I put these monthly diaries together from things I’ve jotted down as they occurred to me through the month, in approximate chronological order.
At the time this diary goes up on VDARE.com at the beginning of June, all the news is about the anti-cop and anti-white riots. Those riots didn’t start up until the last few days of May, though. The few things I had to say about them in May, I put into my May 29th podcast. I shall have more to say on the topic in my June podcasts and diary.
So this May diary is riot-free. It’s not about the riots. This is either (a) a serious dereliction of commentarial duty on my part, or (b) a welcome relief to readers from all the riot coverage. You be the judge.
It is now well-nigh certain that in November we shall elect a President aged either 74½ or almost-78. There’s been surprisingly little comment about this.
My opinion? I think it’s awful. Speaking from my mid-seventies, I don’t want anyone my age running the country.
Charles Murray (age 77) agrees. On Twitter, he writes:
The Presidency … done right is too demanding for people over 70. They’re too far past the peak, intellectually and in terms of energy. Some can still do a good job. But not as good as they could have done at 50 or 60.
Murray lets loose his inner quant:
From 1900-1956, the age range when first elected was 46-62 with 7 of 10 in their 50s. From 1960-2016, it was 43-70 with only 4 of 10 in their 50s. https://t.co/gpL1VeuYuu
— Charles Murray (@charlesmurray) May 27, 2020
It’s not just cognitive decline, although that is surely in play with Joe Biden. At our age you just don’t care so much about the public world and its follies. Why should you? You’ll soon be out of it.
Oh sure, you may get another twenty years or so; but twenty years isn’t what it once was. You think of something that happened twenty years ago, and: “Was that really twenty years ago? Seems like just yesterday …”
And yes, you care about your kids, and the world they’ll live in. That’s an essentially private sort of caring, though. To hold it steady in the context of large national affairs demands a level of mental abstraction no normal person can keep up for very long.
Furthermore, as the actor Quentin Crisp observed: “At the end of the run, you can overact outrageously.”
In our nation of a third of a billion, isn’t there some experienced, sensible, politically-savvy, fifty- or sixty-something executive one of our two big parties could have chosen as a Presidential candidate? No? Really? This is very strange. Isn’t it?
(Perhaps I should have omitted that Quentin Crisp quote. You never know who’s reading.)
A friend, native to Southeast Europe, recently moved to Ireland. He sent me a lengthy report on the place. Some extracts:
The Irish are predominantly kind and friendly people. Except for the horrendous underclass that one meets on the streets of Dublin, I can say that almost all of my interactions with the native population were positive. Having worked a stressful job back home, this whole thing feels like an extended holiday—and a large part of it is the calm temperament of the Irish people …
On the other hand, this is the most pozzed country in the world. If Ireland ever was a Catholic country with a rebellious attitude, that part of it is dead. Installation of the new religion has been completed here—diversity, multiculturalism, equality, feminism, those are the new gods …
The largest event in Dublin is the Gay Pride Parade … Abortion is practically celebrated as a new sacrament. They are obsessed with talking about it …
We have a health section on the internal web of the company I work for. Hoping that I’ll find some useful info regarding additional health insurance there, I discovered that most articles are about fighting depression, sitting comfortably in your computer chair, raising a child in a same-sex marriage and dealing with gender reassignment surgery …
The term “wife” is slowly being replaced by “partner.” Women are far less charming and far more bossy around here. I ran my mouth after a couple of beers at a company Christmas party and found that men here are completely neutered: they find my Balkan jokes demeaning to women and my remark that “chicks backpacking through dangerous parts of the world is just stupid” was deemed to be hypocrisy and double standards …
In the civil service department where I spend most of my days there’s a canteen with a telescreen. I am not joking—the largest television I have ever seen, displaying how diverse and inclusive this company is, with all the smiling faces of gays, blacks and overweight women loudly bragging about how supernaturally wonderful it is to work there. The volume never goes down …
I’ve been taking an evening course in event management in my free time, something that I had both interest and some work experience in for a while. I’m a guy in my mid-30s hanging around 19-25-year-olds, and I expected us to sip pints and talk nonsense after the class and then I’ll leave them to get wasted because I have to work in the morning.
How wrong I was. There is really something different about these youngsters today.
The teacher is a fat feminist and about 50 percent of the lessons are about the importance of diversity, inclusion and equality. Only I seem to notice that there’s something odd in such a massive adoration of political slogans.
Constant warnings about using plastic cups for water coolers and on events we will be organizing in the future. Constant warnings about climate change and polluting the oceans, and how we are damaging the developing countries with all our waste and we owe them help because of that …
I believe that the reason why Ireland has gone so far down the road of insane leftism is because they are provincials of the US Global Empire. As an English-speaking country, the fact that Ireland was a rustic Catholic country for so long is a symbol of shame. The Irish are distant inhabitants of outer provinces of USGE and they must prove their loyalty to the progressive ideology far more than some other country where the process was started earlier …
In that regard, Ireland seems to share the same sickness with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Their elites are glowing with joy whenever they receive some kind of recognition from the more central and higher-status organs of Polygon Progressivism. They don’t want to be backward peasants and hacks, they want to be proud provincials. The greatest reward for them is having the New York Times writing an article on how well their ideological struggle has gone, about equal to getting a blessing from the Pope himself in the Middle Ages. This country is doomed.
As a side note, I visited England twice while being here … If England is dead, there’s still some flesh on that carcass. There is a special kindness, spirit and humor to your people, and I must say I found them generally a better company than the Irish.
Thanks, pal. The transformation of Ireland this past fifty years from a deeply conservative, devout, poor-but-proud rustic nation—the priest-ridden potato republic—to the Heart of Wokeness has been simply astounding. It belongs in a book someone might write (publishers: I can be reached via VDARE.com) about other similar overnight transformations:
- Meiji Japan a hundred years previously, turning itself from a feudal nation uninterested in the outside world to an industrialized imperialist power.
- Atatürk’s dramatic modernization of Turkey following the collapse of Ottoman rule after 1922.
- The savage Magyar horde of steppe nomads becoming the Christian Kingdom of Hungary under Géza and Stephen after the Battle of Lechfeld.
History does not proceed at a steady pace.
I have for many years been airing my suspicion that Uruguay is one of those “small, quiet countries you never hear about, where nothing much happens and the citizenry chug along in cheerful prosperity, enjoying as much happiness as the human condition will allow, minding their nation’s own business, and grateful for its obscurity.”
Well, I have a new recruit to the cause of Uruguay-boosterism: dissident psychologist James Thompson over at The Unz Review. Here he was, posting on May 20th.
James’ main point is to tell us how well Uruguay has coped with the coronavirus outbreak. His introduction, though, is very Derbish.
Uruguay is a small country on the eastern coast of South America between Argentina and Brazil. Mostly European in demographics, it was long considered the Switzerland of South America because, fearful of the usual local tendency towards dictatorship, it shared power in a plural executive, was early in separating Church and State, in giving votes to women, allowing divorce, and generally being sensible. It has low corruption, high press freedom, a democratic tradition which survived a 70s lapse into military dictatorship, and no terrorism, a good standard of living, and an excellent standard of beaches. In fact, think of a 400-mile beach with an excellent farm attached.
Is it too late for me to learn Spanish, I wonder?
I have mentioned before my mother’s use of nurse words, one of which was “cachectic,” which is medical jargon for “looking really unwell.”
(My mother pronounced it with an English “ch,” as in “much.” An American friend with medical training tells me, however, that the “ch” is pronounced Greek-style, as in “mechanic.” Webster’s Dictionary agrees. I don’t know whether this is a British-U.S. difference of opinion, or a change over the decades—Mum did her training around 1930. I favor the English “ch” just from filial piety.)
If you want a living illustration of the adjective “cachectic,” I offer you Dr. Barbara Ferrer.
Dr. Ferrer is the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Mid-May. Passing through the dining-room on my way to the downstairs study, I catch the smell of lilac. My lady has a lilac tree in the back yard. She has snipped off some branches and put them in a vase on the dining-room table.
The smell of lilac is exceptionally evocative for me. Lilac was a favorite of my mother’s. We had lilac in our back yard in Northampton seventy years ago. I played happily under that little tree for many hours. It was a very little tree, just barely not a bush; but then, I was a very little person, just barely not an infant.
Settled at the computer in my study, I commence browsing the day’s news for snippets to use in my weekly podcast. One that catches my eye is at the Daily Mail website. There among all the inconsequential gossip about celebrities, Royals, and politicians is this little gem:
My Lancaster saved my life: 19-year-old rear gunner Ron Needle had the loneliest and deadliest job of the war—and one night 20,000ft over Munich, disaster struck, sparking a breathtaking survival story
May 16, 2020
It’s a WW2 story. The Lancaster was a British bomber, used during the last three years of the war in the great allied air raids on Germany. WW2 historian John Nichol has written a book about the Lancaster, publication date May 16th. This Daily Mail piece is extracted from the book.
That headline gives the essence of what happened to Ron Needle (who died last August aged 95). His story is not exceptionally remarkable, as war stories go; but it’s a reminder of how appallingly dangerous it was to be bomber crew. It was in fact a fifty-fifty life. John Nichol:
The average age of the seven-man crew was a mere 22. Of 7,377 Lancasters built during the war, over half were lost to enemy action and in training accidents …
Of the 125,000 men who served in Bomber Command, just under half were killed flying missions.
The scent of lilac still in my nostrils, a chain of neurons is firing deeper, deeper, …
Seventy years ago in England the war was still close, the memories vivid, the music still played. Especially popular were songs that expressed a yearning for normal life, when all the horrors and dislocations of war would be over: When the Lights Go On Again, The White Cliffs of Dover, I’ll Be Seeing You.
Those were originally wartime songs, to be sure. Everyone’s life has spells of misery and chaos, though. At such times the longing for restoration of a peaceful, stable normality is powerful, and these songs still speak to it. They easily survived into peacetime: Jo Stafford’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” (actually written in 1938, but raised to popularity by the war) has nearly two million hits on YouTube, suggesting an appeal far wider than just octogenarians who remember the war.
We’ll gather lilacs in the Spring again
And walk together down an English lane,
Until our hearts have learned to sing again,
When you come home once more.
And in the evening by the firelight’s glow
You’ll hold me close and never let me go.
Your eyes will tell me all I want to know,
When you come home once more.
After a double whammy like this—the fragrance of lilac, then the war story—those neurons are now firing all the way down to 1940-something.
My sister and I are playing on the living-room carpet in front of a glowing coal fire, my Dad in his armchair listening to the radio—BBC Light Programme—Mum in her chair on the other side doing needlework. George the Sixth is on the throne, Clement Attlee‘s in Number Ten Downing Street, Harry Truman‘s in the White House, Stalin‘s in the Kremlin. From the radio are issuing the voices of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth: We’ll gather lilacs …
OK, so now I’m going to tell you that we’re all yearning for this coronavirus business to end and normal life to resume, just like the folk back in WW2, right?
Not really. Yes, there is some of that yearning-for-normality going round; I catch bits of it in conversation now and then. Still, a parallel between WW2 and today’s events would be facile.
This new flu is nasty all right, and I certainly wouldn’t make light of it. Proper sympathy is due to the afflicted and bereaved, to those suffering the misery and dislocation of unemployment, or the disappointment and despair of losing a business built up through years of struggle, plans, hopes, and sacrifices. I wouldn’t withhold an ounce of that sympathy.
Still, we are not living through a worldwide cataclysm of destruction and death, as my parents’ generation did. It would dishonor their memory, it would be impertinent, to draw parallels with our current problems. Our world, virus and all, is far more comfortable and secure than theirs.
A fifty-fifty life? As best I can figure, even for me—a geezer with a blood condition—the risk of dying from COVID-19 is no more than zero point something percent. For healthy 19-year-olds, like Ron Needle climbing into the rear gun turret of his Lancaster, it’s zero point zero zero something percent.
And while I’m no keener on dying than you are, dying under sedation in a modern hospital is not to be compared with dropping to earth from twenty thousand feet in a tangle of burning wreckage while listening to the death-shrieks of your friends.
(Nor, taking the other side of Bomber Command’s mission, is sitting at home in lockdown boredom to be compared with crouching in a damp, unventilated, rat-infested concrete shelter while planes fly overhead dropping 4,000-lb bombs on your neighborhood.)
As nation-scale catastrophes go, this pandemic, with all due sympathies and absolutely no offense to anyone, is minor-league.
In my May 22nd Radio Derb I said that China’s national legislature, whose annual session had just begun, is merely totalitarian theater, rubber-stamping decisions made by the ChiCom party bosses. Still, I added, announcements made in these sessions give clues as to what the Party bosses are thinking.
Carefully scrutinized and sensibly interpreted, they can give us the lie of the land.
A friend emailed in to say she’d thought the correct expression is “lay of the land.” Then, checking, she found that this is a British-American difference in usage. Brit-educated English-speakers like me say “lie of the land”; if you’ve had an American education you prefer “lay of the land.”
Thereby hangs a tale.
In the World Wars of the twentieth century, with so many men in the armed forces, Britain had a severe shortage of farm labor. The governments created a Women’s Land Army to meet the problem. It has a write-up at the BBC website. WLA recruits, mostly young, were called Land Girls. There’s a BBC series about them, this picture gives you the idea.
When U.S. servicemen were stationed in Britain during WW2 they were usually on bases in the countryside, with WLA gals working farms nearby. There was considerable GI-WLA fraternization.
Working in the U.S.A. in the early 1970s, I had an American colleague who, thirty years earlier, had actually been on the GI side of that fraternization. He told me that a particularly, er, popular WLA girl would be awarded the epithet “Lay of the Land.”
Did Brit locals get the joke? I wish I had asked.
“Lie” and “lay” are nouns there, but there may be some connection with the very common confusion between the verbs “to lie” and “to lay.”
That confusion seems now to be perfectly transatlantic. The British Daily Mail Online runs regular stories about someone “laying in [for example] the street.” What was he laying? I murmur reflexively to myself. Eggs? Plans? Linoleum? Railroad tracks? If I’m told the subject is “laying down,” the murmur goes: What kind of down? Goose down? Swansdown? Eider down?
Originally, though, the confusion was just American. It must have seeped across the Atlantic when I wasn’t paying attention.
I know this because the movie musical Oklahoma! was a huge hit in England when it reached us in 1956. It was particularly a huge hit with my sister, who got a long-playing record of all the songs. When you have a two-years-older teenage sister with a record-player and a favorite LP, there is no way to avoid being imprinted for life with all the lyrics therefrom.
One of the Oklahoma! songs, “Pore Jud Is Daid,” includes the lines:
Pore Jud is daid.
A candle lights his haid
He’s layin’ in a cawfin made of wood.
I knew, at age eleven, that was wrong. Pore Jud wasn’t layin’, he was lyin’, and that’s no lie … sorry, sorry. Hence my reflexive murmuring down to the present day.
Possibly some local dialects in England use “lay” for the intransitive verb; American usages often have their roots in dialect British English. My local dialect didn’t, though; and by 1956 I was anyway embarked on my secondary education at a good academic school where dialect speech was not tolerated. The lie-lay distinction was perfectly clear to me.
The lie-lay confusion infects foreigners trying to master English. My wife, a native speaker of Mandarin, is fluent in English, with a bigger vocabulary than most Americans, but she still confesses insecurity about “lie” and “lay,” especially in the imperfect and perfect tenses.
I grumble back at her about the problems facing learners of Chinese, in which a one-syllable word can have many unrelated meanings. The Chinese word that sounds like English “lie” means “come” and hardly ever anything else. The word that sounds like “lay,” however, can mean “tired,” “thunder,” “teardrop,” “category,” or “accumulate,” all in common usage, with half a dozen less-common meanings.
Among those latter you’d think would be the Chinese word for a Hawaiian lei, the flower circlet. Off to my English-Chinese dictionary.
lei, n. 花圈
(Supplementary, just-barely-relevant recollection. I first encountered the word “lei,” for the Hawaiian thingy, at about the same time I was being imprinted with the lyrics of Oklahoma! I had discovered science fiction and fantasy, and read the Fredric Brown short story “The Angelic Angleworm,” which gets considerable mileage out of “lei”—not only the Hawaiian sort, but also the Romanian monetary unit, singular leu, plural lei or ley, currently trading at 4.36229 to the dollar. Also “lye,” and the noun “lie,” … It’s a cute story, although for full comprehension you need to know something about Linotype mats.)
Linotype … newspapers ….
My morning New York Post the other day came delivered with, inserted in its pages, an envelope from AARP. Special Offer Inside, it promised. FREE GIFT For New and Renewing Members.
Just another reminder that having a daily newspaper delivery, ink on paper, is nowadays a geezer thing. If I walk my dog early I can see which nearby driveways have newspapers waiting in them. It’s the older cohort of neighbors. Does anyone under fifty still get a newspaper delivered?
Spring-cleaning my attic earlier in the month, I turned up the issue of the Post from December 31st, 1999, which was a Friday. My wife had saved it as a memento.
Browsing in it, I was struck by how much more content there was. For comparison I checked against the edition for May 22nd, 2020, also a Friday.
For one thing, the paper was just physically bigger twenty years ago: 88 pages, size 11¾ inches by 14¾. Now we’re down to 48 pages, 11 inches by 12. That’s a nearly sixty percent reduction in print area.
On a quick leaf-through I tallied the following breakdowns of pages, consolidating part-pages into appropriate categories. For 1999:
- 11 news
- 2 gossip
- 32 ads (including show and movie listings)
- 2 opinion
- 5 business
- 15 arts & entertainment
- 19 sports
- 2 comics & games
- 12 news
- 1 gossip
- 6 ads (including show and movie listings)
- 3 opinion
- 3 business
- 8 arts & entertainment
- 14 sports
- 1 comics & games
The biggest difference there is of course in ads. Some of that is virus-related. In 1999 full-page ads for department stores—remember department stores?—and supermarkets showed up every few pages; Macy‘s had a double spread. The 2020 Post has just one such ad, for Gristedes (a local supermarket chain).
Print-newspaper ads have been dwindling for years, though, along with the readership. The 1999 Post had a page and a half of classified ads; that has shrunk to a quarter of a page.
It is of course pointless to mind this. I do mind it a little, just because I have a lifelong habit of reading a newspaper at breakfast and I don’t want to change my habits. The world moves on as it must, though, and there are way bigger things to mind about.
And some things are eternal. Ambition, for example.
On the recommendation of an acquaintance, we rented Justin Kurzel’s 2015 movie version of Macbeth.
I know the play pretty well, having taken and passed an examination on it at age fifteen. If you buy me a drink I can still declaim the “To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow” speech from Act Five, the words of which stirred Kenneth Clark to the observation that:
So I came to Kurzel’s movie knowing the plot. That was just as well. I don’t see how anyone that didn’t could figure out what was happening. The male actors all looked confusingly the same. Is this one Banquo, Macduff, or Macbeth?
As for declaiming, there was none. The dialogue was all muttered or whispered, decorated sometimes, erratically, with traces of Glasgow accent. The only time Macbeth raised his voice was when uttering his very last word, “Enough!”—mirroring my own feelings at that point in the movie. The splendid fighting lines that come immediately before were all delivered in a breathy whisper.
I will not yield,
To kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet
And to be baited with the rabble’s curse.
Though Birnam Wood be come to Dunsinane,
And thou opposed, being of no woman born,
Yet I will try the last. Before my body
I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff,
And damned be him that first cries, “Hold, enough!”
I understand that movie directors try for atmosphere, but Kurzel tried way too hard. The atmosphere here was as deep and thick as Jupiter’s.
The settings were all wrong, too, in ways that made no sense. Shakespeare’s Macbeth receives King Duncan in his castle: “This castle hath a pleasant seat,” says the king … but not in this production. Here everyone’s living in tents. They couldn’t have rented a castle for the shoot?
Nor does Birnham Wood come to Dunsinane by Malcolm’s men advancing under hacked-off tree branches (“Let every soldier hew him down a bough …”) It just goes up in flames for reasons not explained.
Since you can’t very well make yourself known to occupants of a tent by knocking, all that repetitive knocking in Act Two is omitted. (Repetitive and, yes, very atmospheric: the Bard knew his business.) This meant the entire porter’s scene had to be dropped.
We snickering schoolboys cherished that scene for its early fragment of Sex Ed. Drink, the porter tells Macduff, “provokes and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but takes away the performance.” Useful knowledge to acquire at age fifteen.
So, not for me. I’ll give Kurzel credit for authenticity in one respect, though: Everyone in the movie looks like an 11th-century Scot. Nobody was black, or East or South Asian, or obviously transexual. How did he get away with that?
My worked solution to last month’s brainteaser is here.
Given that the two shaded triangles are equilateral, what is the shaded angle? No, you can’t use a protractor.
John Derbyshire [email him] 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. He has had two books published by VDARE.com com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.