locations in the Kindle text.

Yes, there are two authors there, and you can speculate for yourself about who did how much of the writing. But, given that Jeb Bush is an ambitious politician, and that now is about the right time for ambitious politicians to lay down markers for the 2016 election, I doubt there is a single sentence here that Jeb Bush didn’t sign off on—whether he actually wrote the book or not. So I am blaming him for it.

So what insights into this possible 2016 presidential candidate do we get from Immigration Wars?

The main one I got: Jeb Bush just doesn’t like Americans very much.

Immigration boosterism always has a whiff of this about it. “Jobs Americans won’t do”—because they are too spoiled and lazy! “Skill shortages”—resulting from Americans being too dumb!

Bush packs both of those into a single sentence:

It is essential that we have an ample supply of workers both for labor-intensive jobs that few Americans want and for highly skilled jobs for which there are inadequate numbers of Americans with the skills to fit them. [1207]

Business-wise we’re not up to much, either: “Like most immigrants, Hispanics are tremendously entrepreneurial.” [2206] As opposed to those dull, risk-averse non-Hispanic and non-immigrant Americans!

As VDARE.com readers know, this last assertion is demonstrably untrue. Indeed, Bush’s book abounds in long-debunked falsehoods—so much so that, by fifty or so pages in, the well-informed commentator can’t resist doing a search on “44 percent.” Yep, there it is!—“Whereas Republicans had won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote …” [2067]

When not telling outright porkies, Jeb Bush offers assertions superficially friendly to his case, while omitting taboo-related explanatory factors:

El Paso, Texas, is one of the nation’s three largest safe cities.[990]

Yes, because the black population is unusually low: 2.8 percent, only a tad higher than Salt Lake City’s 2.5 percent.

The deficiencies of us actual citizens of the U.S.A. are even spiritual.

Immigrants are unlikely to be complacent about the freedom and opportunity that for them previously was only a dream and was gained only through great effort and sacrifice. Our nation constantly needs the replenishment of our spirit that immigrants bring.[834]

The accumulating impression left by Jeb Bush: Americans are not much good for anything. Only immigrants, with “their energy, vitality, talent, and enterprise”[992] can overcome the lassitude, torpor, mediocrity, and complacency of the native-born.

We get a revealing metaphor here, one that puts me in mind of old Soviet propaganda movies:

When immigration policy is working right, it is like a hydroelectric dam: a sturdy wall who valves allow torrents of water to pour through, creating massive amounts of dynamic energy.[202]

Presumably that is energy that we dull natives could not possibly generate on our own.

How on earth did the nation cope under the low-immigration regime of the 1950s?

How did New England survive two centuries of essentially zero immigration (1640s to 1840s)?

Our failures extend into the reproductive zone:

America’s birthrate has fallen below the level needed to replace the current population.[897]

To keep our welfare programs going, says Jeb Bush, we need a steady flow of immigrants.

The counters to that are well-known to anyone decently well-read in immigration topics. The best-known counter includes the phrase “Ponzi scheme.”

And then there is Mark Krikorian in his 2008 book The New Case Against Immigration. observing that American birthrates might increase if immigration were to be curtailed.

 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity 
Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England, by Roger Scruton

When I mention religion, I mean the Christian religion; and not only the Christian religion, but the Protestant religion; and not only the Protestant religion, but the Church of England.

Thus Rev. Thwackum, the schoolmaster in Tom Jones. That was the 1730s, or about halfway through Roger Scruton’s Our Church. The Rev. Thwackum is drawn satirically, but his smugness was well justified.

The religious passions of the previous century had subsided or been pushed off to inconsequential border territories in Ireland and the North American colonies. The Church of England had been incorporated into England’s unwritten constitution. Her — the gender of that pronoun is explained by Scruton — bishops sat in Parliament. Her clergy, typically younger sons of aristocrats or landed gentry, were comfortably knitted in to the English class system. (“The Church or the Army” was the rule for those drawing short straws in the primogeniture lottery.)

The Church’s core documents, the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, were known at least in part to all educated Englishmen and had lent innumerable phrases to the common language. She coexisted peacefully with numerous Nonconformist sects and with remnant patches of Roman Catholicism. (That “Roman” prefix is necessary in this context: Reciting the Nicene Creed in their Eucharist service, Anglicans declare their belief in “one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”)

Roger Scruton’s book sufficiently covers the previous 200 years of the Church’s history to Rev. Thwackum, and the following 280. Our Church is not really a history, though. Scruton keeps to a chronological sequence, but takes off on long diversions into theology, literature, hymnology, architecture, and entirely personal reflections. The book is, as Scruton says of the Church herself, “a creative muddle.” Possibly some readers will dislike it on that account. For myself, I found it charming, very English.

The Church of England is easy to mock. The English themselves have never taken her very seriously, as that Tom Jones quote illustrates. The silly Vicar has been a stock character in English comedy and satire through Jane Austen and Trollope to P.G. Wodehouse, Benny Hill, and Beyond the Fringe. (“Life is rather like opening a tin of sardines: We’re all of us looking for the key …”) Not just silly either, but also sexually eccentric: choirboy jokes were a staple of playground humor in my own English schooldays.

Not all the mockery is well-founded. Roman Catholics jeer that the Church only exists because Henry VIII wanted a divorce. There is much more to be said than that. Henry’s father had become King after decades of strife over who should succeed to the throne. Henry wanted to ensure a clear succession, for the peace of the nation, but his wife was barren. Scruton: “The refusal of the Pope to grant an annulment of Henry’s first marriage was experienced by the King as a threat to his sovereignty.” Henry was driven by rational statecraft, not — or not only — by sexual boredom.

Henry’s break with the Papacy was, in any case, only the last act in a centuries-long record of restlessness against Roman authority among England’s political elites. The English barons, pushing back after King John’s groveling to Innocent III in 1213, made John sign the Magna Carta, in which the Church is referred to as Ecclesia Anglicana. A half-century before that there had occurred the colorful dispute between Henry II and Thomas à Becket, his Archbishop of Canterbury, centering on clerical immunity to the King’s laws. (Having mentioned Becket, I want to thank Scruton for including the “à,” which is nowadays usually dropped for reasons of footling pedantry.)

Henry’s reforms did not go unchallenged. Among the common people of England there was still much devotion to the Roman religion, which they perceived in terms of relics, images, pilgrimages, fasts, and the doctrine of Purgatory. Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars describes all this in superb detail. It also, however, supports Scruton’s point that “the parish priest, rather than the wealthy bishop” was seen as the true representative of the church. “Heaven is high, the Emperor far away,” murmured the Chinese of old; 16th-century Englishmen seem to have felt the same about the Pope. Given the great piety of the medieval English, noted by many foreign visitors, the surprising thing is how little resistance Henry met. This was, remember, a regime with no standing army or police.

A key point of difference at the intellectual level was the doctrine of transubstantiation, which asserts that the Communion bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ. Anglican authorities were still thundering against this in Queen Anne’s time (early 18th century). Scruton makes much of the dispute, arguing that:

The revulsion that the doctrine aroused among the Elizabethan divines derived not from any rejection of sacraments but, on the contrary, from a desire to retain them — to establish a sacramental church that honestly explained itself to its members. This, in a nutshell, was the Anglican mission, and it began with Wyclif [an Oxford theologian, late 14th century], long before the Reformation had turned the order of Christendom upside down.

I am not sure why transubstantiation is less “honest” or harder to explain than its Anglican competitor, the “real presence” doctrine. As with those centuries of aristocratic restlessness, though, it is useful to be reminded that revolutions, including religious revolutions, are usually culminations of a long process, not thunderbolts from blue sky.

And when Scruton returns to his point about a sacramental church, as he does several times, he clarifies it with each returning. Thus eighty pages later we read of Scruton in the organ loft of the 15th-century English country church whose instrument (it “has one manual, three stops, and no pedals”) he plays. He is musing on the institution for which he is “pumping out” hymns.

The Anglican communion is a form of sacramental religion … in which anathemas and excommunications long ago ceased to have a point. And I rejoice that the Church to which I belong offers an antidote to every kind of utopian thinking. The Church of England is the Church of somewhere. It does not invoke some paradisal nowhere; nor does it summon the apocalyptic destruction of everywhere in the manner of the seventeenth-century Puritans.

That is all very well; but does the somewhere that the Church of England is the Church of, still exist? It is poignant to read Scruton, early in his book — he is writing about the Norman and Plantagenet kings — say this: “Our common law is inimical to laws made outside the kingdom.” Not any more it isn’t, pal. England is currently bracing itself for a flood of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, who from January 1st 2014, under EU rules, cannot be denied entry, common law be damned.

The Church herself has been losing market share for decades. Entire large districts of English cities and towns are under occupation by foreign immigrants who give not a fig for the Church, nor indeed for Christianity. News stories about the installation of the new Archbishop of Canterbury are decorated with gloomy asides about dwindling church membership.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Christianity, Review 
John Derbyshire
About John Derbyshire

John Derbyshire writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His most recent book, published by VDARE.com com is FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle).His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.