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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Willkommen, bienvenu, yrthate, welcome! This is your multilingually genial host John Derbyshire, broadcasting to you from our hideaway island in the wine-dark Aegean.
I hear you have been enduring some appalling weather over there in the states. My condolences to those who have been flooded out, burned out, lost power, or otherwise been deprived of the comforts of home. If it's any consolation, though the weather here is balmy, we are in an earthquake zone. Just the other morning I overheard one of the girls say she could swear she'd felt the earth move, though I didn't catch the precise context.
But never mind that. Rain or shine, earthquake or volcanic eruption, the show must go on. [Clip: Ethel Merman.] Let's see what's been happening this week.
02 — (Not) talking about diversity. Any time I'm feeling low, thanks to the internet I can log on to one of the broadsheet newspapers or one of the TV news channels and have a long cynical chuckle at the contortions their liberal reporters go through when presenting stories related to diversity.
Here, for example, is the July 5th New York Times. Front page story below the fold, headline For Neighborhood in Flux, Tensions Surface at a Revived City Pool.
I can do some quick decoding — out of liberal Newspeak, I mean, into traditional English — right there with the headline. In a story about New York City, which this obviously is, "Neighborhood in Flux" means that a city neighborhood is being gentrified. The former inhabitants — working-class white ethnics, Hispanics (which in this context means Puerto Ricans and Dominicans), or underclass blacks — are being displaced by mostly-white yuppies. It's happening all over, not just in New York. America's inner cities are being reclaimed by the upper-middle classes — again, mostly non-Hispanic white, with the merest seasoning of buppies (that's black yuppies) and, er, Huppies (not to be confused with hippies, which is a different thing).
Likewise, the phrase "Tensions Surface" almost always means race trouble. So it proves in this case. The New York Times story concerns McCarren Park in Brooklyn. If you want to check it out, bring up Google Maps for midtown Manhattan, draw an imaginary line from west to east along 14th street, extend the line across the river into Brooklyn, keep going three or four blocks inland, and there you are: McCarren Park.
The park's pretty big, with ball fields, a quarter-mile running track, and a big pool, the McCarren Park Pool. The pool was built back in the public works boom during the Depression days. Then, "after sliding into disrepair," says the Times — I wonder what the story is behind that — the pool was emptied and the area closed in 1984.
Well, last week they re-opened it after a $50 million renovation, and on that very first day there was race trouble — oops, sorry, I mean "tensions surfaced." This was because the partial gentrification of the neighborhood left the pool in range of some public-housing projects populated by blacks and Hispanics … Oops again, sorry again, I mean on account of the neighborhood being "in flux."
So here are these media liberals walking on eggshells through their narratives. Longish quote from the Times, quote:
Inside the pool on Friday [that's June 29th], teenagers scuffled with a lifeguard who had ordered them to stop doing back flips, and the pool closed an hour early. On Monday, two police officers were injured by swimmers who also persisted in doing back flips. Three men were arrested and charged with assault in the second degree, inciting to riot, criminal nuisance, and menacing. More security has been apparent in recent days.
End quote. The more downmarket New York Post, which is somewhat franker about these things, had more to say about that Friday "scuffle." It was, said the Post, quote, "a vicious brawl." Further quote: "An unruly crowd of teens started the melee at about 6:15 pm when they attacked guards trying to stop them doing dangerous back-flips into the water," end quote. The Post quoted some tweets that made it sound even worse, quote, "full riot," and, quote, "life guard assaulted, nearly drowned by group of kids."
Reporting on the Monday disturbances, the Post told us that, quote, "A 20-year-old hood [sic] punched a cop in the face and was busted for assault, police said. His two pals, 17 and 18, were cuffed for disorderly conduct."
It was the Times story that got us closest to a description of the perps, though. Quote: "Two of the men arrested came from a public housing complex, the Marcy Houses, on the border of Williamsburg and Bedford Stuyvesant. The other lives across the street from the pool."
Latest news is that the city's Police Department will from now on have plainclothes officers at the pool.
Now look: The "diversity" nonsense is what it is, and the problems arising from it are what they are. All I want to know is, why can't we talk frankly and honestly about it? Why all this tiptoeing around by journalists, who are supposed to report cold facts?
Look at those newspaper stories I quoted: "teenagers" … "three men" … "a crowd of teens" … a "group of kids" … "a 20-year-old hood" and his two "pals" (why not "accomplices"?) … and then we're back to "men."
And what happened at the pool? Was it a "scuffle"? A "vicious brawl"? A "melee"? A "full riot"? Who knows? Not the newspaper-readers of New York, either tabloid or broadsheet.
It's like we've gone so deep into the sensitivity zone, we've lost our language for describing events like this. What's a "hood"? Let's try the dictionary … hang on … Must be this: "hood noun Slang a hoodlum." When I look up "hoodlum," though, it says it means "gangster," which I take to mean someone involved in organized crime. I somehow doubt that the 20-year-old guy who punched a cop in the face at McCarren Park Pool on Monday wears shiny suits and pinkie rings.
Linguistically, this whole zone is a mess. It's a mess because we're afraid to speak honestly about what's going on. When people are afraid to speak honestly, it's because there are true facts in the world that they'd prefer not to face.
True facts like these: For white yuppies from gentrified neighborhoods, a free public swimming pool is a place to swim a little, sunbathe a little, have fun with the kids a little if you're married, flirt a little if you're not, and catch up on some reading. For young blacks and Hispanics from the projects, it's a place to show off, status-challenge other young toughs, get in fights, and defy authority.
The two things don't mix. Whoever thought they would — whoever spent $50 million to bring this pool back to commission, with open admission for all who show up — is an idiot, an idiot whose brain has been addled by the kind of dishonest, reality-defying linguistic malpractice on display in the New York newspapers this week.
03 — Dept. of Justice jumps shark If you thought the federal Department of Justice could not get any crazier, try this.
The Police Department of the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, has fitness standards for people who want to be police officers. Applicants must complete a 300-meter run, a 1½ mile run, sessions of pull-ups and sit-ups.
In the years 2005 to 2009, only 19 percent of female applicants passed this test, compared to 63 percent of men. Gosh, why would that be? I have no clue. What does the U.S. Department of Justice say? DISCRIMINATION! — that's what.
In 2011, responding to complaints from female applicants who'd failed the test, Corpus Christi PD lowered the standards. As a result, thirty-three percent of women passed the test, along with 82 percent of men. The D.o.J. was not satisfied. "You're still discriminating," they said.
I'm not making this up. The D.o.J. is now suing Corpus Christi for violating the civil rights of rejected female applicants.
Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department, sang the following to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw" while juggling three different kinds of fruit, quote: "The Justice Department is looking forward to working with the city to resolve this matter in a way that eliminates the use of the unlawful physical ability test and gives women who were screened out of the process an opportunity to become Corpus Christi police officers."
I don't know about you, gentle listener, but I say this is some kind of turning point. This administration has jumped the shark, and its actions are now indisputably insane. Prove me wrong.
04 — Obamacare decision fallout. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth among conservatives over Chief Justice John Roberts' decision in the Obamacare case.
The wailing and gnashing has been offset to some degree by a faction of conservatives finding silver linings of various kinds. In the lead here was George Will, hailing the decision for its firm statement of limitations on the Commerce Clause. Other upbeat conservatives said the Court's decision would be a vote-winner for Mitt Romney, concentrating the electorate's minds on the fact that if they want to get rid of Obamacare, they will have to do it through the ballot box.
I agree with George Will: Congress has justified far too many power grabs via the Commerce Clause. It's time that particular tactic was scotched. I agree with the other guys, too: The electorate voted in the people who gave us Obamacare. If they hate the thing now, let them vote those people out.
Fundamentally, though, I think it's all just quibbling over inconsequentialities. Our current healthcare system is a bureaucratic extravaganza that costs us way more than people in any other nation pay, with not much to show in healthcare outcomes for all the extra money.
In the mail today, a pretty average day mail-wise, I got two letters from my secondary healthcare insurer. One letter is 13 printed pages; the other is only six. I just filed both letters in my file box, in the box's thickest folder, the one for medical records and correspondence. I never read these letters; nobody ever does. They're just some pro forma thing required of the insurance company by some regulation or other.
Mrs. Derbyshire is a Medical Billing professional. That's her job, Medical Billing. She had to go to college to qualify for it. I used to take a look sometimes at her course materials: Nuclear Physics would have been an easier choice of career.
Obamacare will of course make the thing much worse. Why are we Americans stuck with this choice, a choice between lousy and worse? Basically because we have deceived ourselves into thinking we are averse to socialism, so that fully socialized single-payer healthcare is unthinkable to us, and unmarketable for our politicians. Other countries do fine with it, but we can't bear the thought.
It's self-deception, as I said. We're socialized up to our eyeballs. What are Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP (the Children's Health Insurance Program) if not socialism? What's EMTALA, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, requiring practically all hospitals to provide care to anyone needing emergency treatment regardless of citizenship, legal status or ability to pay — what's EMTALA if not socialism? What's Medicare Part D, if not socialism?
We love socialism, and watch happily as presidents of every persuasion, liberal or conservative, sign it into law. EMTALA was signed into law by Ronald Reagan; Medicare Part D was signed into law by George W. Bush. The American people love socialism just as much as the people of any other advanced country do. We just don't want to admit it. Who are we kidding? That's not a rhetorical question. We're kidding ourselves, big time.
One of my readers posted a comment to something I wrote, that's stuck in my mind. If you look around the world, says this reader, at the most comfortable, prosperous, peaceful, and happiest countries, what drives American conservatives crazy is that they're all socialist. What drives liberals crazy is that they're all white.
I'd want to add a lot of qualifications to that. For example, those countries are all small, and possibilities and capabilities are different for small countries than for big ones. They're not all white, either: last time I checked, Japanese don't count as white.
If you want to talk socialism, though, the Japanese are less socialist than we are. Their central government spends only 37 percent of the nation's GDP; ours spends 39 percent, and that's not even to mention state and local expenditures.
On the same yardstick, the following other countries are less socialist than we are: Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Australia, Russia, Switzerland, South Korea, Uruguay, Taiwan, Singapore. Canada and Norway spend a tad more than us, around 40 percent of GDP, New Zealand at 41, … You get the picture. On the dollar figures of government expenditure, the U.S.A. is no more hostile to socialism that those other nations. Like I said, we're kidding ourselves.
The price of self-deception is very high, as it usually is, in all spheres of life. Instead of a single-payer healthcare system with a minimal bureaucracy, supplemented by private arrangements with private insurance companies for those who want more and can afford it, we have this vast Rube Goldberg contraption, this bureaucratic nightmare that sends me twenty pages of dead tree every couple of days, that employs thousands of people like my wife to sort it out for all the involved parties.
Obamacare will make it worse, you may be sure of that. And it will get worse and worse until we eventually wake up and admit that other countries have had it right all along, and we've had it wrong. That's a painful thing for proud Americans to admit; but reality will have the last word. She always does.
05 — Tom and Katie split. A little showbiz news for a change. Yes, this segment is about the Tom Cruise / Katie Holmes break-up.
I have to tread very carefully here. Tom Cruise belongs to a certain, ah, religious denomination I had better not name. That organization has a reputation for massive lawsuits against anyone who steps on its foot in the subway. This denomination was founded sixty years ago by an unemployed writer of second-rate science fiction.
The mid-20th century was the great age of pseudoscience, the age of the orgone box, of Dr J.B. Rhine's telepathy experiments, of UFOs and Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision. Psychoanalysis was still going strong, with tremendous social and literary influence. Well, the aforementioned sci-fi author reached deep into these murky waters, pulled out a handful of mud, and shaped it into the aforementioned denomination.
My best guess is that this religious denomination will not be around two thousand years from now; but you never know. Anyway, Tom Cruise is a committed congregant. When he married Katie Holmes 5½ years ago, she became one too. Their little girl Suri, currently aged six, would presumably be inducted into the same denomination. You've heard of cradle Catholicism? Well, little Suri was a cradle you-know-what-ist.
Therein seems to have lain the problem. Tom's denomination is awfully jealous of its adherents. Once in that thing, you don't easily get out. Hearing that her little girl was about to be sent off to a camp to be zombified in the faith, Katie pulled the plug.
Next thing in the news, Katie's New York home was being staked out by guys with thick necks, photographing anyone who came in or out. Now I see Katie's hired some goons of her own, so the whole strange business is turning into a goonfest.
Moral of the story: If you're a dimwitted young actress looking to launch a movie career by marrying an established male star, choose a Muslim. It'll be easier on you in the long run.
06 — The Higgs boson. So, have physicists spotted the Higgs boson, or haven't they?
Let me have a shot at explaining the Higgs boson. If you know anything about modern physics at all, you know about wave-particle duality.
The wave side of that consists of wavy oscillations in a field. The electromagnetic field is the familiar one, the field propagated outward through space by an old-fashioned radio transmitter, or a flashlight. If you imagine yourself shrunk down to a dot, and placed at some point in an electromagnetic field, with instruments in your hand to measure electric and magnetic force, you'd see the needles on the instruments go up and down, up and down. That's the wave going by.
When you get deep into the mathematics of these fields, some of the equations are easier to interpret if you treat the energy of the field as bundled up into localized packets called quanta. The quantum for the electromagnetic field is a little guy called the photon.
When scientists first wrestled with wave-particle duality, they thought in terms of correspondence between the intensity of the field at some place and the probability of the photon being in that place. You still see popular explanations of fundamental physics couched in those terms.
We now know that that way of thinking is naïve. The actual relationship between the field interpretation of the mathematical equations, and the particle interpretation, is more subtle, with deep roots in advanced algebra and classical mechanics.
The correct attitude to all this is to remember that the human brain evolved to cope with things on the everyday feet-and-inches scale, what one philosopher called "medium-sized dry goods." We don't have the imaginative resources to make true mental models of what's going on at subatomic scales, except indirectly via math. Think of the mathematical equations as the real thing, and the talk about waves and particles as just approximate imaginative interpretations of reality.
And of course there are other kinds of fields in physics. The gravitational field is the other one everyone knows about. And yes, there are gravity waves, though it takes a stupendous amount of energy to generate them; and yes, there's a particle called a graviton, ditto ditto.
Now, how come matter has mass? — inertia, resistance to being accelerated up from a standing start? That sure doesn't come from the electromagnetic field: the photon, we know, has no mass. Nor, believe it or not, does the hypothetical graviton, even though the gravitational field is intimately bound up with the masses of the bodies generating it. Compare the photon, which has no charge, even though it's all bound up with electromagnetism, which is fizzing with charge.
If there isn't something else out there, in fact, everything should in theory be traveling at the speed of light, which pretty much rules out normal matter. If all the particles making up your body, your house, your planet, are moving at the speed of light, normal everyday life is problematic.
Well, there's yet another field called the Higgs field. This is the thing you need to get mass into the system. And just as the equations for the electromagnetic field can be read as implying a particle, the photon; so the equations of the Higgs field imply a very different particle, the Higgs boson. The particle, in our best current understanding, actually generates the field. Hence the joke that's been going around.
A Higgs boson shows up at the door of a Catholic church.
(That doesn't work if you're an English Catholic; they pronounce "mass" as "maaass.")
OK, I did my best there to explain. This week's news is that the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland has produced data, analyzed over several months, which strongly suggests the Higgs boson has been spotted. Physicists are celebrating all over. Peter Higgs himself, the guy the wee beastie is named after, showed up in Geneva to join the fun.
The thing that's been observed may not be a Higgs boson; but if it's not, that's even more exciting for physicists. The Higgs has been predicted by theory; if what's been spotted is a Higgs, the theory is confirmed. If it's not a Higgs, physics needs a whole new theory, which means years of employment for theoretical physicists cooking up a new theory. Different kinds of happiness, but happiness either way. Congratulations, guys … er, and some gals, too.
07 — Celebrating the Fourth. July 4th came and went. Here on the island we expatriates had a modest little celebration of our own, about which I'm afraid the less said the better. Thing is, it turned into a bit of a fiasco.
The Greek authorities are highly strung right now, in part because of the ongoing financial crisis, and in part because of their awareness that in the opinion of many Greeks they should, indeed, be highly strung, and the higher the better.
Hence our little firework display was mistaken for the gunfire of a coup, and brought a boatload of astunomia over from the mainland, all armed to the teeth, kicking down doors, yelling and frightening the goats. We calmed them down, gave them some ouzo and souvlaki, and explained the situation, and all was made well. Almost all: the head astunomikos, the sergeant I guess, took a rather strong fancy to my research assistant Brandy, and wouldn't re-embark his men until Brandy had polished his nightstick for him.
Over there in the States, I see, people celebrated the nation's birthday, or possibly Calvin Coolidge's birthday, or in a few cases I suppose the retreat from Gettysburg, people celebrated in customary fashion.
In President Obama's case, "customary fashion" means lying through his teeth and spitting in the faces of patriotic citizens. Let me take those one at a time, starting with the lying through his teeth.
The occasion here was a special citizenship ceremony held on the morning of the Fourth in the East Room of the White House. Twenty-five new citizens were sworn in at the ceremony, all of them active-duty members of the military.
The President used this occasion to do some politicking on behalf of the so-called Dream Act, which would grant permanent residence to several hundred thousand persons who were brought here illegally as children, and to a million or so more who can fake having been so brought. As Radio Derb explained at length two weeks ago, the standards of evidence required to become a Dream Act beneficiary are looser than the proverbial wizard's sleeve — loose enough that a person nudging forty, who jumped the border solo as a teenager, and has spent half his time since in Guadalajara, should have no trouble qualifying for permanent residence.
And that of course is what Obama and his party want. Practically all the Dream Act beneficiaries will be Hispanics, who vote heavily Democratic. What's not to like for Obama and his party?
So here come the lies through the teeth. Quote from Obama at the citizenship ceremony, quote: "Just as we remain a nation of laws, we have to remain a nation of immigrants," end quote.
The first part of that isn't so much lies as hypocrisy, from a president who has, even more conspicuously than his predecessor, done everything in his power to thwart the enforcement of our nation's laws on immigration and settlement.
The second part is an actual falsehood. We do not have to remain a nation of immigrants. We could cease to be a nation of immigrants tomorrow, by act of Congress: securing the borders, properly monitoring foreign residents, and cutting down severely on legal immigration. It's absurd to be bringing in a million foreigners a year for settlement when twenty-five million citizens can't find work. We had lower levels of immigration for years before the 1965 Immigration Act, and the country was just fine, with the economy and social conditions improving faster than they ever have before or since.
What was the other thing I said? Oh yeah: "spitting in the faces of patriotic citizens." Citizens like my son, for example: a high school senior next year, and hoping to join the U.S. military right after graduation. But now here are 25 people at the president's ceremony who are serving in the military without being citizens. They're not outliers, either: twenty-nine thousand noncitizens currently wear the uniforms of the United States military.
Why? Shouldn't military service be a privilege for citizens only? Suppose my son shows up at the recruiting office next summer but gets turned away because the military has all the recruits it needs — including those 29,000 noncitizens?
Not for the first time, I find myself wondering why I bothered to go to the trouble and expense of acquiring U.S. citizenship. What exactly was the point, if all the goodies are for noncitizens?
08 — Signoff. That's all I have time for, ladies and gents, I'm afraid. A belated happy Fourth of July to all!
Now let's try a little mind force. Find a quiet place, close your eyes, concentrate hard, and channel Mitt Romney. Governor, please: choose Senator Rand Paul for your running mate. Rand Paul, Rand Paul, Rand Paul, …
[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]