July Diary
Asteroids, Tiger Wives, and more.


John Derbyshire

A key character in the novel is Teacher Wei, an old scholar — born 1919 — of great experience and integrity, with many young disciples among the dissidents. He dies during the 2002–03 SARS epidemic.

Teacher Wei’s disciples have the idea to organize a conference in his memory. A young dissident named Damo agrees to organize the conference.

Damo put out feelers to a new resort in the hill country more than sixty miles away. Business had not been too great for them and since SARS came they had been positively languishing. So when they heard of an activity being planned for 110 people, they were thrilled.

The resort is a nice place:

“We’ve got quite a spot here,” the staff person said proudly. “It appeals to people with good taste. We’ve got electricity but prefer not to use a/c. This is a place for drinking spring water, eating wild herbs, burning firewood . . . Green Tourism! That’s what we’re about.” After coming to an agreement about the cost of room and board, Damo paid a thousand-yuan deposit and considered the matter settled.

All the arrangements are made, invitations issued, presentations prepared. Then:

A mere two days before the conference about Teacher Wei was scheduled to begin, Damo received a call from Purple Rock Mountain Stronghold. They said they’d been notified that they could not host any large gatherings for the duration of the SARS epidemic. They were extremely apologetic about this change, which was beyond their control. If Damo would give them his postal address, they would mail back his thousand-yuan deposit.

Damo hardly ever lost his decorum with strangers, but now he yelled: “Why didn’t you tell me sooner, a[******]! It’s not like SARS broke out yesterday.”

Chaos ensued . . . 

Imagine going to all the trouble of organizing a conference only to have the hotel — a private business! — cancel on you at the last minute under pressure from political authorities.

Adjectives with no opposite.
   Small things annoy me. Very small things. Adjectives with no opposites, for example.

While exploring the Turkish language, I mentioned in this space G. L. Lewis’s compulsively readable Turkish Grammar, from which the following:

§ 38. Word-accent. With the exceptions stated below, Turkish words are oxytone, i.e. accented on the last syllable . . . 

Sure enough, when I go to and look up “oxytone” I get: “(of a word) having an accent on the final syllable.” The root is Greek: “oxy-” meaning “sharp,” “acute,” “keen,” “pointed,” or “acid.”

So far, so good; but what’s the opposite? In Hungarian, most words are stressed on the first syllable. Is there an adjective for that? If there is, I can’t find it. Grrrr.


Gold diggers, Tiger Wives, and Baby Doe.   In the July 22 broadcast of Radio Derb, I passed some remarks on the turnaround in British public opinion about Wendi Murdoch, wife of Rupert, following her defense of hubby in the pie-throwing incident.

Prior to that, Wendi was regarded as an unscrupulous gold digger. She was 30 to Rupert’s 68 at the time they married; their ages are now 42 and 80. Rupert had dumped a faithful wife of 30-odd years to marry Wendi. The lass, of humble Chinese origins, had previously got herself a green card by seducing an American engineer, also married, also several decades her senior.

Then Wendi’s fierce and clearly instinctive defense of her husband transformed her into a Tiger Wife, and the gold digger image has been obliterated. She is now invited to all the best parties.