July Diary
Asteroids, Tiger Wives, and more.


John Derbyshire

There is no need for Democrats to feel left out here, either. They have their own green-eyeshade hero: Grover Cleveland, whose annualized rate of vetoing legislation was I believe the highest of any president’s: average 73 vetoes per annum. Reagan’s was ten, Coolidge’s nine. George W. Bush’s average was one of the lowest: a miserable 1.5 per annum.

Coolidge’s advice to his father, in a letter dated Sept. 6, 1910, on the occasion of Coolidge Sr.’s having been elected a Vermont state senator: “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.”

I would have those words tattooed by law on both palms of every declared presidential candidate and every state or federal legislator.

Trojan asteroid.   My passing mention of the Trojan War up there is a good enough excuse to note the discovery, announced in the last week of July, of a Trojan asteroid in Earth’s orbit.

Trojan asteroids inhabit two of the Lagrange points that feature in the combined gravitational field when a small object orbits a much larger one. Both points lie on the smaller object’s orbital path. One is 60 degrees ahead of the smaller object, one is 60 degrees behind it. Each point is at the bottom of a gravitational “well” — a region of stable equilibrium in which a tiny object can wobble around forever, like a ball bearing in a wine glass.

The Sun-Jupiter system satisfies the requirements for Lagrange points, and sure enough, tiny asteroids have been found lurking there in Jupiter’s orbit like celestial dust bunnies, 60 degrees ahead of and 60 degrees behind the giant planet. When the first ones were found, over a hundred years ago, it was decided to name them after figures from the Trojan War. The adjective “Trojan” is now used for all objects of this type.

I first learned about Trojan asteroids 50 years ago from one of Isaac Asimov’s columns in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The column was reprinted in Asimov on Astronomy, one of the innumerable collections of those magazine pieces he published. The title of that column was “The Trojan Hearse.”

Doctor Johnson said of Shakespeare that he could never resist a “quibble,” which in Johnson’s time meant a pun. You can say the same of Asimov. The content of Asimov’s pun was that the Lagrange points would be great places for the dumping of nuclear waste. Lagrange points are in the middle of nowhere — by tens of millions of miles — and no one has any reason to go to them. Of course, if anyone did venture into one after the nuclear-waste idea had been taken up and implemented, the result would be lethal, and the adventurer would end up in . . . a Trojan hearse.

Fireworks: creativity needed.
   For once we did not go out to see the local July Fourth fireworks show. We contented ourselves with watching the New York City version on TV.

This wasn’t from any fading of patriotic zeal. Not to watch July Fourth fireworks at all would be a serious delinquency, like not watching the World Series. We have standards here chez Derb. It’s just that the fag of getting the family into the car, driving a mile to the local high school, then walking another mile to the actual fireworks venue because we couldn’t find a parking place any closer, then trudging the same weary track in reverse after half an hour’s ritual ooh-ing and aah-ing among our fellow townspeople, seemed like too much.

The fundamental problem here is that the art of firework displays is unprogressive. All right, I’ll be blunt: You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. Can’t the pyrotechnicians come up with something new to awe and astonish us? Or is this a “finished” art form, the way chemistry is a finished science?

Shutting out dissidents
 I reviewed a 2004 novel by Chinese dissident Hu Fayun for the August 1 issue of National Review. (The novel has only just been translated.)

The novel is rather long — 450 pages plus endnotes — with many incidents, of which I could only take up a couple with which to illustrate the author’s style and themes. Here’s an incident not included in my review.


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