»  Radio Derb — Transcript

        Friday, December 31, 2010

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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]

01 — Intro.     Radio Derb at your service, National Review fans. This is your sempiternally genial host John Derbyshire to wrap up the year's news for you.

Yes, another year has passed over us. Try to remember to write "2011" on your checks starting tomorrow, especially the ones you send to the Nellie and Danny Derbyshire College fund, payable to me, care of National Review, 215 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10016. "2011," remember.

Just imagine the trouble that the Emperor Augustus must have had wrting his checks when the date swtiched from b.c. to a.d. I bet it took him weeks to get it right. See, just as your mother told you: there's always someone worse off than yourself.

OK, off we go with our survey of the passing charivari this last day of 2010.

02 — The coming collapse of public services.     This first item will sound a tad provincial at first, but maintain your patience: there is a larger point coming right behind.

Up here in the Northeast we were hit with a major snow blizzard Christmas weekend. My own estates here on Long Island were covered with sixteen inches of snow. My gardeners, assisted by Rodney the chauffeur and Andrew my personal valet, had to work all day clearing it. New York City was similarly afflicted — and there's the news story.

Snow plowing in New York City is the responsibility of the city Sanitation Department, who also do garbage pickup and other street cleaning tasks. The Department has nearly 8,000 uniformed employees out on the job — close to one per thousand inhabitants — and another 2,000 doing paperwork. Well, in dealing with that blizzard last weekend, the Sanitation Department did not do well. Our newspapers and local TV news programs were full of horror stories about streets still un-plowed by mid-week, elderly people trapped in their homes, ambulances and fire trucks unable to answer calls, and so on.

On Thursday stories began to appear in the local newspapers telling us that the Sanitation Department's poor performance was the result of a job action by sanitation workers. City Councilman Dan Halloran was visited by a group of whistle-blowers from the department who told him that supervisors were instructing workers to go slow, skip streets, and set plows high so the plows had to make two passes. This was a twofer for the unions. One the one hand, it boosted the workers' overtime. And then, quote from the New York Post, quoting what Councilman Halloran said the whistle-blowers had told him, quote: "They were told to make the mayor pay for the layoffs, the reductions in rank for the supervisors, shrinking the rolls of the rank-and-file," end quote. The Post story was decorated with photographs of sanitation workers snoozing in their trucks.

You see, Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, is looking at a two billion dollar deficit through next June. To address the problem he's cutting city services and laying off workers. In the last two years the Sanitation Department workforce has been cut by 400 trash haulers and supervisors. Effective next week, 100 department supervisors are to be demoted and their salaries cut as an extra cost-saving move. The sanitation workers are not happy, and this is their way of expressing their unhappiness to the Mayor.

So far so provincial. What happened in New York City this week is, though, a harbinger of much worse things to come, not just in New York but all over this country, from sea to shining sea. New York City's two billion dollar deficit is huge, but it's a big city. Plenty of other cities have deficits almost as humongous with fewer citizens. Washington D.C. $688 million, Los Angeles $438 million, San Francisco $380 million, Honolulu $100 million. And those are at least places with some decent tax revenues coming in. Detroit's looking at an $85 million deficit. Paterson, New Jersey is looking at a $54 million deficit on a $225 million budget — the deficit's a quarter of the budget.

Traditionally cities with problems like these have looked to their parent states for a helping hand. Not this year. California's $25 billion in deficit, Illinois $15 billion, New Jersey $10.5 billion. And that's just current deficit for one year's income and expense. When you look at outstanding pension obligations you're in the tens and even hundreds of billions. The managers of state and city pension funds cheat like crazy in their reports, always assuming their investments will return eight percent. Of course, nobody's getting eight percent from today's markets. New York State's stated pension shortfall of $76 billion is thus wildly understated — it's probably more like $120 billion.

What follows from all this? What follows is, huge cuts in public services. If New York City sanitation workers think that laying off 400 trash haulers in an 8,000 workforce is worth a go-slow, and if you think the resulting dislocation is scandalous, wait till they, and you, see what's coming. Michael Bloomberg is a limousine liberal who trims services and ticks off unions only with the utmost reluctance and restraint. Itty-bitty Bloomberg-scale cuts aren't going to close the financial gaps. For a look at the future, check out the city of Camden, New Jersey. Already holding the title of America's second most dangerous city, Camden is laying off half its police force.

Municipal austerity is the wave of the future, coming soon to a city near you. If you live in New York, get yourself a good sturdy snow shovel. If you live in Camden, New Jersey, get yourself a carry permit.

03 — NY Gov. commutes John White's sentence.     That brings us to the commutation of sentence given by outgoing New York Governor David Paterson to John Harris White, who shot dead Daniel Cicciaro back in August 2006.

White, who is black and works as a New York City road construction foreman, lives in Miller Place, a pleasant middle-middle-class suburb just down the road from me in Long Island. On that evening in 2006, White's 19-year-old son Aaron had been thrown out of a party by other teens who thought, mistakenly, that he had threatened a girl. Aaron went home, but some partygoers followed him in two cars. They made a scene in the street outside White's house, and seem to have trespassed into his driveway. White came out with a gun and confronted the teens. Daniel Cicciaro, 17 at the time, got in his face, whereupon the homeowner shot him in his face from three inches away. He claims the gun went off accidentally, but as an English girl said in a more famous case: "He would, wouldn't he?"

White duly went to trial and in December 2007 was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter and unlawful possession of a weapon. In March 2008 he was sentenced to two to four years imprisonment, way less than the 15 years maximum for second-degree manslaughter. He was then freed on bail pending an appeal. The appeal dragged on for over a year, but this past July White was finally locked up. He served five months, then Governor Paterson commuted his sentence, leaving him a free man.

There are two large issues in play here: a citizen's right to defend his property, and race — a black adult shooting a white teen.

On the first, I'm something of an absolutist. If there's someone in my driveway yelling curses at me, and I ask them to get off my property, and they don't, and I ask them again, and they still don't, I think I should have the right to shoot them. A man's home is his castle, or ought to be. White's critics say: "Why didn't he call the cops?" Here's the slogan among us Second Amendment enthusiasts: "Call the cops, call for a pizza, see which one comes first."

And there you see the connection to the previous segment. As slow as your local cops may be today in getting to the scene of a disturbance, they'll be a lot slower in the future, as cities, counties, and states slash their payrolls. If you're interested in protecting your home and your family against unruly elements of the local populace, get yourself some guns and learn how to use them.

That's just me, though. New York State does not take my absolutist position, and under state law White certainly committed a serious crime in shooting Cicciaro. Furthermore, it's not clear Cicciaro was actually on White's property when he was shot. "At the foot of the driveway," is how the location is decribed in all the news stories; so even by Derbian standards, White's conduct was ambiguous.

And then there's the obvious point about race: so obvious I don't need to mention it, but I will anyway. If a white homeowner had shot dead a black teen at the foot of his driveway, he would have got 25 to life and the story would have made headlines nationwide. No governor would have commuted his sentence, most certainly not a black governor like Paterson. Paterson's action was just naked racial favoritism. This kind of asymmetry is so much taken for granted nowadays I'm even starting to hear an ironic name for the system we live under: Jim Snow.

Under the Jim Snow dispensation, a crime like John White's is taken implicitly to be justified by slavery and segregation. Certainly John White played the race card for all it was worth, arguing that two cars full of drunk suburban teens put him in mind of a lynch mob in the Old South. He was of course backed up by the NAACP, Al Sharpton, the Nation of Islam, and every other group of antisocial race-guilt hucksters incapable of useful work.

White compounded these offenses, at least in my eyes, with ostentatious displays of sanctimony, telling us far more than we wanted to know — or, in my case at least, were willing to believe — about his relationship with God, his humility before divine justice, and the many prayers he had offered for the dead boy's soul, and for — wait for it — yes, for "healing." Yo pal: you shot the kid through the head at close range. That doesn't heal.

My suspicions about all this weepy religiosity were fortified when I read that at a Christmas Eve service in a local church following his release, White told the congregation that the very day he learned about the commutation of his sentence, he was studying a part of Scripture that talks about Christ freeing prisoners.

Er, where in Scripture would that be, John? The concordance to my Scofield Reference Bible shows ten references to the words "prison" or "prisoner" in the New Testament. None of them talks about Christ freeing prisoners. The only case of a prisoner being freed in the New Testament, so far as I can recall, is that of Barabbas; but he was released by Pontius Pilate at the urging of the Jerusalem clergy and mob, not by Jesus. If you believe this story of White's, you'll believe the one about the gun going off accidentally.

The pastor at that Christmas Eve service told the congregation, quote: "We are just delighted and happy to have John White and the White family with us. We thank God for all his miracles, and we know that he answers prayers." End quote. Well, Pastor, he answers some people's prayers. Let's just leave it at that. Welcome to Jim Snow America.

Added later:  Several listeners directed me to Luke 4.xviii. Jesus is reading from Isaiah 61.i. My listeners are all nice enough to allow that it's a bit of a stretch under the circumstances. Says one:
In the passage above, the prisoners Jesus is referring to are not lawfully convicted felons serving a just sentence, but the sentence of condemnation placed upon all mankind as a result of the Fall. True, He performed temporal miracles, for example giving sight to the blind, health to the sick and life to the dead, but that was to illustrate the reality of His ministry.

A true release for Mister John Harris White would be for him to confess his crime and make restitution of his actions.

I believe Mr. White's religiosity is just thankfulness in the sense of "Thank God I'm not going to jail."
I appreciate the clemency, but I actually think it's a fair cop. My Scofield uses the KJV, which says "captives," but some other versions do say "prisoners." I was being a bit too clever there.

Another listener directed me to Acts 16.xxii-lx. He says that's a stretch too though, and this time I agree with a clear conscience.]

04 — Khodorkovsky "trial".     Main news from abroad this week was the six-year sentence on Michael Khodorkovsky, the Russian entrepreneur, charged with stealing from his oil company, the now-defunct Yukos. Khodorkovsky is just coming to the end of an eight-year sentence for tax evasion, so this new sentence will keep him in jail till 2017 — well past the next Russian presidential election in 2012, as well as keeping alive the old Stalinist practice of giving inconvenient people another prison sentence if by some administrative oversight they survived the first one.

That's significant because of the widespread suspicion that the Khodorkovsky trial was a frame-up, meant to keep Khodorkovsky out of circulation. When last a free man he'd shown interest in funding rule-of-law political parties and buying media outlets. That didn't sit well with Vladimir Putin, who cleaves to the despotic principle that there can only be one sun in the sky. Putin is the sun, and he intends to keep things that way.

That the trial was a frame-up, the charges absurd, is not in serious doubt. For one thing the amount of oil that Khodorkovsky and his partner have been accused of stealing, $25 billion worth, is equal to the entire output of Yukos for the period in question. For another, Khodorkovsky was the only one of the so-called "oligarchs" — that is, entrepreneurs who got rich in the sell-off of state assets following the end of the Soviet Union — Khodorkovsky was the only one who tried to run his company according to Western standards of corporate governance, accounting transparency, legal due diligence, and employee rights.

The oligarchs were not popular among ordinary Russians, and Khodorkovsky was originally as unpopular as the rest; but now Russians realize that he was an oligarch with a difference, not interested in playing the game the others are playing — the game of kickbacks to powerful bureaucrats, of secret deals and bogus accounting and treating employees like serfs — the game that yokes power to wealth in modern Russia. In a poll this September, only 13 percent of Russians said they believed the charges against Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky himself has behaved admirably, firmly protesting his innocence and treating the trial like the sham it is. That of course makes him more popular and more dangerous to Putin and the corrupt, lawless system Putin has created. For a gangster like Putin, the smart move at this point would be to arrange an accident for Khodorkovsky before he gets even more popular, and in time for people to forget about him well before the 2012 election, in which Putin can run for President again. If Michael Khodorkovsky is still alive at the end of 2011, I'll be very surprised.

05 — Warming-up for 2012.     The downside of 2011 is that it's the year before a year divisible by four. That means that ambitious pols are shuffling into position to run for president the following year. I'll confess I find it all a bit tiresome, way too much politics; but then, I was raised in a parliamentary democracy where the election campaigns last about a month from beginning to end. That's quite enough campaigning for my taste; but I'm an American now and must try to get into the spirit of the thing. So what have we got?

Well, on the Democratic side we've got a sitting President who will undoubtedly run for re-election. Given the possibility of a humongous economic crisis in the next few months, a challenge from within Obama's party is not unthinkable, but in my opinion it's unlikely. Even with the Great Depression well under way in 1932, Herbert Hoover's nomination for a second term was waved through the convention on a first ballot. It's going to be Obama.

The fun will be on the Republican side. The name out front in the discussions is of course Sarah Palin. I like Mrs. Palin as a candidate and would certainly vote for her over Obama. She is politically very smart and could probably handle Congress well. On foreign policy she's a bit too neocon for me; but by 2012 the likelihood is we'll be so broke we won't be able to afford any more missionary wars, so I'm not going to worry too much about that. On immigration she hasn't said much, and the little she's said makes her sound like a squish; but none of the other Republican hopefuls is much better, and some, notably Newt Gingrich, are far worse. I'm just going to hope that as unemployment heads north from ten percent and Mexico disintegrates in gang wars, the zone of enthusiasm for open borders will dwindle down to just La Raza headquarters, Linda Chavez's drawing-room, and the editorial offices of the Wall Street Journal.

The main problem with Sarah Palin, for me and I think for conservatives at large, is the gravitas deficit — the suspicion that she may be a lightweight who'll go native in D.C. The lady has a strong will, that's clear; but a strong will is like the wind in a ship's sails: If you know where you want to go and keep a firm hand on the rudder, it's a great advantage, but if not it will just buffet you all over the map. In the matter of personal character — her work ethic, her devotion to family, her religious faith — Mrs. Palin can't be faulted, but those things don't comprise a clear sense of political direction. Ronald Reagan was an indifferent family man who snoozed through long meetings and rarely went to church, but he had a clear political compass, and it got him where he wanted to go.

The rest of the field is a mixed bag. There are four I'd vote for cheerfully, though with slightly different degrees of cheerfulness.

  • Mitt Romney would probably make an excellent president, but he has the Massachusetts health-care albatross hanging round his neck, and his Mormonism, and his lack of charisma on TV, though in person he is charming and engaging.
  • Mitch Daniels is a smart and serious man with a good track record. On immigration and multiculturalism he strikes me as naive, as a person who just hasn't thought much about those issues and who parrots elite claptrap about "celebrating diversity" when asked, but who'd probably be teachable if we could get him thinking. He has at least said he'd support an Arizona-type law in his state.
  • Marco Rubio I've had a soft spot for ever since salon.com called him "the Latino Clarence Thomas." There's a whiff of opportunism about the guy, which takes us back to the business about having a clear political goal, but as with Sarah Palin, I'm open to being convinced.
  • Rick Santorum's a good ideological conservative but stronger on the social than the fiscal, and fiscal conservatism is what we're in dire need of right now. There are some patches in his record that the mainstream media will blow up into major kookiness, though they seem to me either sound or irrelevant — but he'd be a juicy target for the enemy.

For the rest:  Tim Pawlenty is a sensible fellow, but charisma-wise he makes Mitt Romney look like Alexander the Great. Mike Huckabee is a Social Gospel Progressive who thinks Jesus commands us to have more federal entitlements. John Thune looks presidential, but then that's what everyone said about Warren Harding. Mike Pence distinguished himself four years ago by coming up with an amnesty plan even more divorced from reality than McCain-Kennedy. Haley Barbour comes from Mississippi. Newt Gingrich is a bag of wind.

So there we are. I'm not going to pick a favorite until the field's become clearer. Any of Palin, Romney, Daniels, Rubio or Santorum would get me to the polling booth with a spring in my step. But then of course there's that other candidate who might get me leaping across ice floes in a swollen river to vote: the candidate named A.N. Other.

06 — Currency wars (cont.)     Back in our November 12th broadcast I discoursed on the temptations and perils of competitive devaluation. Cheapening your currency gets you some advantages in the short term, but the side effects can be painful — mainly inflation, and difficulty in getting customers for your bonds with devalued coupons hanging off them. Also, if everyone tries to devalue at once, dire consequences for international trade.

Well, the ChiComs at least are paying attention. They've been doing a lot of quantitative easing of their own recently, trying to keep their currency down against the dollar even while Ben Bernanke is baking up batches of new dollars a half-trillion at a time. The result has been inflation in China. The Chinese are inflation-shy, having experienced hyperinflation within living memory, during the late Republican period in the 1940s. China's economy is also dependent on commodity imports, especially oil, currently nudging $90 a barrel with a secular trend upwards, and one thing inflation does is raise the price of imported commodities in a vicious spiral.

Inflation in China has two particularly obnoxious aspects: food price inflation and a housing bubble. There was some happy talk about this earlier in the year. Food price inflation, the happy talkers said, might vex Chinese city dwellers, but the peasants were loving it. It was a transfer of wealth from city to country. Just a few weeks ago, über-investor Jim Rogers was advising us to, quote, "move to China and buy a farm!"

The ChiComs apparently don't agree. The ChiComs have never given a damn about the peasants, in spite of all that propaganda about Mao Tse-tung leading a peasant revolution. Fifty years ago Mao starved tens of millions of peasants to death in the Great Leap Forward. The communists have never apologized for that.

The current ChiCom leadership are, in this regard, pure Maoists. Last week they jacked up interest rates a quarter percent, a straightforward inflation-fighting move. Forced to choose between competitive devaluation and urban tranquillity, they've gone for tranquillity. They know, Maoist theory notwithstanding, that peasants have a way higher threshold of tolerance for hardship than city folk, and they're betting that the continued existence of their regime depends on keeping those city folks happy, or at least not unhappy.

Being rather a fan of Chinese peasants, from whom I have received some memorable hospitality, I am not going to endorse China's anti-inflationary policy. It makes good sense from the ChiComs' point of view, though — from the point of view of any rational Chinese government, in fact. The unfortunate peasants are the victims of ChiCom policy; but from a broader point of view, they are victims of Ben Bernanke's policy. While we were generating trillions of dollars out of thin air, and the ChiComs were devaluing-slash-inflating to keep up (or down, if you like), peasants in Anhui and Jiangxi were doing swell. Now the ChiComs have turned anti-inflationary, things down on the farm are not so good.

A clue to why the ChiComs were getting so spooked can be found in a Financial Times story dated December 23rd, headline, quote: "Beijing's housing price fury goes viral." You need to understand here the rather particular position of the Pekingese, which is to say the Beijingers, in Chinese political history. Being at the center of political power since the Mongol Dynasty 700 years ago, the people of Peking have developed sensitive political antennae and a subtle, clever, subversive way of expressing their political discontents. OK, quote from the Financial Times, long quote:

The anger harboured by Beijingers about sky-high housing prices has been captured in a sardonic e-mail spreading in Chinese cyberspace calculating how long it would take peasants, thieves and prostitutes to buy a home.

With consumer inflation in China topping 5.1 per cent in November, public dissatisfaction at price rises has reached the highest level since records began in 1999, according to a recent central bank survey.

But such surveys cannot convey the acerbic political wit that Chinese people, and especially Beijingers, are famous for … The e-mail, which has gone viral in various versions, provides unscientific but entertaining estimates of how long citizens would need to work to afford a 1100-square-foot apartment in central Beijing, which currently sells for about $450,000.

As long as there were no natural disasters, a peasant farmer working an average plot of land would just have been able to afford an apartment if he somehow had worked since the Tang dynasty, which ended in a.d. 907, until today.

If a Chinese blue-collar worker had been on the average monthly salary of $225 since the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century and had given up weekends, then he might just have been able to afford a place of his or her own.

Prostitutes, the e-mail says, would have to entertain 10,000 customers — a marathon feat requiring them to service one customer a night from the age of 18 until the age of 46 without an evening off.

The thief would need to conduct 2,500 robberies to find the funds to buy a home.

Of course, the e-mail notes, such calculations do not count interior decoration, furniture or household electronics.

End long quote. In the face of public disaffection like that, the ChiComs are only too willing to throw Joe Peasant under the bus, as the Chinese Communist Party has done so often before. And under the bus along with Joe Peasant goes Ben Bernanke, and the T-bond, and probably the U.S. economy and the structure of international trade. Heads down between knees, everyone. Brace for impact!

07 — Ner to wed.     Hugh Hefner is getting married, I can't imagine why. The groom is 84, the bride 24.

I always get a moment of disorientation when I'm reminded that Playboy magazine is still in existence. It's like hearing someone say "stratocruiser," or learning that you can still buy eight-track tapes.

Playboy's heyday coincided with my own adolescence and young adulthood, but I can't say I was ever much of a fan of the thing. I do, though, keep up a mild zoological interest in Hef — or, as his closest associates refer to him, Ner — ever since reading Russell Miller's 1985 book about the guy and his soft-porn empire.

We got some more Miller-type revelations this week following the news of Ner's forthcoming marriage — his third, by the way. These revelations give pretty much the same picture of life in the Playboy mansion that Miller gave 25 years ago. The main themes are boredom and squalor.

A young ex-Playmate improbably named Izabella St. James has been out front, so to speak, with these revelations. The Mansion, we learn, is furnished from thrift stores. The mattresses and bed linen are in a shocking state. Most of the Playmates have dogs, but don't walk them, so dog poop on the carpet is a regular feature of the Mansion's décor. Ner is cheap and makes the girls show receipts for every toothbrush and donut. He consumes heroic quantities of Viagra and disdains prophylactics. Playmates were under a strict 9 p.m. curfew. They were paid an "allowance" of a thousand dollars each every Friday morning, paid in hundred dollar bills.

It all sounds low and disgusting. Why do the girls do it? Well, I guess it beats waitressing. Ner probably still has some useful pals in the media and business worlds whose eye one might hope to catch. The big draw, though, seems to be free cosmetic surgery, on which Ner does not stint. He wants the Playmates to look the way he likes them to look, no expense spared.

The bigger question really is, why does Ner go on doing it? "He just lay there like a dead fish," testifies Ms. St. James on her intimate encounter with the prophet of sexual liberation. Well, duh: Ner was 79 years old at the time. Half a century of watching porn videos, playing marathon games of Monopoly, drinking Coca-Cola, and humming along to Mel Tormé songs, with a stroke in there somewhere, will do that to ya.

Some of my conservative friends hate Ner for, they say, playing a leading role in the debauching of our culture. As a fatalist about the trajectory of civilizational rise and fall, I can't share their anger. I don't like decadence any more than they do, but it's not Ner's fault. It would all have happened anyway.

In any case, the way Ner lives is so far removed from any way I'd care to live, I can't engage with him any more than I could with Simeon Stylites living on top of his pillar for 40 years. Ner's a specimen, a curiosity, that's all. The only thing he illustrates, for me, is how very very odd human beings can be. So … congrats to the happy couple. I guess.

08 — Miscellany.     And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.

Item:  If, after my first two segments this week, you are worried about diminished police protection in your town or city, spare a thought for the 9,000 inhabitants of Guadelupe, Mexico. This is the Guadelupe 40 miles west of Ciudad Juárez, about three miles from the border with New Mexico. All but one of Guadelupe's police officers had been killed or terrified into quitting under threats from the drug bosses. The lone holdout was 28-year-old Erika Gandara. Ms. Gandara had been patrolling the town on her own since June. Last week Ms. Gandara was kidnapped by gunmen and her house was burned down. Her present whereabout are unknown; though my guess, based on the track record of the Mexican narco-gangs, is that she is now in several different places … if you catch my drift. Quote from Foreign Policy magazine, quote: "Over the last 12 months, the violence has spread to Mexico's economic and cultural hubs that were once considered immune from drug infiltration. To the north, Mexico's organized crime routes now reach into nearly every metropolitan area of the United States." End quote. Every metropolitan area of the United States, eh? How on earth did that happen?

Item:  Here's a nice bit of multicultural lunacy from Robert Spencer's website Jihad Watch. The event happened in Spain, and the multilingually gifted Robert has translated it for us. It appears that a high-school teacher was giving a geography class. He told his students about the different climates here on planet Earth, and raised the Spanish town of Trevélez as an example of a place whose climate is cold and dry. This kind of climate, said the teacher, is good for the curing of hams, and that is why the Trevélez region is famous for its cured hams. A Muslim student objected, saying that to hear of hams offended him because his religion teaches that pigs are unclean. The teacher gently brushed aside the complaint, so the student went home and told his parents, who went to the police. The police went to the school and took a statement from the teacher, who now faces disciplinary action. Funny business, considering that Islam was founded by a bloke named Mo-HAM-med, but there you are. We must all show proper sensitivity to Muslims, otherwise they'll trot off and squeal to the pigs … er, I mean the police. Then you'll be deep in the mire with no-one to save your bacon, while the local Muslims contrariwise will be in hog heaven. So mind you don't make careless pig references when there are Muslims around. In the present social climate, nothing could be rasher.

Item:  This is from last week but came in too late to be garnered by my tireless research staff. President Obama said at a press conference on December 22nd that the biggest disappointment of the year for him was Congress's failure to pass the DREAM Act, which would have given permanent resident status to some unknown number of illegal aliens, probably around two million. So … unemployment's stuck at ten percent, every level of government from municipal to federal is hemorrhaging money, T-bonds are being used to wrap fish in the street markets of Peking, the war in Afghanistan enters its tenth year of going nowhere at all, a colossal sinkhole's opened up in the Eurozone, Putin and Ahmedinejad and Kim Jong Il are emailing each other Obama jokes, and Obama's party lost control of Congress in the midterm elections. And the President's biggest disappointment was not being able to further reward flagrant scofflaws? I say "further" because the scofflaws in question have already got a free education at U.S. taxpayers' expense. Here's my biggest disappointment, Mr. President: That you continue to violate your oath of office by deliberately failing faithfully to execute the people's laws.

Item:  News here from Turkmenistan. That nation's President, the wise and just Mr. Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has announced an international tender to buy the equipment for a new television tower, to be built in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat, and also a new TV channel. I mention this only to quash any rumors you may have heard that the new TV channel may be awarded to a consortium headed by Radio Derb. These rumors are put about by my envious rivals. There is no truth to them whatever. They are on a par with the scurrilous misrepresentations of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov that turned up in the so-called Wikileaks. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has many enemies, as any great man must have — as I myself do. Pay no attention to the cheap slanders of these contemptible worms. Long live great leader President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov! Long live the noble, peace-loving republic of Turkmenistan! [Clip: Turkmen national anthem]

Item:  Finally, with the passing of time on all our minds at year end, here's a study from some physicists at the University of California, Berkeley. They're looking at the lifespan of the universe. They reckon the universe must have some definite lifespan because a universe that's infinite in time raises difficult philosophical and physical questions. So they got to work with their computers and their models and came up with this, quote: "There is a 50 percent chance that time will end within the next 3.7 billion years," end quote. So … don't buy any green bananas. Actually this reminds me of one of Bill Buckley's favorite stories. A famous astronomer gives a public lecture. At the end of the lecture he asks for questions. A little old lady puts her hand up. "Excuse me, Professor," she says, "but you said the Sun will burn out and die … when?" The astronomer replied: "After eight billion years, Ma'am."  "Oh, thank goodness!" said the little old lady. "I thought you said eight million."

09 — Signoff.     Well, the year 2010 has burned out and died, ladies and gents. That's 13.5 billion down, 3.7 billion to go. I must say, I don't like the look of 2011; but we're heading into it, nolens volens, so let's hope for the best, while of course preparing for the worst. Here's Peter Dawson.

[Music clip: Peter Dawson singing Auld Lang Syne]