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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Yes, listeners, this is your psephologically genial host John Derbyshire with an update on news from this, the second week in October. I am broadcasting to you from our state-of-the-art facility here on our island in the sunny Aegean, courtesy of Taki's Magazine.
Exciting times here on the island this week. The village has a mayoral election coming up. Our incumbent, Mayor Papakonstantinou, is being challenged by Nikki Nicolaides, popular local businessman and proprietor of our only fast food outlet, famous for their goatburgers.
Well, the rivals for the mayoralty had a public debate at George Gregiorou's ouzo joint. It was well attended; and so far as I could discern with my very limited knowledge of the local language, the moderator was fair and pointed. Unfortunately the debate ended in a fist-fight between the two candidates, which then further degenerated into a general melee.
I couldn't follow the cause of the disagreement at the time, but as it was explained to me afterwards, Nikki had promised that if elected he would kill Big Bird, momentarily forgetting that "Big Bird" is the village nickname for Mayor Papakonstantinou's wife. The Mayor sprang to the defense of his wife's honor, and the fisticuffs began. I must say, "Big Bird" seems an odd sort of nickname for a lady, but Greeks have their own customs in these things.
But enough of our petty provincial concerns. Let's take a look at the great issues of the world. At, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court.
02 — How will the Supremes obfuscate affirmative action this time? This week the Supremes heard oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas. This is another challenge to affirmative action in admissions to our public universities. The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, applied to the University of Texas at Austin, but was turned down in 2008. She sued the university, claiming that it had violated her rights under the 14th Amendment. That Amendment guarantees, quote, "the equal protection of the laws" to any person within the jurisdiction of any state.
A little background here. The root problem is that blacks don't do well on academic tests. To pick a dataset at random, here are SAT scores across the past quarter century. In the Critical Reading SAT, there was a black-white gap in 1987 of 96 points: black average 428, white average 524. Got that? We're in 1987; the gap is 96 points. In 2000 the gap was 94 points. In 2010 it was 99 points. That's Critical Reading; how about math? 1987: 103 point gap. 2000: 104 points. 2010: 108 points.
The consequence is that on a basis of strict academic merit, as measured by tests like the SAT, not many blacks qualify for extrance to good universities. There are similar issues with American Indians and Hispanics.
In the atmosphere of progressive egalitarianism and white liberal guilt that prevailed in the 1960s and 1970s, public universities set quotas in their admissions for these academically weak groups. The justification at the time was remedial. The theory was that these groups underperformed because they were discriminated against in the larger society and because their intellects had been enfeebled by historical injustices.
That regime ended with the Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke's application had been rejected by the University of California, though minority applicants with much lesser qualifications had been accepted on the quota system. The Supreme Court ruled that quotas violated the Equal Protection Clause, but allowed that universities could use race as a factor in admissions, just so long as they didn't quota-ize that factor.
Nobody could figure out what that meant. What the universities took it to mean in practice was, that they could go on doing what they'd been doing, so long as they avoided the word "quota." Affirmative Action marched on for another 25 years. Somewhere in there, based on some of the wording of the Bakke decision, the justification for affirmative action quietly shifted from remedying past wrongs and compensating for discrimination to "ensuring a diverse student body." Being in a diverse student body, it was claimed, would benefit all students, making them wiser and more sensitive. If there was any empirical evidence for this claim, I have not been able to find it.
OK, now it's 25 years later, the year 2003, and the Supremes took another affirmative action case, Grutter v. Bollinger. Barbara Grutter had been rejected by the University of Michigan; Lee Bollinger was President of the university. This time the Supremes voted against the plaintiff, and this time the issue got even more theoretical. The university, said the Court, had a legitimate interest in ensuring a, quote, "critical mass" of minority students, on account of the aforementioned, though still so far as I know unproven and unquantified, benefits of diversity.
The Court also said, with no relevance I can fathom, that it, quote, "expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today," end quote.
As before, nobody could quite figure out what the justices were talking about, so universities just went on as before, though being more careful than ever not to mention quotas.
So in these two big test cases, 1978 and 2003, the Court seems to have established the precedent (as we legal scholars say) that when an affirmative action case reaches the nation's highest court, it will be smothered in a cloud of jurisprudential squid ink about "holistic review," "tailored use," and "critical mass," under cover of which universities can go on doing what they have been doing, just so long as they don't use the word "quotas."
That brings us up to date. Then along came Fisher v. University of Texas, in which the justices heard oral arguments this week.
03 — Holistic individualized consideration. As can be divined from the foregoing, in the matter of affirmative action, the preference of the Supreme Court up to now has been to obfuscate the issue as much as possible, wrapping it in such a blanket of legal Esperanto as to make your average Byzantine theologian a model of clarity and precision by comparison.
The case of Fisher v. University of Texas has an interesting wrinkle that figured large in this week's oral arguments. Under Texas law since 1997, public universities in the state have to admit any applicant who graduated in the top ten percent of his class. That gets you a lot of minorities all right, but they mostly come from majority black or Hispanic high schools with low average student performance. A minority kid with well-off parents, who attended a good school, probably isn't in the top ten percent of that school. So with this ten percent rule, minority kids from prosperous families are under-represented. How do you get their representation up? Use race as a factor!
That's a big part of the issue in Fisher. Abigail Fisher went to a good high school but did not graduate in the top ten percent. She was therefore in the "pool" of students the university didn't have to admit … along with those minority kids from affluent families. Guess what: they got picked ahead of her. That's her beef.
My guess is that the Court's decision on Fisher, when it emerges, will add another layer of juri-babble to the issue, confusing everyone still further, but in a way that allows the universities to go on as before admitting less-qualified minorities while rejecting better-qualified whites.
There has been a bright side to this week's oral arguments, though. While none of the justices is willing to admit that affirmative action is all a crock, some of them do seem aware that the the convoluted logic and weird jargon generated by the Bakke and Grutter cases are difficult for an intelligent person to take seriously.
What, for example, is the "critical mass" of minority students that the Court in Grutter said a university might legitimately aim for? Chief Justice Roberts actually asked this question of U.S. Solicitor General Don Verrilli. Roberts, quote: "General, what is your view on how we tell when the University has attained critical mass?"
Verrilli replied that critical mass is not a number. Quote from him: "I think it would be very ill-advised to suggest that it is numerical." End quote. Well, of course! That would be a quota, see? We must never say "quota."
Roberts pressed the point, though. Quote: "Okay. I'm hearing a lot about what it's not. I'd like to know what it is."
Verrilli came back with a two hundred and seventy-nine-word answer. I know; I cut'n'pasted it to Microsoft Word, and that's what Word counted: 279 words. If you're the kind of person who enjoys driving bamboo splinters under your fingernails, by all means read the 279 words for yourself.
Justice Scalia got in on the act at this point. His response to Verrilli was as follows, quote: "We should probably stop calling it 'critical mass' then, because 'mass,' you know, assumes numbers, either in size or a certain weight." End quote.
Verrilli: "I agree."
The next thing in the transcript is the word "laughter" enclosed in parentheses. I'd like to think that is a euphemism for "uncontrollable hilarity," but I wasn't present so I don't really know.
Don Verrilli got the week's obfuscation award at any rate. Quote: "Race is not a mechanical automatic factor [i.e. in deciding whether to admit an applicant]. It's an holistic individualized consideration." End quote. Roll that around on your tongue, listener: "an holistic individualized consideration."
Well, so long as it's not a quota, I guess it's OK.
04 — The three horsegirls of the Libyan apocalypse. Listeners have been emailing in to ask why I haven't said more about the fiasco in Libya last month, when Muslim terrorists murdered our ambassador.
Short answer: I'm up to here with the damn Muslims and their damn problems. We should fence off the whole Islamosphere and leave them to kill, cook, and eat each other, if that's what they want to do. Above all, we of the West should not permit mass settlement of Muslims in our lands. Muslims have very nice countries of their own to live in, dozens of them, mostly with extremely pleasant climates. There is no reason to let them settle in our countries.
Having gotten that off my chest, what about this business of our ambassador being murdered in Benghazi? Not as an issue of Libyan politics, which should be left to sort itself out, and which no sane non-Libyan should get involved with, but as an issue in U.S. politics?
Key players here have been three ladies, all co-conspirators in the global "human rights" racket.
Exhibit One: Samantha Power, who runs the Human Rights section of the National Security Council. Samantha Power was born in Ireland. Now, I shall tread carefully here. There are some very sensible Irish people. Some of my best friends are Irish. The Irish as a people, however, have, since they got rid of the British, made something of a specialty of global meddling — going into other people's countries and telling them how to be better humanitarians. Hang out in the U.N. refectory over there on New York's East Side; you'll hear a surprising number of Irish accents.
In the present age, Irish women have been particularly active in this human rights business. Trust me: you haven't really met a hard-left feminist virago until you've met an Irish one.
Samantha Power is in this tradition. She wrote a book, title A Problem from Hell, about America's deplorable failure to stop the genocides of the 20th century, or even to bother about them much. That got her the attention of George Soros, who funds an outfit named Responsibility to Protect, R2P for short, pushing humanitarian interventions regardless of national interest.
Either the book or the Soros connection, or more likely both, won Barack Obama's heart, and Ms. Power joined the president's National Security team, always urging humanitarian interventions. In Libya, for example, where the late Colonel Gaddafy was putting down an insurrection with all the brutality that putting down an insurrection actually entails, and then some. "Make it stop!" shrieked Ms. Power, and Obama obliged with an intervention — unnecessary, contrary to America's interests, empowering to Muslim radicals, but on the Samantha Power scale of values, good and right and just.
It's interesting to note that Ms. Power was especially keen for us to stop Gaddafy's assault on the rebels in Benghazi. Pause for a moment to reflect on how different this summer's news might have been if we had let Gaddafy finish the job he started in Benghazi. The phrase "unforeseen consequences" mean anything?
Exhibit Two: Susan Rice, our current Ambassador to the U.N. A scion of Washington, D.C.'s mulatto high bourgeoisie, Ms. Rice is another zealot for humanitarian intervention in other people's affairs. She joined with Samantha Power to press the Obama administration to get involved in Libya against Gaddafy, with whom we had cut a very satisfactory deal, and who was on our side against the jihadist fanatics.
Gaddafy was, said Ms. Rice, a very, very bad man, and therefore we should help the rebels overthrow him. It's true that Gaddafy was no Eagle Scout; but he was the devil we knew. Tossing him overboard to be replaced by some devil we don't know, made no sense as statecraft, but gave Ms. Power and Ms. Rice delicious tingles of moral satisfaction.
How did they get the administration to go along with their crusade for goodness, human rights, and moralistic tingles? Why, by enlisting Exhibit Three.
Exhibit Three: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama's Secretary of State. Having been closely acquainted with Bill Clinton for nigh on forty years, Mrs. Clinton [I don't have to say "Rodham Clinton" any more, do I? … No? … Thanks.] Mrs. Clinton's outlook on the world is a tad more jaundiced than the gushing moralism of Madames Power and Rice.
They got her on board with the Libya project, anyway, and she got Obama on board, in defiance of every one of his military advisors. The rest is history.
Ed Klein, in his book The Amateur, calls these three ladies "the humanitarian Vulcans."
So what are these three ladies doing now? What are they doing, in particular, to replicate their wonderful Libya success in Syria, another trashcan Arab state with an insurrection?
Short answer: not a thing. Hillary's putting her Washington condo on the market and picking out new drapes for the house in Chappaqua. Susan Rice is fighting off demands that she resign her ambassadorship because of her denials that there was anything organized about the attack on our Benghazi consulate. Samantha Power is telling schoolchildren about female empowerment. A search of Google News with keys "Syria" and "Samantha Power" drew a complete blank.
Where has Ms. Power's humanitarian passion gone? I can reveal the answer to you, Radio Derb listeners. It has been eaten … by her ambition to be Secretary of State in the second Obama administration.
05 — Romney's foreign policy: Keep doing what we're doing! I note, by the way, that if Samantha Power — described as a, quote, "far-out leftist firebrand," in Ed Klein's book — is not urging humanitarian intervention in Syria, then she is less of a humanitarian interventionist than Mitt Romney, to judge from the speech he gave at the Virginia Military Institute this Monday.
Quote from the Governor, quote: "In Syria I'll work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and then ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad's tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets … It's essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East." End quote.
In other words, Syria is Libya Two. Isn't that what Romney's saying? "Work with our partners …" I guess that means NATO — you know, that military alliance set up to prevent Soviet forces from surging through the Fulda Gap into West Germany. So we and NATO are going to do what? "Organize those members of the opposition who share our values."
Let's see: Who have we got in the Syrian opposition? Some middle-aged clerks and schoolteachers who kinda like the idea of representative government, separation of powers, free press, et cetera, and who would like nothing better than to sit around in dusty rooms talking about those things all day long. Well, nothing except perhaps a U.S. refugee visa … None of these people could tell you how to strip a light machine-gun, but never mind: They share our values!
Who else have we got in the Syrian opposition? Tens of thousands of cold-eyed young fanatics, armed to the teeth by Iran, led by fighters hardened in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, ready to die for their faith, or to keep fighting for twenty years if necessary. Do they share our values? No, they spit on our values.
So tell me again, Governor, who are we going to help here? Who are we going to arm?
In that same speech Romney said, speaking of the recent ructions in Libya and Egypt, quote: "As the dust settles, as the murdered are buried, Americans are asking how this happened, how the threats we face have grown worse and what this calls on America to do." End quote.
What he apparently thinks it calls on us to do, is more of the kind of clueless meddling we've been doing for the past forty years. The saying is, Governor: "If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting." Maybe we should try doing something different; like, leaving them all the heck alone and keeping their nationals out of our country.
Someone should at least ask the American people what they'd think of such a policy.
Romney's speech wasn't entirely without humor, though. Here was the best laugh line, quote: "I'll recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel." [Laugh.]
06 — Paul Ryan: the Cincinnati Kid. Another week, another debate, this time the Vice-Presidential candidates.
A few weeks ago Radio Derb remarked that this one should be a lot of fun, with flabby gasbag and foot-chomper Joe Biden up against lean, wiry, scrappy, wonked-up-to-the-nose-holes Paul Ryan. A number of people cautioned me on that prognostication. Biden is not as dumb as he looks, they said — a notion I'm receptive to. How could he be as dumb as he looks?
My friends' cautions got me thinking, though. What they mainly got me thinking about was that great 1960s movie The Cincinnati Kid. Did you see that? Steve McQueen as the up-and-coming young poker player, Edward G. Robinson as the seasoned older player he takes on. The moral of the thing is something along the lines: Age and cunning beat youth and enthusiasm. Punch line, from Edward G. Robinson, quote: "You're good, kid, but as long as I'm around, you're only second best."
So which would it be: Fresh-faced young Cincinnati Ryan skipping circles around a mumbling, disoriented Joe Biden? Or Edward G. Biden turning over the Jack of Diamonds for a straight flush against a stunned, mortified Ryan?
In the event it was neither. The content of the thing was pure chloroform: entitlements and taxes, percentages and allowances …
Oh, and the middle class. The middle class, the middle class. Ryan said his boss has a five-point plan for the middle class. Biden said his boss wants to "level the playing field for the middle class."
Speaking as a member of the middle class, I'd like to say to these two: Guys, please don't help me. Please don't level my playing field. Please don't five-point plan me. Please, please, just leave me the heck alone. All right?
There were a couple of substantive points uttered. Paul Ryan disavowed any intent to intervene in Syria or anywhere else for humanitarian reasons. We'll put U.S. troops on the ground, he said, only in our national security interest.
So let's think this through. Either the national security interest is involved in Syria, or it's not. Let's say it's not. No boots on the ground, then.
But didn't Romney say in his VMI speech that we'll organize those members of the opposition who share our values and then ensure they obtain the arms they need? Yes he did. OK, so President Romney supplies arms to the constitutional democrats of Syria.
Alas, before our constitutional friends can figure out which end of the gun the bullet comes out of, the jihadis start massacring them. Now, Romney also said in his VMI speech that, quote, "No friend of America will question our commitment to support them." And further that, quote, "No-one anywhere, friend or foe, will doubt America's capability to back up our words." Yes he did.
So plainly we'll have to send in troops to help our beleaguered friends. Won't we? So it turns out our national security interest is involved. That's what in math is called a reductio ad absurdum.
Style-wise, Ryan was a clear winner in the debate. If Joe Biden really wants to bring down the Cincinnati Kid, he needs to practice his poker face. That sure is a nice set of capped teeth you've got there, Joe, but we saw a little too much of them Thursday night.
07 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: Britain's Prime Minister has announced that every secondary-school child in the country will visit the battlefields of WW1 in 2014 to commemorate the centenary of that conflict's beginning. That's a lot of kids. If the governments of Germany and France decide on a similar policy, and all the kids are there at the same time, we could have a full-scale re-enactment. I bet the kids would enjoy that. More fun than algebra, anyway.
Item: A gentleman in the town of Holland, Michigan, was taken with the urge to eat a squirrel. Before eating it, he of course wanted to cook it; and before cooking it he had to skin it. Now, as everyone knows, squirrels are notoriously difficult to skin. This fellow though he could bypass the difficulty using a blowtorch. He took the squirrel out onto the wooden deck of his apartment and attempted to apply the blowtorch. Result: His entire apartment building burned down, leaving 32 residents homeless. The fate of the squirrel is not recorded.
Item: What else have we got? I'm scraping the barrel here. A lady in Bordeaux, France, has received a phone bill for 16 trillion dollars. That's six thousand time France's entire Gross Domestic Product. Hey, whatever it takes to close the deficit.
Ah, let's see … Oh yes: Edward Archbold, 32 years old, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, died shortly after winning a roach-eating contest at his local pet store. He was competing for a free python. I bet he would have eaten that too, but fate intervened.
Finally, in recollection of a more relaxed time before iPhones and Facebook came up, when people had time for hobbies, let's pause to remember patriotic Englishman William Moir, who built a precise scale model of Buckingham Palace out of matchsticks — 39,000 of them. That was back in 1960, but the model has just gone on display to the public. Took him three years. Hoo boy. Just hearing of matchsticks makes me nostalgic.
10 — Signoff. That's it, ladies and gents. Not many musical "hooks" there … But I did mention WW1, so how about a song from that War to see us out. Here's the original great Irish tenor John McCormack. More from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: John McCormack, "Roses of Picardy"]