»  Radio Derb — Transcript

        Friday, February 24, 2012

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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]

01 — Intro.     Radio Derb is on the air. Yes, this is your valetudinarianly genial host John Derbyshire with deep, penetrating insights into the news of the week.

Or not. Tell you the truth, Radio Derb listeners, I am somewhat under the weather this week. My survey of the passing charivari may therefore be somewhat cursory, my insights less penetrating than usual, my conclusions less firm.

Sound quality may suffer, too. Instead of my state-of-the-art sound studio on the 95th floor, I am broadcasting this week from the chaise longue in Jonah's suite, the Edwardian Room, up on 96. Key technicians have come up here with me to make this work, thanks to all of them. Jonah himself has been most generous, giving us free access to his well-stocked pharmacopoeia.

My faithful research assistants, bless them, are ministering to me with many invigorating restoratives and cordials. Mandy has in fact just given me a rub-down with a hot towel, sufficiently stimulating I hope to see me through this week's broadcast. Candy has promised that later she'll give me something called a "relief massage," which sounds very nice.

So listeners need have no fear for my general condition. Present incapacitation is merely a temporary pause in Radio Derb's ascent to world-wide recognition at the news source of choice for the thinking reactionary pessimist.

Onward and upward! The show must go on! [Ethel Merman clip.]

02 — Mesa debate 1: Form.     On Wednesday evening the NRO suits strapped me to a steel chair, taped my eyelids open, and made me watch the Arizona Republican debate.

I thought the standard was higher than in previous debates. Mostly this was because the numbers were right. Anyone who goes to dinner parties much has noticed that there is an optimum number of guests: enough that someone always has something to say, so there is no dead air, yet not so many that the dinner table breaks into disjoint subsets, each talking among themselves but not to the others. My conjecture for the optimum dinner party population is N = 6, though I have not been able to find a rigorous proof. Well, some similar mathematical principle governs candidate debates, and I think this one got it right.

The idea of seating them round a table helped, too. Having them stand at podiums — podia, whatever — is too stiff and artificial. So the format here was excellent. In fact, to go back to the dinner party analogy, I wonder if at some future debate we could arrange for them all to be served a meal. That would really be convivial. A few bottles of wine to loosen their tongues, we might really get to know these guys.

And why not serve dinner to the audience, too? Remember those dinner-theater places that were all the rage in the 1970s? I always liked the idea. Why not extend it into the political realm? Let's have dinner-debates. Just a thought thrown out there to all you political strategists, from the ever-fertile and creative imagination of your host here on Radio Derb. You're welcome!

And while commenting on the general arrangements Wednesday night, let me add a word of praise for the Arizona State University Symphonic Chorale, whose plain, dignified rendering of the National Anthem offered such a pleasant contrast to the wildly over-sung travesties we get at major sports events. The kids from Arizona State just sang the sheet music, which is all that needs to be sung. Great job there, kids.

So much for form. How about content?

03 — Mesa debate 2.     Again, the debate was impressive. Ron Paul was just Ron Paul; and as a long-time Ron Paul fan I don't have to apologize for saying that. The other three guys were all on keen form. They'd all done masses of research on each other, they'd all rehearsed and gamed what to do if A says B or X counters Y with Z.

Politics is an art form, amongst other things, and these guys are all masters. So there was much to be impressed by in their joustings. Nobody here was being lazy; nobody was taking anything for granted; nobody was falling down on the job. Sometimes I almost find myself admiring politicians. Not often, but sometimes.

I concur with the common opinion that Rick Santorum lost luster. He was wonkish and defensive, when he needed to be clear and confident. Of the four point seven million people who watched Wednesday's debate, how many have a clue what that Title Ten was that he was talking about? I sure didn't, and I do this for a living.

And yes, a laid-back, what-the-heck Newt Gingrich is more attractive — or at least, from the standpoint of us Newtophobes, less repulsive — than an edgy, combative Newt. I still think the guy's a bag of wind; and given his track record of dumping wives when their health gives out, I'm real glad not to be married to Newt right now. He was almost human on Wednesday, though.

My opinion of Mitt Romney went up a few ticks. I'm surprised he didn't get better press from the event. All three were masters, but Mitt was the grand master. He blocked, he parried, he punched, he oozed effortless capability, and he showed off what I'm coming to believe really is a first-class temperament. I'll take Mitt. For a Mitt-Paul ticket, I'll be camped out the night before outside the polling booth in November. Not that I'm holding out much hope of that. As we all know, the Republican vice-presidential spot on the ticket will have to be filled by a woman, a black, or a Hispanic. And that is a good thing, a wonderful thing! Anyone who says otherwise is a horrible, cruel person.

As to what was said … nah, I took only sparse notes, and didn't see anything much worth commenting on. When it somes to what these guys say they will do in office, with the exception again of Ron Paul, I'm afraid cynicism takes over. I'll be astounded, for instance, if our Southern border is any better guarded in 2016 than it is now, regardless of who gets the presidency.

The next president will grapple with onrushing events as best he can, get no more than half of them right, and make up stories to excuse the other half. That's the nature of the beast. We just have to choose a grappler. I choose Willard.

I was encouraged, though, to hear Rick Santorum say that sometimes you have to take one for the team. That's exactly what I say to the girls when they protest the extra office duties I sometimes lay upon them. See, girls? It's not just me, it's the common opnion of mankind. Next time I ask you to take one for the team, think of Rick Santorum and comply!

04 — Turkmenistan's election.     Radio Derb extends our warmest congratulations to our dear friend President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan on his victory in the recent elections there, and his swearing-in to a new term of office last Friday.

Quote from the Associated Press report on that latter event, quote:

Some 3,000 people in the capital, Ashgabat, attended Berdymukhamedov's inauguration. As the head of the election commission again announced the final election results at the start of the ceremony, people in the hall interrupted him twice, rising to their feet chanting: "Hail the Hero, Hail Arkadag."

End quote. "Arkadag," for those listeners unfamiliar with the very expressive and mellifluous Turkmen language, means "Protector." The election results referred to showed 97 percent of voters favoring President Berdymukhamedov, an endearing testimony to the place our friend President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov holds in the hearts of his people.

Well, all but three percent of his people; and I am assured by my contacts in Ashgabat that those three percent are even now being tracked down and assigned to re-education camps in the Karakum Desert, where their understanding will be advanced while their health is improved by the fine clear desert air.

Hail the Hero, Hail Arkadag! [Clip: Turkmen national anthem.]

05 — Iran kicks over the traces.     Next door to Turkmenistan is of course the republic of Iran. The Iranians have been kicking over the traces again this week. The International Atomic Energy Agency had hoped to inspect a site where they suspected nuclear weapons development was going on. The Iranians said sorry, no, you can't go there.

Yukiya Amano, Director of the Authority, called this, quote, "disappointing." If you think that's taking understatement a bit too far, let me just remind you that Yukiya Amano's native tongue is Japanese, a language so ambiguous that one commentator has observed you can put the word "not" in front of the main verb of an average Japanese sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Iran raises the interesting question of what anybody does when senior political figures in Nation A declare that they and their people have a divine mission to wipe Nation B off the map and exterminate its citizens. So far as the so-called International Community is concerned, the preferred approach is the one taken by the aforementioned Director Yukiya Amano: that is, to sigh regretfully and declare oneself "disappointed," preferably in Japanese for maximum ambiguity.

The closest to practical action that the International Community is willing to go is sanctions, which are of course a joke, especially when the country being sanctioned has lot of oil to sell to big oil-hungry developing countries that don't take their membership of the International Community as seriously as they ought.

The answer as to what should be done probably lies in the internal politics of Nation A. I can pretend to no expertise in internal Iranian politics. Persons whose opinion I value tell me that popular support in Iran for an exterminatory assault on Israel is wellnigh nonexistent, and that pronouncements of intention to do such a thing are political ploys by one leadership faction against another. That's nice; but if you're the Prime Minister of Israel, are you going to bet the house on this analysis being a correct one?

Seeking enlightenment, I once asked my dear friend President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of next-door Turkmenistan for an opinion on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. President Berdymukhamedov replied with a colorful expression in the Turkmen language which I believe translates as "cross-eyed son of a three-legged hunchback with no thumbs." While reminding us of the ancient tribal rivalry between the Turks and the Aryans, this was not otherwise very helpful.

I shall ponder the Iranian issue some more. It is a genuine, serious problem in geostrategy, by no means to be taken lightly. Taking a straightforward view of U.S. national interests, however, it is probably much less of a problem than, for example, how do we defend our interests abroad when they conflict with those of a rising China, or how do we stop Mexico exporting all sixty million of its high school dropouts to us?

It would be a dreadful thing if Israel and Iran were to annihilate each other; but the U.S.A. would still be here. If such a catastrophe is truly likely, and anyone has ideas about how to prevent it, count me an eager listener; but there are countries much more important to us and our interests than Iran and Israel.

06 — John Glenn, 50 years on.     February 20 marked the fiftieth anniversary of John Glenn's orbiting the earth. Glenn was the first American to go into orbit, and the old leatherneck is still with us, bless him.

How fine and stirring they were, those long-ago achievements of ours in space! — culminating, of course, in the Apollo moon landings at the end of the decade. What a magnificent, romantic adventure it all was!

But hold on here a minute, Derb (I hear you cry). Aren't you the arch-skeptic of government-financed manned space flight? Didn't you write a shelf full of articles mocking the Space Shuttle program, lamenting its cost and pointlessness?

I did indeed. Let me try to resolve the contradiction.

Let it be said first off that there's nothing wrong with spending some government money — which is to say, of course, your money and my money, filtered through the tax system — on prestige projects of no practical value. "It's wise / To advertise," and such projects advertise us and make us feel proud and good. As always, it's a matter of scale. A million? Sure, why not? A billion? Hmm, that's problematic. A hundred and seventy billion, which is what the Apollo program cost in current dollars? Ridiculous!

So it's not government spending on prestige projects per se, it's the scale. All right: but even on that criterion, the 1960s space program was out of scale. Why don't I much mind it? Why did I get a warm nostalgic glow looking at old John Glenn on TV the other day?

There are a number of factors, one of them undoubtedly nostalgia for my own lost youth. Another one, though, is the knowledge that our federal government did much less back in 1962, and did it way better.

It's quite amazing how much less it did. According to the tables at www.usgovernmentspending.com, total federal spending in 1962 was 107 billion dollars, to a gross public debt of 303 billion. If you scale that up to current dollars using standard inflation adjusters — I used the one at www.usinflationcalculator.com, that's a current dollar spending of 800 billion dollars to gross public debt of 2.3 trillion.

Hold those 1962 figures in your mind for a moment: spending 800 billion, debt 2.3 trillion.

Here are the corresponding numbers for fiscal year 2011: spending 3.6 trillion, debt 14.8 trillion.

So comparing the year John Glenn went into orbit with last year, last year the feds spent, in constant dollars, four and a half times the 1962 number, while carrying six and a half times as much debt.

Is the U.S.A. of today four and a half times better — healthier, happier, more propserous, more harmonious, more respected — than John Glenn's U.S.A.? How about six and a half times better, as a nation, since we have six and a half times as much debt? I leave the question with you.

07 — Afghanistan is upset.     And how are things going in Afghanistan? You know, in that terrifically important war to ensure that [crickets chirping]?

Not too well. The Afghans, as I think is well-known, take their religion seriously, as— far as I'm concerned — they're entitled to. That would be Islam, holy book, the Koran.

Well, an Afghan garbage crew doing clean-up around the NATO air base at Bagram the other day found the burned remains of some Korans among the base rubbish. That drove Afghans nuts. There have been protests, riots, attacks on U.S. forces and facilities, the works. Foreigners in Afghanistan are in total lock-down. Death toll as at Friday mroning: 23, including two of our soldiers who, to quote the news wire, "died when an Afghan army colleague turned his weapon on them as demonstrators approached a US base in eastern Nangarhar province Thursday." There's collegiality for you — and not exactly an unusual occurrence in this conflict, as Radio Derb has been reporting.

President Obama issued a groveling apology on Thursday, quote: "I wish to express my deep regret for the reported incident. I extend to you and the Afghan people my sincere apologies. The error was inadvertent; I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible. On your next visit to the White House I shall be only too glad to strip to my underwear and permit you to beat me with a bamboo cane." End quote. I may have embellished that quote slightly at the end, but I think not violating the spirit of the thing.

Newt Gingrich jumped all over that. He said Karzai should apologize to us for the killings of our soldiers by Afghan government troops. Quote from Newt: "If Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, doesn't feel like apologizing then we should say good bye and good luck, we don't need to be here risking our lives and wasting our money on somebody who doesn't care."

If you thought you felt the earth tremble there and the stars shift in their courses, that was me agreeing with Newt. Though since I've been playing those cricket noises in respect of Afghanistan for close to three years now, I can fairly claim that Newt's come late to the show.

Perhaps we can get Newt, or some other plausible presidential candidate, to come right over to the Radio Derb position on Islam: That we need to just fence it off, without prejudice or rancor, just stay out of their countries and keep them out of ours. It's a fine and ancient religion, no problem with it, jolly good luck to all one point five billion of them. They just don't play well with others.

Come on, step up, someone. Newt? Mitt? Rick? Ron? Hello? Anyone want to join me on the fence-it-off idea? Hello? Anyone? …

08 — Signoff.     I'm afraid that's all I can manage from here on Jonah's chaise longue, ladies and gents. I apologize for the shortfall, and hope to be back with a full jug of spit'n'vinegar next week.

OK, Candy, I'm ready for that relief massage now. Do I need to be face down for it? No? Great …

[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]