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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches, organ version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! That was one of Franz Josef Haydn's Derbyshire Marches, and this is your refulgently genial host John Derbyshire with all you need to know of the week's news.
It's Easter weekend for most of the Christian churches, so to those who are worshipping I extend my best wishes for peace of mind and spiritual consolation. My own Christianity is merely tribal and sentimental; but I've had a nice chocolate Easter Egg shipped over from England and shall mark the festival in my own very small way. We do what we can with the little understanding that's given to us.
Plenty to report this week, so on with the motley!
02 — Homosexuality vs. liberty. Hysteria of the Week, here in these United States of Hysteria, concerned Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The first thing you hear from people when you raise this topic is: "Why do we need a law? Isn't religious freedom guaranteed in the Constitution?"
Answer: Not really. How could it be, in an unlimited sense? Suppose I and a bunch of my bowling buddies decided to resurrect the old Aztec religion, one of whose sacraments involved cutting the beating hearts out of live human persons. Do we have the freedom to go ahead and do that? Of course not. Our religious freedom is bounded there by the law against murder.
The question then arises: Where else is my religious freedom bounded? For that kind of thing we need laws to tell us, and legislators to make the laws. Hence Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act. What's the word "restoration" doing in there? Apparently the Indiana legislators felt there'd been some erosion of religious freedom after the Hobby Lobby decision last year. There, just to remind you, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed certain kinds of businesses, under certain conditions, to be excused from obligations under laws where their religious beliefs opposed those obligations.
Behind and beside all the knotty jurisprudence, what was on everyone's mind when framing this legislation was the recent run of lawsuits against bakers, florists, and photographers who for religious reasons decline to supply their services in the cause of homosexual marriages.
These lawsuits were deliberate entrapments. They weren't cases of people going to a business expecting to be served but being turned away. Homosexualist agitator groups targeted business owners they knew to have religious objections to homosexual marriage, with the aim of bankrupting them. They've succeeded in that. Mr and Mrs Klein, who ran the Sweet Cakes bakery in Gresham, Oregon, are looking at fines of $75,000 each because they refused to bake a cake for a lesbian couple.
Along with the straightforward financial intimidation there goes nastier stuff. The word "hate" gets thrown around rather freely nowadays. Well, if you want to see real hate, check out the comment threads on some of the homosexualist websites where they're reporting these cases. Sample, from the comment thread of the homosexualist Huffington Post, February 3rd, quote:
This is how tyranny ends, you expose the tyrant, and then you GUT THEM. And it's fantastic. Their despair is delicious.
Memories Pizza, a family-owned store in South Bend, Indiana, didn't even deny service to anyone. They just said they would if asked, when a sneaky local TV reporter posed the question to them. Since the interview aired, their website and Facebook page have been wrecked, they've received death threats, they've had to close their business, and one local activist has called for their store to be burned down. Hate? Tell me about it.
Homosexualists are now the most malicious, aggressive, and — for once I can use this expression non-sarcastically — hate-filled agitators in the country.
A common theme in those comment threads is: Well, how is denying wedding services to homosexuals different from denying similar services to a black-white couple? That really goes to the heart of the matter. How is the one thing different from the other? Nohow, that's how. It really isn't different. We sold the pass on freedom of association when the Civil Rights Act was passed fifty years ago, prohibiting racial discrimination in public accommodations.
Freedom of association is a simple binary: You either have it or you don't. We threw it away back then. We did so with good and honorable intentions, of course. Those are what the road to Hell is paved with, remember? We wanted our black fellow-citizens to no longer be demeaned and insulted by denial of service. It made sense at the time: trade in a tiny bit of freedom for the hope of social harmony.
Unfortunately social harmony didn't arrive. In housing, we're as segregated now as we were then; in schooling, according to the Washington Post, we are more so. On the other side of that failed trade, where do we go to get our freedom back?
Fifty years ago I was doing bartender work in rough areas of Liverpool. Every place I worked, there were people we wouldn't serve: local trouble-makers and chronic, rowdy drunks. Two or three times these people didn't take it well, and we had to call the cops. We called them: they came: they got the guy out of our pub. I never heard the cops ask the publican: "Why are you refusing service to this person?" It wouldn't have occurred to them. The publican had the right to refuse service to anyone, for any reason or none. Everybody knew that, and approved it. It was part of the common understanding all over the Anglo-Saxon world.
That's freedom of association. Or I should say, that was freedom of association. It's long gone now, but people my age can remember it. The taste of it still faintly lingers, sweet on our tongues …
03 — Dignity and courage. Just a brief follow-up to that last.
There is interesting contrast in these events, a contrast of demeanor, between the different categories of participants: between:
I'll take those three categories in turn.
The small-business owners being persecuted have uniformly, so far as I know, stood unbending by their convictions, even when faced with crippling fines and the loss of their livelihood. None of them has shown the slightest sign of anything I recognize as hate. I'm pretty sure none of them has trashed any homosexualist websites or threatened to burn down a local gay bar.
They have said calmly and clearly that these are their convictions, they harm no-one and wish no-one ill, they just want to be true to their beliefs. These people are models to us all: models of integrity and good citizenship.
The people persecuting them present a strong contrast, a study in cruelty, snarling vindictiveness, gloating triumphalism, and, yes, hate. Left activists are truly loathsome people, and the homosexualists may be the most loathsome of all, though it's a competitive field.
The slogan of the hour, prominent on a sign held up at an Indiana homosex rally, is Sodomize Intolerance. This would be a tad more impressive in its aggressive vulgarity if it were original; but in fact it was cooked up by the dimwitted British junkie anarchist Russell Brand, or one of his writers. It neatly expresses the mood and intentions of the activists — of, in fact, their own completely closed-minded intolerance.
And then there are the suits — the politicians and big-business types. If the bakers and florists under attack here inspire admiration, while the activists hounding them excite revulsion and loathing, the suits move us to disgust and contempt.
Mike Pence, the Republican governor of Indiana, turned tail and ran when he saw the buggery brigades advancing. This was an act of leadership desertion in the face of the enemy: Most Indianans, and certainly most Republican Indianans, support the persecuted small-business people. Those, at any rate, are reasonable deductions from nationwide polls: I can't find a poll result specifically for Indiana.
Nationwide, in a Marist poll taken at the end of February, 65 percent or respondents overall, and 72 percent of Republicans, oppose penalties or fines for businesses that refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings. That's a huge army of citizens looking for leadership. Where will they find it? No among our politicians, for sure.
Other Indiana politicians scurried away from the battlefield with Pence — or rather slithered away, I should say: you can't scurry if you don't have a spine. Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long whimpered in unison that the Religious Freedom Act would be revised instantly, if not sooner, so that homosexualists can continue harassing harmless Mom and Pop businesses without interruption.
Our big business leaders are even more craven. Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote the following thing in a Washington Post opinion piece last Sunday, quote:
With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it's time for all of us to be courageous.
It's hard to believe that a grown man would say something so hysterically stupid. Lives are at stake? Because some 70-year-old woman declined to sell flowers to lesbians?
As for "dignity" and "courage" — well, I'll leave it to listeners to decide where those qualities can be found in this whole miserable story.
04 — Iran, nukes, zzzz. I feel obliged, as a major news commentary outlet, to pass some remarks about the agreement reached this week between the six major powers and Iran on that country's nuclear-weapons development.
It's a tough thing to comment on, though; in part because the agreement itself is technical and lawyerly, as I suppose it was bound to be, but also tentative and conditional — an "outline" agreement in one paragraph, a "framework" agreement a bit further down. This isn't really an agreement per se, only an agreement to come to an agreement. Nobody's signed anything; though we're promised that if the agreement to have an agreement is agreeable to all the agreers, an actual agreement will be signed by June 30th, unless it isn't.
You couldn't really expect much better from the way the talks were set up. On the one side you had a wily carpet salesman from the bazaar with a lifetime's experience of conning the tourists. On the other you had a motley crew of six nations with radically different approaches to the international order and some deep-seated mutual hostilities. Russia and China were in there negotiating, for example — two nations whose principal diplomatic emotion is hatred for the U.S.A.
This pseudo-agreement is also difficult for me to comment on because I can't persuade myself that it matters much.
I am fatalistic about nuclear proliferation. With Pakistan and North Korea already nuclear, why should I believe that Iran getting a bomb adds anything significant to my chance of being nuked or EMP-ed? If we wanted to stop crazy nations from getting nukes, the time to do it was twenty years ago. That ship has sailed.
My nuclear policy for the U.S.A. would consist of, one, having far more nukes than anyone else on the planet; two, having really good "signature" technology for determining where a nuke originated, and three, making sure all the world's troublemakers know about one and two.
I really don't see that Iranian nukes are any of our business. We are coming up to the 400th anniversary of the outbreak of the Thirty Years War in Europe in 1618. That was a terrible conflict, driven by religious and national passions. Steven Pinker, in his book about violence through history, gives the death toll at seven million, equivalent to 32 million today.
Plainly the Middle East, which in its political development is running about 400 years behind Europe, is heading for some similar catastrophe. If nukes are deployed, 32 million dead is probably about right, perhaps somewhat on the low side. Europe survived the Thirty Years War, and the Middle East will survive whatever's brewing up between Sunnis and Shias. Do we have a dog in this fight? — or as my friend Andrew Stuttaford says, do we have a god in this fight? I don't see it.
Given the stupidity of our politicians, if we do get involved, we'll screw it up somehow, as we did Vietnam and Iraq. Let's just stay the heck out of the whole stinking snake pit.
Am I missing something?
05 — The money boys. In my March 26th column here at Taki's Magazine I did a brief appreciation of the TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which concerns the adventures of some high-level university science geeks.
One occasional feature of the show is the two physicist characters mocking the engineer character. By way of explaining this, I reminisced about my own days as a math undergraduate, and mentioned some of the petty snobberies we nursed. Quote:
Math geeks were of course at the top, with physicists a tick or two below us. Astronomers and chemists were somewhat lower, biologists considerably lower; but these were all respectably abstract, quantitative fields. Engineers were a semi-civilized tribe on an adjacent island, beery oafs who played hard rugby and never listened to concert music.
End quote. Well, engineers get the last laugh on this one, according to this story from the Daily Mail. Headline: "How to earn billions … study engineering! It's the most common degree for the world's top earners."
Here's the gist of the story. Some business website in England studied the hundred richest people in the world. What field did these billionaires get their degrees in?
The biggest group, 37 percent, didn't get a college degree at all: so if you want to join the ranks of the super-wealthy, you might want to skip college altogether. That agrees with my all-too-limited acquaintance with seriously rich people. They don't seem to sit around discussing Proust or Renaissance polyphony a whole lot. Alternatively you could go to college for a year or two and then drop out, like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, worth respectively $80 billion and $35 billion.
The next biggest group of billionaires, 22 percent, are engineering graduates. An example here is Carlos Slim, the telecoms billionaire, who studied civil engineering at the University of Mexico, and is currently worth $76 billion — a tad more than a billion for every year of his age. So I guess those engineering students weren't so dumb.
Engineering also makes you the most money — even more money than dropping out, Gates and Zuck notwithstanding. The engineering graduates in the top hundred were worth average $25.77 billion apiece; the dropouts only average 24.03 billion.
How did we snooty math graduates do? Not so well. Only two percent of the top hundred are math graduates, a poor return for all that heavy-duty thinking about Banach spaces and homological algebra. We're down at the bottom of the rankings, tied with law graduates. Law graduates! Eiuw. Although I'd note in our favor that while Carlos Slim was studying engineering, he picked up some spare change by teaching algebra at the university.
All right, but there's honor in poverty, honor and dignity. We math graduates can hold our heads high. Our two percent of the top billionaires may only be worth a hungry $17.75 billion each, but spiritually they stand above pursuers of mere worldly knowledge. "Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare," said the poet.
And while we're inflating our own metaphysical worth, let's de-flate that of the billionaires. That same poet also said, quote: "We shall die in the dark and be buried in the rain." That's just as likely to be true of Carlos Slim and Bill Gates as it is of you and me.
06 — Flunking the protocols. Did a whole week go by without some manufactured outrage, some wailing and gnashing of teeth, involving the race issue? No it didn't, never fear. I actually have two race stories this week.
One of them is barely moving the needle on the hysteria-ometer, so I'll relegate it to a short segment of its own. Here's the week's main race story.
I've mentioned before that I don't much like those TV personalities I refer to collectively as the Smirkers. That would be Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher, the fake news guys. To quote myself from back in 2010, quote:
There they are on-screen smirking out at us with that look, that smirk that says: "You and I, viewers and studio audience, you and I are superior people possessed of higher knowledge. Let's have a laugh at the dimwits who make up the rest of the population; and let's have our laugh in such a way that they, in their dim stupidity, won't even know we're laughing at them. Let's mock them with irony, pretending that their dumb fool ideas are really worth taking seriously, though of course we know they're not."
End quote. Well, there have been some changes since 2010. Bill Maher's still smirking along merrily on HBO; but Stephen Colbert handed over his show to Larry Wilmore last December; he's going to be taking over one of the big network late-night spots. Congratulations to him, I guess. I had to look up this information on Wikipedia, by the way, I don't watch any of these guys; so don't blame me if there are factual errors there, blame the fake encyclopedia.
That leaves Jon Stewart. He's retiring from the smirking business, or at any rate from his current gig at "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. I don't know why he's retiring, and to be perfectly frank I can't be bothered to find out. The main point is, his replacement has been announced, and it's a mulatto guy from South Africa, name of Trevor Noah. Swiss father, black African mother. "Raised under Apartheid" is the promotional line — a bit of a stretch, as Noah was only six years old when Apartheid ended.
Nobody had much of a clue who Noah is, so as soon as he was announced as Jon Stewart's successor, people started going through his internet trail.
This turned up some edgy humor. There were racist jokes. Sample, quote: "In Thailand hookers are so cheap, even cheaper than food. Tough choice between Big Mac or Quarter Pound-her Deluxe," end quote. Pound-her, geddit?
There were also white-girl jokes. Sample, where he compares a famous English soccer team to a white girl, quote: "Heavy upfront but lacking in the back."
So far, so borderline. However there are also Jew jokes in there. Sample, quote: "Almost bumped a Jewish kid crossing the road. He didn't look before crossing but I still would have felt so bad in my German car!"
Worse yet, as well as girl jokes and Jew jokes, there are jokes about Jewish girls. Sample, again concerning soccer, this time famous Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi, who, quote: "gets the ball and the other players try to foul him, but Messi doesn't go down easy, just like Jewish chicks."
The first thing to be said there is that those jokes aren't very funny, even if you enjoy sexist and racist humor, which I do. This is Twitter, though, not really the ideal forum for a performance comedian, so I'd give him a pass on that, or half a pass.
The other thing to be said is that you have to wonder what the Comedy Central bosses were thinking, bringing in a foreigner — one from a rather small and provincial culture — to do TV comedy in the U.S.A.
Racial and ethnic protocols in the United States are exquisitely fine-tuned, thrashed out and refined over decades of WASP guilt, Jewish bullying, racial favoritism, immigration boosterism, and diversity propaganda. Outsiders are never going to get the hang of them. It's like trying to master about forty different versions of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. (Absolutely no offense there to Americans of Japanese heritage …) I've lived here for decades, and I still step on landmines.
It's not only outsiders who can't get the hang of these fantastically punctilious protocols, even older Americans can't, as we periodically see in instances like the Paula Deen case.
These protocols don't make any sense in themselves. The precise hierarchy of offense keeps changing. One week blacks trump Jews; the next week it somehow got reversed; the week after that everyone's tiptoe-ing around in fear of offending homosexuals. This is the zone of myth and ritual, of sumptuary laws and prescribed gestures. It's Golden Bough territory — very human, actually, esoteric and tribal.
Although since we are after all a civilized nation, a better analogy would be the court rituals of oriental despots. If you bowed to the northeast when you should have bowed to the north while the Emperor was receiving petitions in the Hall of Eternal Virtue, you could be decapitated on the spot and your whole clan sold into slavery.
Likewise, a TV comic of the wrong ancestry who makes a Jew joke with the wrong emphasis at the wrong point in the news cycle, will be doing his next gig at the Elks Club in Fargo, North Dakota and his kids will be asked to leave their tony Manhattan private school.
If you are born and raised around the Emperor's court and have internalized all the protocols, it's easy to forget that to foreigners they seem arbitrary and a bit silly.
That, I suspect, is why the suits at Comedy Central approved this South African guy. They didn't realise that his humor might not key precisely to American humor.
Noah's being black was surely a factor. To these unimaginative corporate types, any black from anywhere is just an American black with some kind of accent. American blacks know the protocols, and have a built-in advantage against criticism if they decide to violate them. That was probably what the suits were thinking. They forgot about the Jewish factor. I mean, really, who's going to make jokes about Jewish chicks in this day and age?
So, memo to TV suits looking for a comedy show host: There are 320 million people in America — 40 million of them black, if you're going to insist on that. Plenty of talent there, if you go looking. Leave foreigners to enjoy their own styles of humor under their own social protocols.
If you're not Japanese, that Tea Ceremony is really hard to get right.
07 — Blackety-black. Here's the week's other race story. The name of the villain here is Bond, James Bond. Or rather, since James Bond can't possibly be a villain, the name of the villain is Roger Moore, whom I used to enjoy watching in the TV series Ivanhoe back in the Upper Paleolithic era.
[Clip: Intro music from Ivanhoe.] Sorry: a little Brit-TV nostalgia there.
Roger Moore played the Bond character in seven of the Bond movies, giving way to Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and most recently Daniel Craig. Well, Daniel Craig has decided to hang up the Walther PK, so the Bond producers are looking for a new actor. They seem to have settled on Idris Elba, a black guy born and raised in London. Moore, interviewed by a French magazine, said he thought this wouldn't work. Quote:
Although James may have been played by a Scot, a Welshman and an Irishman, I think he should be "English-English." Nevertheless, it's an interesting idea, but unrealistic.
These mild words caused what journalistic cliché demands I call a firestorm, with people writhing and screaming in the flames all over the internet.
This illustrates what I said in that last segment about old people not being able to keep up with our ever-more-exquisite racial protocols. Moore is 87 years old. Like Paula Deen, he hasn't really any clue about what he did wrong; and also like her, he's making clumsy "I'm not racist!" apologies.
Why does he care, at age 87? Plenty of people dislike the PC-ification of familiar landmarks just as much as Moore does, and would speak up if they were given a little leadership. I stopped bothering with the Bond movies when they made M a woman. I suppose in a movie or two it'll be a transsexual.
Why can't anyone leave anything alone any more? What's next, a black Snow White?
Time once again for our annual reminder that California has far too many people for its resources to support. Radio Derb passed comments on this in February last year, and in July of the year before. It's what gardeners call a hardy perennial … Not to be confused with a lardy millennial, which I see a lot of down at the local mall.
You really don't want to be a gardener in California today, not unless you're a cactus gardener. Random extract from my July 2013 commentary, quoting myself:
When you think of California disasters, you think of earthquakes, but in fact drought is a bigger threat to the state. There was a nasty one in the late 1980s: they were bringing water in from Canada using converted oil tankers. There'd been another one in the mid-1970s; and further back in history there were mega-droughts lasting for decades. One of them in the middle ages lasted for 220 years.
End self-quote. With that in mind, bring up the Google search page and type in "population of California." A very pretty little interactive graph comes up. It not only comes up, it goes up, ascending steeply from left to right, from 1915 to 2014. California's population right now is nudging 40 million. That's more people than Canada or Poland. It's almost doubled since I first went to California in 1975 — almost doubled in 40 years.
Americans are accustomed to think of their nation as one of vast empty spaces, with room for everyone. The phrase "population policy" is not one that trips easily off our American tongues. To some of us it conjures up images of cattle wagons full of surplus people being trundled off to concentration camps.
Those are fixations we really need to get over. It's like what Aldous Huxley said about metaphysics: You can't not have a population policy. You have one, whether you like to think about it or not. The choice is not between having a population policy or not having one; the choice is between having a good one and having a bad one.
The California water crisis is one sign that the U.S.A. has a bad, stupid population policy. The immigration boosters tell us that the more people we have, the richer and more vibrant we'll be. One of them, Adam Davidson, wrote in the New York Times just last week that we should take in 11 million immigrants a year. We'd be so much richer!
Well, duh. Bangladesh is much richer than Luxembourg — nearly eight times richer on the GDP numbers. Which country would you rather live in? The problem with immigration boosters is, they dropped out of school before the math teacher got to division.
To quote from myself again, this time from Radio Derb's podcast of February 8th last year, quoting myself:
The interesting thing is that none of the seven or eight news reports I've read about the drought mentions the rather obvious fact that California is over-populated, mainly thanks to unlimited mass immigration, both legal and illegal, from Mexico.
End quote. That's still true. Arithmetic is always true. It's also still true that none of the news reports on California's drought mentions the population issue.
Once again: The choice is not between having a population policy and not having one. The choice is between having a good population policy and a bad one. We have a really, really bad one.
09 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: Just going back briefly to the theme of math undergraduates, a body of people among whom I am proud to have once numbered myself: The 75th William Lowell Putnam math competition for math undergraduates was held last December. Winners were just recently announced. Here they are.
I note that five of the top six individuals there were also, like the winning team, from MIT; so were five of the next ten ranked. So special congratulations to MIT, who are obviously doing something right in the math department.
And if you want to protest that there are no gyno-Americans in those select groups, nor any African Americans: Don't blame me, I just report the math news. Fire off an email to Eric Holder; I'm sure he'll send a team to investigate.
Item: An erratum. I slipped up two weeks ago when covering Elton John's little spat with fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. In fact I probably committed some act of outrageous homophobia — how would I know?
My slip was, to say that Signori Dolce and Gabbana are an item. In fact, a listener familiar with the high fashion scene instructs me, while Dolce and Gabbana remain business partners, they have not shared small enclosed living areas since 2005.
I extend my whining, groveling apologies to the two gentlemen. I am not a homophobe! Should they get back together and decide to tie the marital knot, I'll be glad to recommend a baker, a florist, and a photographer for the wedding.
Item: This is not really an erratum, more of an addendum to my remarks three weeks ago about Utah reinstating execution by firing squad in capital punishment cases.
A listener advised me that this doesn't always go smoothly. There have been cases where the prisoner does a sort of clenching of his body in anticipation, moving enough that the marksmen miss his heart. Then he bleeds to death, probably with some pain from ruptured organs.
All right. Here's a quarter, call someone who cares. I have a fallback, too, should we as a society collectively decide we care: the guillotine. What can go wrong with that?
Item: Finally, to forestall listener complaints that I haven't been keeping you up to date on the Miss BumBum Pageant in Brazil, here is the latest.
You'll recall that Andressa Urach, the runner-up in the 2012 Miss BumBum competition, had hydrogels injected into her upper thighs to enhance her posterior charms. Astonishing to report, cosmetic surgery procedures in the Third World do not always have the desired outcomes. In July last year Senhorita Urach discovered that the hydrogels were causing her leg muscles to rot, leaving her in excruciating pain.
I am glad to report that the lady is now much better: not only physically, but also spiritually, as she has found religion, crediting her recovery to the efficacy of prayer. Senhorita Urach has joined an evangelical church and is planning a career as a preacher.
As a scriptural spur to her new-found modesty, I commend to the lady's attention Verse 23 from Chapter 33 of the Book of Exodus, quote: "I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen."
10 — Signoff. That's all for this week, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for listening, and if you have time off for Easter, I hope you pass it peacefully in rest and reflection.
To sing us out, here is a song for all couples everywhere who are planning a wedding, but most especially to those of the same sex … "gender," whatever. This is sung by the late and sadly forgotten Eileen Barton.
More from Radio Derb next week!
[Music clip: Eileen Barton, "If I knew you were coming I'd have baked a cake."]