Derbtown

Quarterly Potpourri

July 09, 2015

Multiple Pages
Quarterly Potpourri

Advice to investors. In last week’s column “Don’t Sup With a FUP” I offered a golden nugget of life advice to the younger generation:

Avoid fucked-up people.

Now that we know that Greece is the geographical equivalent of Lindsay Lohan, perhaps I should do another advice column, this one addressed to bankers and investors:

Avoid fucked-up countries.

If I do so, I think I’ll avoid the acronym. “FUP” is just about all right for wide circulation, but “FUC”? Eh…

How many EU bureaucrats does it take…? There’s an old Levantine proverb about the relative worldly smartness of the different peoples in that region. Thus:

It takes two Turks to cheat one Greek.
It takes two Greeks to cheat one Arab.
It takes two Arabs to cheat one Jew.
It takes two Jews to cheat one Armenian.

The first line there could use some revision. It probably dates from the Ottoman Empire, when Turks were the thickheaded but well-entrenched local superpower, so lazily complacent after centuries of political-military dominance that it was easy to outwit them.

“Now that we know that Greece is the geographical equivalent of Lindsay Lohan, perhaps I should do another advice column.”

For sure, Greece’s 11 million people had a fun few years there, cheating the heck out of the EU’s other 492 million and all their busy bankers and bureaucrats.

Let’s just hope Armenia never gets admitted into the eurozone.

Life lessons from an elder. My model for last week’s homily was the village elder that Arthur Koestler encountered when visiting newly Sovietized 1932 Turkmenistan.

This patriarch was presented to the foreign visitor to bear witness to the blessings brought by communism to the lives of nomadic goat-herders in the Karakum. He spoke thus:

Now I will tell you the result of my thinking:
A fertile womb is better than the loveliest lips.
A well in the desert is better than a cloud over the desert.
A religion that helps is better than a religion that promises.

I like to think that the life lesson I offered last week might be a tad more relevant to the complexities of modern life than the Turkmen elder’s, as well as crisper and more memorable—but judge for yourself.

Beware of the Kultprop. Arthur Koestler did not speak Turkmen. The patriarch’s words were translated for him by a person Koestler refers to as “the Kultprop.”

Foreign travelers in the U.S.S.R. were assigned a Party minder to make sure that everything they saw and heard was explained to them in terms of the approved narrative. (I had the same deal in post-Mao China. Hi there, Wang Yue!) These minders were employees of Stalin’s Department of Culture and Propaganda, Otdel Kultury i Propagandy. Hence “the Kultprop.”

Seems to me this term is due for revival. What are the diversity and inclusion consultants hired by all our big corporations, if not Kultprops? What else are the resident assistants at our universities, tasked with indoctrinating freshmen with the correct campus ethos of hypersensitivity toward every kind of human difference? What else are the social justice warriors who hounded a harmless young woman from her job for an injudicious tweet? Kultprops, all of them.

In and out with Derb. I’m looking forward to the pictures from the Pluto flyby on July 14. Aside from the intrinsic interest, it’s kind of personal.

Solar-system exploration by robot probes has been a thing of my adult lifetime, quite precisely. I was a 14-year-old science geek when the first images of the moon’s far side came in. Six years later I shared the astonishment of geekdom at large when Mariner 4 sent back pictures of craters on the Martian surface. Craters! We’d all been expecting canals.

Now, 50 years further on, we’ll get images of Pluto. And that’s it for the traditional ennead of planets. (Don’t get me started on the demotion of Pluto.) There’ll be no more major surprises from planetary imaging: unless, as predicted by Koestler—a Hungarian nationalist, at least in matters of cuisine—Jupiter’s Great Red Spot turns out to be a paprika mine.

Taboos of the time. Here on Taki’s Magazine I wondered aloud whether there is a book on the Civil War comparable to Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, which brilliantly traces the effects of WWI on literature and the imagination. A reader recommended James McPherson’s The War That Forged a Nation, so I got a copy and read it.

Not bad, although McPherson’s approach is quite different from Fussell’s. I particularly liked the chapter on Reconstruction, a period almost as fascinating as the war itself, and much less well studied. As with Gene Dattel’s book on cotton, you can’t help but notice how very little interest Northerners had in the fortunes of blacks, whom they mainly wanted to just stay in the South.

Northern patience snapped altogether in 1874–5 as Philip Sheridan ramped up his campaign against the Southern White Leagues.

“People are becoming tired of…abstract questions in which the overwhelming majority of them have no direct interest,” declared the leading Republican newspaper in Washington in 1874. “The Negro question, with all its complications, and the reconstruction of the Southern States, with all its interminable embroilments, have lost much of the power they once wielded.” A Republican politician commented even more bluntly the following year that “the truth is that our people are tired of this worn out cry of ‘Southern outrages’!!! Hard times and heavy taxes make them wish the ‘nigger,’ ‘everlasting nigger,’ were in _____ or Africa.”

The Republicans, remember, were Lincoln’s party, the party of abolition.

Interesting to note that newspapers in 1875 would print the word “nigger” but not “hell.” Every age has its peculiar taboos.

Veterans? Visiting those Civil War battlefields in June, I noticed how old most visitors are, once you subtract out the school parties.

So here’s my question. When—it must occasionally happen—some geezer falls off his perch while at the Gettysburg Visitor Center, or while clambering among the rocks on Little Round Top, do his loved ones then boast that: “My husband/father/grandpa/buddy died at Gettysburg”?

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