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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, fife'n'drum version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Once again, listeners, this is your eruditely genial host John Derbyshire with a survey of the week's topics.
I have just got through reading the mail and email that was waiting for me when I got back to the island, many thanks to all our well-wishers; and of course a special thanks to our dear friend President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan, who sent New Year's greetings. Back at you, Mr President! We shall be over there in May for Radio Derb's tenth annniversary bash.
Meanwhile, let's see what's been going on elsewhere.
02 — Bridgegate. Political brouhaha of the week concerns Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.
Last November Christie was elected to a second four-year term as Governor. He'll be sworn in for this second term on January 21st.
Well, this week — which is to say, with two weeks left before that swearing-in — news came out that Christie's immediate subordinates had engaged in some dirty politics last year.
The gubernatorial election was last November. In the run-up, Christie's people were trawling for endorsements from political figures around the state. One of the persons whose endorsement they sought was Mark Sokolich, Mayor of the sizeable town of Fort Lee. This was a bit of a stretch since Sokolich is a Democrat, while Christie is a Republican. Not very surprisingly, Sokolich declined to endorse Christie.
Now, the town of Fort Lee is just across the Hudson River from upper Manhattan. It is home to the western end of the George Washington Bridge, known to New Yorkers as the GWB. The GWB is a major feeder artery connecting Manhattan Island to the New Jersey mainland. If you're driving in the New York area and you tune your car radio to a news station, not many minutes will pass before they give you a report about traffic levels on the GWB. If there's an accident or other emergency on the GWB, bridge traffic backs up and the town of Fort Lee suffers a nasty case of gridlock.
The GWB is run by the Port Authority, a joint enterprise of New York State and New Jersey. Both governors appoint people to executive positions in the Port Authority. One of the executives appointed by Christie is a bloke named David Wildstein.
Back in August last year, after Mayor Sokolich had declined to endorse Christie, Wildstein got an email from Anne Kelly, Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," said the email. "Got it," replied Wildstein. He then swung into action.
For four days in early September, the first days of the school year, two of the three on-ramps to the GWB were closed, causing massive gridlock in Fort Lee. One old lady died because ambulances couldn't get to her in time.
Christie's people at the Port Authority claimed the ramps were closed in aid of a, quote, "Traffic safety pattern study." After four days one of the New York-appointed executives re-opened the ramps.
So that's the brouhaha: an episode of good old smash-mouth politics. Christie says he didn't know about the operation, and to date there is no evidence to contradict him. It's still an embarassment to him, because for weeks he's been denying that his staff had anything to do with it. Then this week the offending emails were revealed, so Christie looks like a guy who doesn't know what his staff are up to.
The whole thing is significant nationally because Christie is being spoken of as the Republican candidate for President in 2016. The Democrats and their shills in the national media are going to play this up for all it's worth.
The Radio Derb take on this is basically "Meh."
For one thing, the 2016 Presidential primaries are two years away, and it's hard to keep a minor scandal like this in people's field of attention for two years, even with the media on your side. "A week is a long time in politics," said a British Prime Minister. Two years is a hundred times as long.
For another thing, Christie looks to us like a lackluster candidate. He's hopeless on the National Question — pro-amnesty, open borders — and an anti-gun fanatic to boot. There's nothing much there for a traditionalist conservative to like.
So, meh. And tacked on to our insouciance you'll find some mild annoyance at the way the media have already started calling this "Bridgegate." I mean, really — "Bridgegate"? If instead of putting cones across those ramps the PA had closed them off with gates, would the affair be called "Gategate"? Can we please retire that stupid "-gate" suffix?
03 — New York City, twinned with Pyongyang. I don't want this broadcast to be too Northeast-centric, but I can't forbear a brief comment on the extraordinary leftward swing of New York City.
You know the story so far. Last November 22 percent of New York voters showed up at the polls to elect a new Mayor. Three quarters of them, which is to say 16 percent of the electorate, voted in leftist Bill de Blasio.
How far left is de Blasio? Suffice it to say he married a black lesbian and they took their honeymoon in Cuba, thus neatly affirming both classical Marxism, in which the workers are being oppressed by evil capitalists, and Cultural Marxism, in which blacks, women, homosexuals, and illegal aliens are being oppressed by white male breeder citizens.
The six percent of New Yorkers who turned up to vote against de Blasio in November probably thought things couldn't get much worse. Well, they just did.
New York City has a legislature called the City Council, with 51 elected members. The members elect a Speaker from among their number, to set the agenda and supervise the legislative process. This Wednesday they elected Melissa Mark-Viverito as Speaker.
Who she? She a 44-year-old Puerto Rican activist. A sample of her activism: Back in 1975, a Puerto Rican terrorist group let off a bomb in Fraunces Tavern, an old restaurant in downtown Manhattan. Four people were killed and fifty injured in various degrees. The terrorists were caught and given prison terms up to 70 years. Ms Mark-Viverito spent years lobbying for the terrorist leader, Oscar Rivera, to be paroled. She calls him a, quote, "political prisoner."
Ms Mark-Viverito, like Bill de Blasio, is a limousine liberal. She comes from a wealthy family and has lived a life of privilege. That hasn't prevented her from playing the angles to enrich herself further at taxpayers' expense. She owns a rental property in Manhattan, a $1.2 million dollar town house, which she got via a no-interest loan through a city agency.
Now, New York City's mandatory-disclosure laws — laws passed by the City Council, let me remind you, of which Ms Mark-Viverito is now Speaker — the laws insist that elected officials report rental income to the Board of Elections. Ms Mark-Viverito did not do this.
Her people said it was a, quote, "unintentional mistake." Oddly, de Blasio himself also owns rental property, and he too omitted to report his rental income. Funny how these tribunes of the people are so careless about their own civic responsibilities.
Ms Mark-Viverito celebrated her accession to the Speakership by giving a speech in mixed English and Spanish. Some other council members, riding the wave of multicultural triumphalism, gave speeches entirely in Spanish.
As we reported last week in regard to de Blasio, all this left triumphalism has something bogus about it. De Blasio and Mark-Viverito aren't there to exalt the meek and humble: They are there to push the interests of the public-sector worker lobbies — I have taken a New Year's Resolution not to call them unions, because they are not unions, they're lobbies seeking money from the public fisc.
I include under that description the Service Employees International Union, the SEIU. True, the SEIU has some private-sector members — janitors and such — but the bulk of their membership is healthcare workers and public-sector employees. Since 77 cents in every healthcare dollar is provided by government in one form or another, healthcare workers are public-sector to all intents and purposes.
Ms Mark-Viverito was an organizer for SEIU before going into politics. De Blasio was a paid SEIU consultant twelve years ago. Anthony Shorris, his first Deputy Mayor, likewise; likewise again de Blasio's Chief of Staff Emma Wolfe; likewise yet again Shorris's Chief of Staff, Dominic Williams. The SEIU has an awful lot of tickets to call in from this administration.
The first principle of leftist politics is the one stated by Lenin himself: "Who, whom?" Who gets to do what to whom? In the case of New York City, the answer for the next four years is pretty plain: The SEIU gets to do whatever it wants to the people of the city, via its bought-and-paid-for stooges, Bill de Blasio and Melissa Mark-Viverito.
04 — News from Madagascar. OK, let's go spanning the world, to … Madagascar! I don't believe we've reported news from Madagascar before; but there's always a first time, as the bishop said to the actress, so here is some Madagascar news.
First, a brief historical preface. The story of human settlement in Madagascar concerns the longest detour in human history. Madagascar is a huge island — bigger than Spain or Germany — three hundred miles off the coast of East Africa. East Africa, you'll recall, is where our species, Homo sapiens, originated two hundred thousand years ago.
You'd think that our remote ancestors at some point in those two hundred thousand years would have developed seagoing vessels and crossed that three hundred miles to settle Madagascar. That didn't happen. What did happen was, a small group or groups of Homo sap. left Africa much further north, passing into Arabia, around sixty thousand years ago, and gradually spread themselves all over Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas. Madagascar stayed empty.
At some disputed but remarkably late date — around the time of the later Roman Empire, most likely — a handful of people — just a few dozen souls — from Borneo arrived in canoes. Note that from Borneo to Madagascar is five thousand miles of mostly open sea.
So after thousands of miles of land migration across sixty thousand years, followed by a five thousand mile sea voyage, this little group ended up almost within shouting distance of the species homeland in East Africa. As I said, that's one tremendous detour.
Imagine getting lost at sea for several weeks, then washing up at last on an island bigger than Germany, with a warm, wet climate and masses of wildlife and vegetation, but no human beings at all. I think there's another record there: the luckiest shipwreck in human history.
Genetic evidence suggests that a large proportion of these first arrivals were women, most likely slaves being transported as cargo. The imagination boggles.
Well, now to the Madagascar news. They had a presidential election there shortly before Christmas, and the result was finally announced last week. The victor, with 54 percent of the vote, is Mr Hery Martial Rakotoarimanana Rajaonarimampianina.
Radio Derb offers our congratulations to Mr Rajaonarimampianina, and our felicitations to the 21 million people of Madagascar. It's a poor country — 92 percent of Madagascans live on less than two dollars a day, according to the BBC, but I'm sure they're doing their best.
Finally, before leaving Madagascar: Should you feel the urge to read a novel about the place, I recommend the only one known to me: Flashman's Lady, by George MacDonald Fraser. If you're not familiar with the adventures of Harry Flashman, I'd better warn you that this is adult reading.
05 — Rajaonarimampianina, Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele. Just a follow-up here, to deal with an issue arising from the previous segment, concerning the presidential election in Madagascar.
I forgot to note that provided the electoral court confirms Mr [Clip: Rajaonarimampianina]'s victory, he will enjoy the distinction of having a longer name than any other world leader.
Professional journalists such as myself of course take pains to memorize these long foreign names. Therefrom arises the issue.
Like all powerful men, I have enemies, and they do not hesitate to slander and defame me as opportunity arises. For example: Following last week's broadcast, in which there was a segment about the Hawaiian lady with the very long name, some of the lower kinds of internet commentators have suggested that I am insufficiently multicultural. They claim that I only bothered to make one attempt at pronouncing the Hawaiian lady's name, thereafter just cutting and pasting the sound file when I needed to mention her again.
A true professional radio journalist, these detractors sneer, would take the trouble to master the lady's name, however long it might be. Only thus could proper respect be shown to the native peoples of Hawaii and to their mellifluous language.
Let me say here that I indignantly deny these charges. No-one has more respect than I for the noble Hawaiian people and their quaint and fascinating traditional customs — human sacrifice, cannibalism, infanticide, incessant tribal warfare, and so on. Truly they have enriched the glorious tapestry of diversity that is our nation.
I certainly would not stoop to such a low trick as splicing in sound clips of that lady's name. I refer of course to Ms Janice Lokelani [Clip: Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele] of Honolulu. As you may perceive, Ms. [Clip: Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele]'s name trips off my tongue with utmost ease.
There is no need for such low, cheap tricks as have been alleged by my enemies. Not only can I pronounce [Clip: Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele] without hesitation, I can pronounce it at any desired speed, slow — Clip, slow: Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele], or fast — [Clip, fast: Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele]. I can even pronounce it backwards: [Clip, reversed: Eleanuahakeehiluhihakauakukianahiek.] Hah!
My researchers have been unable to find any details of Mr [Clip: Rajaonarimampianina]'s marital status; but should he be unattached, and should the widow [Clip: Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele] seek happiness in Madagascar, Radio Derb will bless the [Clip: Rajaonarimampianina]-[Clip: Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele] union, and urge the lady to use her original name in conjunction with that of her husband, in the style of our own Ms Hillary Rodham Clinton. All joy to Ms [Clip: Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele] [Clip: Rajaonarimampianina]!
I hope this puts the slanders to rest. In the event they continue, let there be no doubt that I stand ready to defend the high professional standards of Radio Derb in a court of law. Those who seek to destroy a man's reputation for cheap political advantage will be served with proper warnings by my attorneys, the redoubtable old white-shoe law firm of Messrs. Sue, Grabbit, and Runne.
06 — Holder tells teachers to racially profile. Race news of the week: Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered American schoolteachers to practice racial profiling.
No kidding. The issue here is discipline in schools. Holder's Justice Department, jointly with the federal Department of Education, carried out an investigation. Although black students made up 15 percent of students they investigated, they made up over a third of students suspended once, 44 percent of those suspended more than once and more than a third of students expelled.
Nothing very surprising there, if you have a realistic attitude towards race. Blacks commit far more crime than whites: seven times the per capita homicide rate, over thirty times the rate for some types of robbery.
Black populations everywhere have high levels of crime and social dysfunction. In the Caribbean nation of Barbados, where Holder's people come from, the homicide rate is ten per hundred thousand, more than twice the American rate — and Barbados is one of the more orderly black nations.
Behavior issues from personality, and all the dimensions of personality are heritable at around the fifty percent level, suggesting they are under genetic control. So population genetics is probably in play here.
Holder of course is having none of that. It's not that he denies high levels of black misbehavior: he says it doesn't matter. What matters is that the numbers for suspensions and other disciplinary measures come out equal.
Here is the relevant passage from the "Dear Colleague" letter sent out by the Justice and Education Departments January 8th. It's on page 11 of the letter. Quote:
Schools also violate Federal law when they evenhandedly implement facially neutral policies and practices that, although not adopted with the intent to discriminate, nonetheless have an unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race.
Got that? You have a, quote, "facially neutral policy." You implement it, quote, "evenhandedly." You have no, quote, "intent to discriminate." Yet if the numbers still come out wrong, you've broken the law!
The instruction here is plain: You have to stop implementing that program evenhandedly. You have to practice racial profiling to make the numbers come out right.
You will recognize here the poisonous doctrine of Disparate Impact. If you give a written exam to a mixed-race group of firefighter applicants, and seventy percent of the whites pass the exam but only thirty percent of the blacks do, you have broken a law.
Same thing here. To stay out of trouble with the feds, schools must either go easy on misbehaving blacks or discipline more non-misbehaving whites and Asians. Gotta get the numbers right.
This is federal government policy in the present age. And while Eric Holder is certainly an exceptionally nasty piece of work, it wasn't he who cooked up the evil and innumerate Disparate Impact doctrine. It's been with us in one form or another for forty years, and been upheld by innumerable jurists.
And one of the highest-profile uses of Disparate Impact against municipal firefighter exams was initiated by Alberto Gonzales, George W. Bush's Attorney General.
It's a systemic problem, rooted in some simple logic. The logic is: We can't face the realities of intractable race differences, so we must profile to get the numbers right. All Eric Holder has done is spell it out in print.
07 — Open the pod bay doors, Hal. How about an existential threat? Yeah, I know: There's something a bit macabre about contemplating asteroid strikes, supervolcanos blowing, drug-resistant bacteria, melting polar caps, and all the world's electrical fuses getting blown by a solar storm. Americans are a cheerful, upbeat people, and we get annoyed when people force these things on our attention.
Stuff happens, though. Biologists like to joke that to a good first approximation, one hundred percent of all species are extinct. It's not such a joke: The actual number, counting all species that have ever existed, is way north of 99 percent. Are we next on the list?
If there's an asteroid or supervolcano with our number on it, there's not much we can do. There are other existential threats, though, that we might be able to avert, given some forward planning. It's prudent and non-macabre to try to prevent preventable evils.
A couple of weeks ago in my Taki's Magazine column I wrote about James Barrat's book Our Final Invention, which argues that we are well on the way to creating Artificial General Intelligence — gadgets that have all the mental skills we have. Since one of the mental skills we have is skill at improving our gadgets, they'll have that too, and will set about improving themselves up into Artificial Super Intelligences, ASIs, gadgets much smarter than us.
Barrat lays out the case that progress in this direction is remorseless, driven by powerful commercial and military interests worldwide. He further argues, quoting many experts in the field, that ASIs could mean the end of humanity. They'll have no more regard for us than we have for insects, and in fact may see us as competitors for the energy resources they need. Bring on the robo-wars.
Yes, I know it all sounds weird and science-fictiony, but there's a solid case there. The contrary case — the case that true artificial intelligence can't be achieved — was aired in the comment thread to my column, and I must say it wasn't very impressive, up against Barrat's arguments.
Many readers just asserted that intentional intelligence is uniquely human and can't be created artificially, so there. Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn't; we don't understand enough to say for sure.
Another popular response was: Computers just carry out the instructions they're programmed with. You can't get intentional intelligence out of that. Again, we just don't know that. The computers we're all familiar with have what's called a von Neumann architecture, in which instructions and data have the same physical form. If instructions can modify data — which is what you mainly want them to do! — then instructions will also be able to modify instructions, code writing code.
That opens the door of the rabbit hole right there, and you're heading off into the zone of chaos and self-organizing systems, with determinism dwindling away in the rear-view mirror.
And that's not to mention neural computing, where instead of coaxing a von Neumannn machine to act like a brain, you study how the brain itself does its work and design downwards from that. The first neural chips are coming on the market this year.
Real artificial intelligence is not a certainty, but I'd rate it a strong possibility. The time scale here is highly speculative, but the experts surveyed by James Barrat put ASI somewhere between the years 2020 and 2050. At the later of those dates my children will be middle-aged. I'd like to think of them surviving into old age. Could we please give some thought to this topic?
08 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: Happy birthday, Kim Jong Un! Yes, the Great Successor was 31 years old on Wednesday. At least we think so: North Korea doesn't publicize personal details of its leaders in any form that can be verified.
Kim is a keen follower of basketball, and has bonded with American player Dennis Rodman. Rodman and some colleagues were over in Pyonyang this week to help the Supreme Leader celebrate.
Rodman's as big a fan of Kim as Kim is of him. He told an interviewer that Kim is doing his best for the country; and when asked whether he'd use his friendship with Kim to plead for Kenneth Bae, an American who's been imprisoned in North Korea for the past year, Rodman lost his temper.
Well, who knows? perhaps the fat boy is doing his best. Last month he executed his uncle, who had also been his mentor. Not very filial of Kim: but on the other side, the uncle had been a stalwart of the horrible Kim Jong Il regime, so he's no great loss to humanity.
Possibly Kim Junior really does have ideas about relaxing the despotism. Or possibly he thinks it's been too relaxed and wants to tighten things up. Nobody knows.
Whichever direction he's moving in, he'd better be aware of the dangers of changing a model that's been stable for sixty years.
Just a footnote there: Why isn't Kim's distinctive hairstyle catching on? Yes, I know, it's weird and retro; but those are just the kinds of qualities that attract fashion leaders. It's a lot less weird than a Mohawk, after all. Why aren't kids going into barber shops and saying: "Gimme the KJU"? Just wondering.
Item: One of First Lady Michelle Obama's signature projects has been healthy eating for kids. Her efforts culminated in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which had the U.S. Department of Agriculture imposing strict regulations on meat and grain portions in school lunches.
Well, the Act has been a floperoo. Thursday this week the Agriculture Department scrapped the regulations. They'd actually suspended them last year because there were too many complaints. Kids were saying they were leaving the table hungry and the food tasted awful.
In related news, the First Lady's other pet project, her campaign against childhood obesity, also seems to be making little impression. The campaign, under the slogan "Let's move!" was launched in 2010. A report from the 2012 National Youth Fitness Survey has just been published. Only one in four U.S. kids aged 12 to 15 meet the campaign's recommendations for daily exercise.
By way of consolation, and in the good old leftist tradition — noted above in the case of New York City — of milking the public fisc for one's own advantage, Mrs Obama enjoyed an extended vacation in Hawaii as a fiftieth birthday present from her husband, paid for out of government funds. The First Family flew out there together, but the President and his daughters returned on Sunday. Mrs Obama will return separately on a government plane, at Treasury expense.
Item: Al-Qaeda forces have retaken the city of Fallujah in central Iraq. You may recall that U.S. forces fought a bitter battle — in fact two bitter battles — to retake the city from Al Qaeda ten years ago. Well, now al-Qaeda's got it back.
Coincidentally, I've just been reading a story on the McClatchy website about this forthcoming book from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. In the book, apparently Gates, who is a Republican, accuses Vice President Joe Biden of being wrong on foreign policy and defense issues for 40 years. Quote from McClatchy, quote:
Republicans say Biden … was wrong after the 2003 U.S. invasion [of Iraq] to champion a controversial proposal to divide Iraq into three regions, for Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites; and was wrong when he opposed the surge of extra troops for Iraq in 2007.
I dunno, those both look like good calls to me, especially the first one. These Middle East Arab countries are essentially tribal societies, and would probably be more peaceful and stable if they were broken up into smaller tribal states. That may be what's happening anyway right now in Syria and Libya, possibly also in Iraq.
Joe Biden's also on record as having said he regrets having voted for war in Iraq in 2002. I'm with him on that, too: I regret my own early support for that fool war.
Hey: Me and Joe Biden, soul brothers! Politics makes strange bedfellows, for sure.
09 — Signoff. And that's it, ladies and gents. I understand you're having a cold snap back there in the States. My smug condolences on that. Down here in the Aegean we're coasting along comfortably in the sixties. A bit too cool for beach volleyball, but the girls and I keep ourselves amused indoors playing good old traditional parlor games like pinochle, parcheesi, and kiss the lizard. As the poet said: "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"
To see us out this week, since I've discussed some school discipline issues, here's a golden oldie from 1959: "Charlie Brown," by The Coasters. And yes, they're black. Sorry guys, no offense — if any of you are still around after 55 years.
More from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: The Coasters, "Charlie Brown"]