[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! This is your pellucidly genial host John Derbyshire with a round-up of the week's news from near and far.
There isn't much to report on the personal front here. In the time-honored cycle of traditional festivals here on the island, we are midway between the ouzo-drinking contest and the goat derby, so things are pretty quiet. On, then, with the motley! Here's what's been happening world-wide.
02 — Syria: Leave 'em alone. All right, I probably should say something non-dismissive about Syria, since it's occupying so much space in the news.
There was a big massacre in the country last Friday, more than 100 unarmed civilians, most of them women and children, killed apparently by the Syrian Army and/or Syrian government goon squads. Some of the victims were killed by shell fire, but most were shot at close range or stabbed.
It's a dreadful business, no doubt; but Syria's been in a state of sporadic anarchy for over a year, since Syrians got the "Arab Spring" bug last March and began staging insurrections against their dictator, Bashir Assad.
To try to figure out the larger state of affairs, the context in which things like this massacre are happening, I went to the very handy BBC website, which has a whole web page titled "Guide to the Syrian opposition." I have to tell you, my eyes were soon glazing over. Talk about pond life!
One of the three big players in the opposition, for example, is the Syrian National Council, the SNC. Ah, but that's a coalition of seven smaller groups. You want to hear about them? OK: There's the Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change grouping — a grouping, notice, so there are wheels within wheels here. Then there's the Muslim Brotherhood; I think we're pretty familiar with them. Then we have Local Co-ordination Committees — basically, anyone who's organized a demonstration. And then the Syrian Revolution General Commission, the SRGC, quote: "a coalition of 40 opposition grassroots groups." Bringing up the rear we have Kurdish factions, tribal leaders and, quote, "independent figures," which probably means ambitious crooks on the make, like Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq — remember him?
Around this point in my researches I find myself channeling Winston Churchill, who in 1953 was heard to remark, quote, "I have lived 78 years without hearing of bloody places like Cambodia."
Let's face it, Syria is not an important country in any way, not to the United States. It's about as important to the U.S.A. of 2012 as Cambodia was to the Britain of 1953. Let's face this, too: If it's human rights you're concerned about, they will probably do better under the Assad dictatorship than under any likely replacement, including a democracy.
These Arab countries in turmoil — Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain — all have lots of minorities, including Christian minorities; and these minorities were in general well protected by dictators. Dictators are by definition not very liberal; but they are more liberal than the Arab man in the street. For example, eighty percent of Egyptians favor the death penalty for apostasy from Islam. You cannot name an Arab dictator who was that illiberal.
And so, when dictators are overthrown and democracy takes charge, minorities suffer — as, of course, do women. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, half of Iraqi Christians have fled the country. And that, of course, is on top of massive Sunni-Shia ethnic cleansing. Under Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship lite, the Christians of Egypt were second-class citizens. In this new democratic Islamist regime, Egyptian Christians are going to be third-class citizens at best.
The Syrian dictatorship, which has kept itself in power for 42 years now, is run by Alawites, an eccentric Shiite sect. Three quarters of the country is plain-vanilla Sunni Moslem. Under democracy, the Sunnis will take over, and you wouldn't want to be an Alawite, nor any other minority. Nor a woman.
It's their business, though, of no relevance to us. The Law of Unintended Consequences governs these situations. If we go interfering, we shall most probably end up with something we don't like. Let 'em get on with it.
From this standpoint it was dismaying to hear Mitt Romney on Tuesday calling for the U.S.A. to, quote, "work with partners to organize and arm Syrian opposition groups so they can defend themselves," end quote.
What the hell business of ours is it if they can defend themselves or not? Did Willard read to the end of that BBC summary of the opposition groups, and groups within groups, and groups within groups within groups within groups? Is he confident he has a grasp of the distinctions between them, and their relations with each other? So that arming them won't result in massacres ten times worse than last Friday's? You sure, Willard?
The best you can say about Mitt Romney's position is that it is less crazy than the deranged frothings of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and John Bolton, who would have us launch major expeditionary forces and sink a trillion dollars or two into a project to remake Syria in our own image — a project that would work just about as well as it has worked in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Syria is of no interest or importance to Americans, and it impinges on our national interests in no way at all. Leave them the heck alone and let them sort out their own problems.
03 — Private enterprise in space. I watch a lot of YouTube videos in the course of a week's news gathering. Here's my favorite from this week. I can't show you the video, of course, though there's a link in the Radio Derb transcript, but I can play you the sound track. It's just 29 seconds. Here you go. [Clip.]
That was employees of SpaceX, a private company out in Los Angeles. They were cheering the successful launch, ten days ago, of their Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon space capsule. Thursday this week, nine days on, the Dragon capsule performed a successful re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off Baja California 500 miles southwest of Los Angeles. A completely successful mission, the first of its kind by private enterprise.
In between the launch and the re-entry the Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station, delivering supplies for the astronauts up there. Once they'd unshipped the supplies, the astronauts loaded up Dragon with half a ton of various kinds of waste, equipment to be serviced and the like, and sent it back down to us. Dragon carried no passengers on this mission; but it has room for seven astronauts, and presumably in future will be carrying humans into orbit.
This is all very thrilling. You can catch some of the thrill from that YouTube clip. If you have time to spare, try listening to the entire 1h04m webcast on YouTube. It covers the launch, separation of the rocket's second stage, attainment of orbit, separation of the Dragon capsule, and deployment of Dragon's solar panels. The excitement in the announcer's voice takes you back to the days of Gemini and Apollo. But this is private enterprise.
Well, sort of. The International Space Station is of course a government program, and a particularly pointless one, even by the standards of government programs. Its basic purpose was to give the Space Shuttle something to do. With the Shuttle now decommissioned, the ISS has no purpose at all. Nobody wants to shut it down, though, and it has to be resupplied somehow. SpaceX stepped up to do the job.
I'm going to look on the bright side here and assume that by starting with government contracts, SpaceX can build up enough expertise to eventually be able to exist as a truly independent business, perhaps in the space tourism area, perhaps servicing GPS and communications satellites. Good luck to them, and congratulations to everyone who made this mission a success. The icy grip of government control on manned space exploration just loosened a little bit, and that's nothing but good.
04 — Wisconsin recall vote. [Clip: Jerry Lee Lewis, "What made Milwaukee famous …"] I dunno about that, Jerry, but what's made Tom Barrett famous is being Mayor of Milwaukee, largest city in the noble state of Wisconsin.
Next Tuesday, June 5th, Wisconsin voters go to the polls to decide whether Republican Governor Scott Walker will go on being governor, or whether Tom Barrett will get the job. This is a recall election. Walker is only a year and a half into his four-year term.
The issue that's forced the recall is the power of public-sector labor unions. The very idea of a public-sector union is one of the worst that the 20th century came up with. It was an idea that took off in the 1960s, like so many other malign forces, and quickly developed into a cozy racket. The public-sector unions would shovel money into the pockets of Democratic Party politicians; those politicians would get elected, and return the favor by granting the unions ever more luxurious benefit packages — early retirement, gold-plated healthcare plans, extravagant pensions, and so on. Workers in the private sector, who of course ultimately paid for these sweetheart deals, could only look on with envy.
It all came to a head with the recession of the late 2000s, when the investments that were supposed to provide the returns that funded all those luxury benefits could no longer do so. Wisconsin, like many other states, was looking at an appalling budget deficit.
Scott Walker took on the public-employee bargaining racket (which is so obviously a racket it's actually illegal in a couple of states). The unions were furious, and their hirelings, the Democrats in the state senate, at one point left the state to block a vote by preventing a quorum. Walker finessed the situation very skilfully, gaming the rules of the state legislature to get sufficient of his bills through, and exempting fire and police services from his reforms, always the most powerful and dangerous elements in the public sector.
Hence the recall. What are the prospects? Well, Scott Walker's had a pretty consistent lead in polling among likely voters of 5-6-7 percent, so the odds are he'll come out of Tuesday's vote stronger than ever. That won't kill the public-sector union beast, but it'll wound it badly. Several other of the 30 states that permit public-sector union bargaining are also reforming their laws.
With a bit of luck, we may get public sector remuneration and benefits back in balance with the private sector. With SpaceX showing us what the private sector is capable of, we might even get back to a high-spirited and confident capitalism here in the U.S.A., in which my repeated injunctions to Get a Government Job will come to sound quaint and redundant. Nothing would please me more.
05 — Not fit to print. Ten days ago, as reported by Radio Derb last week, Israeli citizens rioted in Tel Aviv against illegal immigrants from Africa. These illegals, most especially South Sudanese, have been committing crimes, harassing passers-by, fouling public places, and so on. Citizens are upset, and the Israeli government is responding, taking a strong line against the illegals, building a barrier along the Sinai border with Egypt, setting up internment camps, and negotiating repatriations with the source countries.
Here's a funny thing, though, a very funny thing. America's premier broadsheet newspaper, The New York Times, slogan "All the new that's fit to print," which normally takes a close interest in Israeli affairs, printed nothing about these incidents. Nothing, nada, zippo, zilch, nichts, rien.
The only news story to appear under the New York Times imprint was on the newspaper's blog last Thursday. That's blog as in pixels, not newsprint. The blog was by Robert Mackey.
The strange silence of the Times was noticed by many people. Some of them show up in the comment thread to Robert Mackey's blog. Here, for example, is commenter Andrew Loewy of Cincinnati, Ohio, quote:
This story was buried. I, like most people, look for my news on the home page of nytimes.com. If it isn't there, then a statement has been made as to its significance.
Replied Mr. Mackey, quote:
This blog supplements the home page of the Web site, and the post was featured on the home page.
Which I guess means there was a link to the blog from the Times home page. That's nice, but it doesn't get us any closer to understanding why there was nothing in the Times print edition.
We did get a tad closer in Mr. Mackey's response to commenter Helvetico, who lives in, of course, Switzerland. Helvetico's comment:
Can you give us some click-through numbers on this blog versus the front page? Judging from number of comments, this blog has much, much lower visibility.
End quote. Robert Mackey's reply, quote:
Since 20-30 million people read this Web site each month, while less than a million copies of the daily newspaper are sold, the assumption that news reported online is somehow less important than what is in the printed paper might need to be reconsidered.
End quote. That doesn't make much sense. If all the important news is going to be reported in Mr. Mackey's blog, why bother to have a print newspaper at all? Contrariwise, if you are going to have a print newspaper, why exclude stories that are making huge headlines in Israel, a country in whose affairs the New York Times has traditionally shown keen interest?
There is something psychologically very strange going on here. When I've figured out what it is, I'll let you know.
06 — Bloomie's war on soda. I don't get personally engaged with politicians. I mean, sometimes I cheer them on, and sometimes they make me mad, but the kind of angry bile you see in some quarters towards Barack Obama, and used to see — even angrier and more bilious, it seems to me — against George W. Bush, is just not something I can find in myself. The closest I can get to it is a certain small number of politicians who work on me like a fingernail scraping down a chalkboard.
Leader of the pack here is Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, whose whiny womanish voice and barely-concealed conviction that the rest of us are all idiots by comparison with his infallible self, make me want to throw something at the TV screen every time he shows up.
Wonkish friends who follow the ins and outs of New York City politics much more closely than I do, tell me that Bloomberg hasn't actually been a bad Mayor. In fact even I have to acknowledge a few positives: Bloomberg's staunch refusal to be rolled by the race lobbies on his police department's stop-and-frisk policy, for example, a policy which, as Bloomberg said at a presser on Tuesday, has saved innumerable lives.
Bloomie just can't hold in his bossy streak, though — that character trait that has earned him the nickname Nanny Bloomberg. Here he is again this week urging a 16-ounce limit on the size of sugary drinks sold in city food establishments. Just so you know where you are here, an ordinary can of beer is 12 ounces, so 16 ounces is one-third bigger than that.
Quote from Bloomie, quote: "All across the country, everybody recognizes obesity as a growing, serious problem. But … while everyone else is sitting around complaining, New York City is acting." End quote.
Yeah, right. And all across the country, bossy billionaires with whiny voices recognize liberty as a growing, serious problem. But while other dime-store dictators sit around complaining, Nanny Bloomberg is acting to tell New Yorkers how much sugary liquid they can ingest. Or is he? If 16 ounces is the legal limit, but I want to scarf down a 64-ounce jumbo drink, what's to stop me just buying four 16-ouncers?
As my pal Tom Costello over at Radio Free New Jersey points out, though, New York City could do a lot worse than Michael Bloomberg, and very likely will. Unless Bloomie can finesse the term limit rules yet again, which isn't likely, he's out of office at the end of next year. The possible replacements beginning to shuffle into position for the 2013 mayoral election are a depressing lot, a raft of left-wing Democrats. At least Bloomie has actually done something for the national economy — generated wealth and jobs. The 2013 mayoral field have barely generated a dime of wealth between the lot of them, and I'm counting six candidates here.
That is slightly unfair to John Liu, the city comptroller, who got a math degree and worked as an actuary at Price Waterhouse for a few years. Liu's as left-wing as they come none the less, and furthermore labors under the shadow of having played fast and loose with campaign finance rules in his campaign for the comptroller position. Two of his campaign workers have been arrested, and there seem to have been some mysterious funds coming in from China. "Ethically challenged" is the Homeric epithet attached to Liu in the local press.
The rest of the field are just political lifers, community organizers, and the like, who have never done any real work outside politics, lawyering, and "community activism." They all want to raise the city minimum wage, a sure job-killer. They are all eager to do whatever the city's public-sector unions want them to do. They all want the city's police force pretty much confined to the station houses — in fact Christine Quinn, current favorite to be the next mayor, actually wants to sue the police department for the aforementioned stop-and-frisk policy.
So as much as Michael Bloomberg ticks me off, chances are that two years from now, as private-sector employment collapses, public-sector expenses go through the roof, and gunfire crackles up and down Fifth Avenue, I'll be missing the arrogant jerk.
07 — Mugabe gets U.N. tourism post. The United Nations is a vast and multifold organization, and somewhere in there among its myriad bureaucracies is a World Tourism Organization. An organization needs some officials to help spread the message, in this case to promote world tourism. Who did the U.N. choose as their figurehead? None other than Robert Mugabe, Dictator-for-Life of Zimbabwe.
Cap'n Bob is best known outside the sheltered precincts of the U.N. as one of the world's leading nation wreckers, having in thirty years demoted his own country from a peaceful and successful agricultural economy to a lawless basket case nation wracked by periodic famines and epidemics. One third of Zimbabwe's population had left to seek refuge in neighboring countries by 2007.
Radio Derb has been arguing for years that the U.S.A. should leave the United Nations; that their worthless, corrupt bureaucrats should be expelled from our territory with lifetime bans on returning; that the U.N. building in midtown Manhattan should be given over as target practice to the Air Force, and that after it has been reduced to rubble and the rubble carted away for landfill, the ground should be sown with salt.
So you could say we are anti-U.N. If you want to know why, this story, which is all too typical, is sufficient explanation.
Cap'n Bob is to be merely an ambassador for the World Tourism Organization, mind. That outfit, as befits a branch of the U.N., has a secretary general, a chap named Taleb Rifai. Mr. Rifai, congratulating Cap'n Bob on his new appointment, urged tourists from around the world to visit Zimbabwe.
Well, yes, I could see there might be a unique Zimbabwe experience to be savored. They greet you at the airport, then drive you out to a nice farm in the countryside. You settle in to the farmhouse, with fine views across the veldt. Then, in the middle of the night, a gang armed with machetes breaks in, rapes your wife and cuts her throat, then tortures you to reveal where your money is, then burns the place to the ground with you inside. The authentic Zimbabwe experience. I bet the whole thing could be done for less than five thousand dollars. That's U.S. dollars of course; a hundred thousand trillion in Zimbabwe currency.
08 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: Memorial Day came and went, and brought with it the following news item, from the May 28 New York Post, quote: "Memorial Day will be filled with dishonor and shame for thousands of veterans coming home from two wars who are unable to find jobs in the land of opportunity. Advocates said that nearly one in five returning service people have been unable to find work." End quote.
I'm just going to ask the obvious and inevitable question here: Why, when veterans can't find jobs, are we bringing in 100,000 immigrants every month for settlement? Anybody got an answer? Any significant figure in public life even asking the question? No? I thought not.
Item: News item here from Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine, quote: "In a Saturday interview with the daily Leipziger Volkszeitung, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich hinted at his country's growing frustration. [Quote from him] 'We're not willing to pour money into a bottomless pit.'" End quotes. Wow, I didn't know the German government was so heavily invested in Facebook. Oops, no, sorry. Next sentence, quote: "He assured the paper that Germany was happy to help Greece help itself." Sorry, got the wrong end of the stick there.
Item: A sudden rush of strange body-part stories. From Canada, the friendly giant to our north, quote: "Ottawa police say the coroner has confirmed that a human foot was sent to the Conservative Party of Canada's headquarters on Tuesday." End quote. What's that all about? Some kind of coded message? Some Conservative supporter wants them to put their best foot forward? Or warning them that there'll be trouble afoot if they don't change policies?
Then this one from Hackensack, New Jersey. Quote: "A man who stabbed himself repeatedly in front of police — and then threw his skin and intestines at them — remains in critical condition Tuesday morning, police said." End quote. Come on, guys: Was it the large intestine or the small intestine? I tell you, journalistic standards are going right down the tubes. So to speak.
And then of course there was the naked guy in Miami who police had to shoot dead to stop him eating the face off another guy, who was also naked. The president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police believes the entire incident is the fault of a new drug known as "bath salts." I really don't know what's come over people. I recall the drug scene back in the sixties, when we all used to sit around giggling and saying things like "Far out!" till we all got the munchies and headed over to the deli. I don't recall eating anybody's face … though at this distance in time it's hard to be certain …
Item: Finally, two citizens in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit got into an argument about who made the better Kool-Aid. The argument got heated, guns came out, and the antagonists started firing at each other. Neither was hit, which suggests to me that there was something more than Kool-Aid in the system there, but two innocent bystanders suffered gunshot wounds. Police called the dispute utterly ridiculous, but said they've seen worse. I bet they have. And I bet if that'd been New York City, Michael Bloomberg would be demanding to know if they'd made more than 16 ounces of that Kool-Aid.
09 — Signoff. So there you have it, Radio Derb listeners: another week of chaos, mayhem, and cannibalism.
There was some nice stuff too, though. There was, for example, Bob Dylan getting the presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on Tuesday for his contributions to American life and culture.
Dylan's a bit of a problem for conservatives. On the one hand, we can't help but associate him with the chaos and disruption of the 1960s, which he was a considerable part of, as well as being active in the radical left of that time. On the other hand, Dylan's prickly anti-authoritarianism has a broad and general quality that speaks to us today, when the Left has triumphed completely, and the authoritarians we must resist are now themselves of the Left.
And Dylan's music has a traditionalist quality we can't help but like. Of all musicians, Dylan has probably done most to give us a musical image of America as it was before the great postwar disruptions — what Greil Marcus, in his classic of cultural criticism titled Invisible Republic, called "the old, weird America." If you listen to Dylan's best songs you can hear, humming away behind that unmistakable voice and the clever arrangements, the mystic chords of memory.
Here's a little sample from one of the best, using lyrics that originated with a Western cowboy poet of a hundred years ago, and that Dylan worked up into one of the loveliest, most haunting songs of the 1970s: "Spanish is the Loving Tongue."
More from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Bob Dylan, "Spanish is the loving tongue"]