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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, organ version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air. Greetings, listeners, from your metaphysically genial host John Derbyshire, podcasting to you on this 435th day of the Donald Trump Presidency.
That is not of course a prime number, being divisible by five. The last prime number day of the Trump Presidency was Wednesday, number 433; which, by an intriguing coincidence, was also the last day on which I have been present in the material world a prime number of days — 26,597 days, if you must know. The next prime number day of the Trump Presidency is four days from now … [Voice offstage: "Get on with it!"]
I beg your pardon. The great Pythagoras thought that only numbers are real. There are times when I agree with him; and there are other times when I just want to agree with him.
Meanwhile, out there in the world of shadows, things are happening, things that present themselves several orders of complexity removed from their true mathematical nature. Let's take a look, keeping metaphysics at the backs of our minds, but not totally out of sight.
02 — A Children's Crusade … not. Steven Runciman's 1951 History of the Crusades is nowadays regarded with some skepticism by serious scholars; but it's the one I was raised on, and it's well written, livened up in the style of Gibbon's Decline and Fall with lots of curious details and sidebar narratives.
For cynics, the story of the Children's Crusade is especially satisfying. This Crusade was led by Stephen of Cloyes, "a shepherd-boy of about twelve years old," according to Runciman. This lad had seen Christ in a vision. The Savior told him to preach the Crusade, so off he went. The King of France was not very sympathetic, but by the end of June a.d. 1212 Stephen was at the city of Vendôme in north-central France with thirty thousand followers, "not one over twelve years of age."
Stephen led them all to Marseilles on the south coast, where he said the sea would part so they could walk to Palestine. This unaccountably failed to happen; but two merchants of Marseilles, Hugh the Iron and William the Pig, put seven ships at their disposal free of charge, for the glory of God, they said, and the Children's Crusade set sail for the Holy Land.
It turned out those two merchants were in cahoots with the Muslim slave traders of North Africa. The pre-teen pilgrims ended up in the slave markets of Algeria, Egypt, and Baghdad. Runciman doesn't tell us what happened to Stephen himself. Presumably he was enslaved with the rest of the kiddies.
Last weekend's March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. naturally brought the Children's Crusade to mind. The numbers were bigger: 180,000 according to The New York Times. If you scale for populations relative to the thirteenth century, though, they were likely comparable.
And to judge by mainstream media accounts, children were certainly to the fore. By those accounts this was in fact an uprising by the nation's youth against an entrenched gun-loving establishment of evil old white men. "Welcome to the revolution," screeched 17-year-old Cameron Kasky to the assembled thousands.
Quote from the New York Times story:
Planning for the events was spearheaded by a group of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who have emerged as national anti-gun figures in the wake of the shooting that left 17 dead.
Ah, the idealism of youth! Is there anything in this Children's Crusade to gladden the stony hearts of cynics?
You bet there is. If you've been wondering how a bunch of adolescents could manage the funding and organization of this march, and similar events nationwide, allow me to direct you to Daniel Greenfield's excellent bit of investigative reporting over at Front Page. Greenfield has done the spadework the mainstream media will not do, and uncovered the men behind the curtain. Sample quote:
March for Our Lives is funded by Hollywood celebs, it's led by a Hollywood producer and its finances are routed through an obscure tax firm in [California's San Fernando] Valley. Its treasurer and secretary are Washington D.C. pros. And a top funder of gun control agendas is also one of its directors.
As Greenfield points out, the deliberate obscurity and obfuscation behind the organization and funding of the March makes a sorry contrast with the National Rifle Association. Further quote from him:
The NRA is maligned 24/7 and yet it's completely obvious whom it represents … It represents its five million members. Anti-gun groups tend to represent shadowy networks.
And in fact the impression you got from mainstream media accounts — the impression I definitely got, that the Washington march was of youngsters, which is why I found myself thinking about the Children's Crusade — is false. An academic sociologist analyzed the crowd and concluded that no more than ten percent were under eighteen. The average age was 49! To be fair to the media, this lady's research was published in the Washington Post, but only as an op-ed. You'd never have figured those facts from the news stories.
For a further dash of cynicism, note how, as always with these SJW glove puppets, the loud-heralded "revolution" turns out not to threaten anyone who actually holds actual power. Nitwits like that 17-year-old Cameron Kasky really seem to think they are sticking it to the man when, as Ramzpaul jeered on another occasion, "You are the man!"
Similarly with 17-year-old David Hogg, the foul-mouthed young twerp who seems to fancy himself the Stephen of Cloyes in this Children's Crusade of 49-year-olds. "Who here is going to vote in the 2018 election?" he asked the crowd. "If you listen real close, you can hear the people in power shaking," end quote.
No, David. What has the people in power shaking is the thought that if, as their hearts desire, they were to stage a coup and establish a Chinese-style panopticon of thought control and repression of dissent, they might find themselves opposed by millions of armed citizens.
These self-styled "revolutionaries" believe everything that those "people in power" believe: everything billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg believe, everything every corporate HR Director believes, everything the academics and church leaders and media talking heads and Hollywood glitterati believe. If this is revolution, Louis the Sixteenth and Tsar Nicholas the Second were foaming revolutionaries.
What I want to know is: Where are Hugh the Iron and William the Pig when we really need them?
03 — Number Three Fatty meets President Eleven. Here's a couple of prime numbers for you: 3 and 11.
Three is North Korean despot Kim Jong Un. He is the third in his dynasty to sit on the throne there. Like his father and grandfather, he is somewhat portly. Hence the common Chinese nickname for him: San Pang, which translates as Number Three Fatty.
Eleven is ChiCom dictator Xi Jinping. That Chinese family name Xi is spelt X-I, and this has led to occasional confusion with the Roman numerals for "eleven." Four years ago when Xi was visiting India, a news anchor for that country's main TV channel was fired for reading out the dictator's name as "Eleven Jinping."
Well, on Monday this week Number Three Fatty went to Peking for a meeting with President Eleven. We don't of course know what the two tyrants said to each other, but we can make fair deductions on strong circumstantial evidence.
First note this was a face-to-face meeting, a state visit. That has its own symbolism. There is no actual need for actual meetings in this day and age. There are surely secure links between Peking and Pyongyang; any business between Kim and Xi can be conducted through those links, or transmitted by the respective ambassadors.
We can be pretty sure, too, that the meeting was Xi's idea, in fact his command. Kim doesn't like traveling outside his homeland. This was in fact his first excursion abroad since he ascended the throne six and a half years ago. He traveled by private train, not trusting to air travel.
Even thus, Kim was probably still apprehensive. Trips by foreign dictators to Peking have dwelt under a cloud of superstition since 1966, when Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was deposed in a coup back home while he was away on just such a trip. You may think it's ridiculous for Kim to fear a coup; but uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, and the internal dynamics of the North Korean government are not well understood.
So this was Xi Jinping's idea, and he particularly wanted to make a show with a formal state visit. So what's up with that?
The analysts seem to agree that there were two factors motivating Xi's move. One was the upcoming summit between President Trump and Number Three Fatty, currently scheduled for May at Panmunjom on the border between North and South Korea. Xi wants that negotiation to come out to China's advantage, or at any rate not to her disadvantage.
The other motivating factor was the March 22nd announcement by our President that John Bolton will replace Herbert McMaster as National Security Advisor on April 9th. The ChiComs are intensely attentive to personality issues among their opponents. You can bet that in the days after Bolton's appointment was announced, ChiCom leaders were all getting fat briefing books about everything John Bolton ever said or did.
That would include a lot of belligerent things he has said about the Norks; and that would worry the ChiComs. They do not want war in Korea. They like having North Korea as a steady buffer state between themselves and America's allies, while they work on their long careful strategy to get the U.S.A. out of the Western Pacific.
So Bolton worries them. The summit between Kim and our President also worries them.
In fact it twice worries them. It worries them because they fear a deal might be cut to their disadvantage; and it worries them because, alternatively no deal might be cut.
Concerning that second worry, America has been fooled before by fake North Korean assurances about denuclearization. The ChiComs think we won't let ourselves be fooled again. I personally think we might; but it's what they think that matters. They wouldn't let themselves be fooled again by Number Three Fatty.
So, the ChiCom thinking goes, Trump will want watertight assurances of denuclearization before he signs a deal. Unfortunately, there's no way the Norks will give him that. They have no real intention to denuclearize; they're just trying the old bait-and-switch once again. Denuclearize? After what happened to Gaddafy in Libya after he denuclearized? No way!
With no deal, we end up once again in the U.N. pushing for more sanctions. The Chicoms will have to make a show of being good global citizens and going along with sanctions, while surreptitiously keeping shipments of oil and food going into the North, for fear of regime collapse and a flood of refugees. They'll do what they believe they have to do, but it puts them in an uncomfortable position and may open up them to secondary sanctions.
Hence the ostentatious display here; a full state visit commanded by Peking, not just a Skype chat. This is the ChiComs saying: "We're key players here, and it better not come out to our disadvantage."
So there's a lot going on here psychologically: Trump, Bolton, Number Three Fatty, President Eleven, and, hovering over the scene wailing and moaning, the filmy shades of Kwame Nkrumah and Muammar Gaddafy. This is geostrategic chess at the highest level.
It must be very exciting for all involved. Personally I could do without that excitement. I think my country could, too.
There is no U.S. interest in garrisoning the Western Pacific; we should let the ChiComs do it, if it needs doing. To the degree the North Korean regime is a problem to anyone but its own wretched inhabitants, it's a regional problem for China, Russia, Japan, and the two Koreas to figure out.
We should mind our own business and be what the Founders intended us to be: a proud commercial republic, secure between two great oceans, with missiles and nukes enough to threaten obliteration to anyone who so threatens us.
Oh, all right, perhaps the Founders didn't foresee the missiles and nukes. If they had, though, I bet they'd still agree with me.
Well, meritocracy's been in the news again this week. On Tuesday CNN reported that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has said that in personnel matters, he will not focus on diversity. "What's important," they said he said, quote, "is having the right person for the right job," end quote. In other words, the Secretary favors meritocracy, not diversitocracy.
Zinke seems to have cucked out once this hit the news. At any rate, a spokeswoman for his department says Zinke never said the things he's alleged to have said.
Whatever: This is another little tremor from one of the main fault lines in modern society. Of course we want key positions in government departments to be staffed by the best available people. The problem is that the best methods we have for selecting the best people don't deliver correct proportions of women, blacks, Latinos, homosexuals, disabled people, and so on.
Is there is something wrong with those selection methods? In the case of the old Civil Service exams, Jimmy Carter concluded that there must be, so he scrapped the exams for most Civil Service positions. Today, the federal government tells us, quote from their website:
The majority — approximately 80 percent — of federal government jobs are filled through a competitive examination of your background, work experience, and education, not through a written civil service test.
What does that phrase mean, "a competitive examination of your background, work experience, and education"? If there is no written test, how is it "a competitive examination" of anything?
What it means is that judgment of applicants is now "holistic." That's the preferred bureaucratic term, "holistic." What that means is that the hiring official glances through your records to make sure you have some relevant schooling and experience and are not a career criminal, then hires you, or not, by quota according to your race, sex, and so on.
This is not a totally contemptible approach. The heart of the matter here is fairness. Yes, we want the best people; but we also want Civil Service job applicants to be treated fairly.
The reason this approach is not totally contemptible is that we used not to treat people fairly in society at large. I add that qualifier because I doubt this applies to Civil Service hiring. I can't see what was wrong with a written test for that. It's a fair bet that anything Jimmy Carter thought was a bad idea, was actually a good idea.
In society at large, though, things were indubitably unfair until fifty years or so ago. It was hard for a woman to get qualified as a doctor or lawyer, much harder than for a man. Blacks were excluded from all sorts of zones by custom and by actual legislation.
Then we had a Fairness Revolution. Prestigious colleges opened their doors to women, racially discriminatory laws were struck down. For an entire generation now, American society has been as fair as it could possibly be.
Perplexingly, though, outcomes are still unequal. There are still few women engineers; blacks still do badly at school; a homosexual man is more likely to be an interior decorator than a lumberjack (and conversely for a homosexual woman).
Our collective response to these persistently unequal outcomes is to invoke magic. Strange invisible forces and miasmas are preventing the attainment of identical statistical profiles by all groups: Institutional racism! Toxic masculinity! These strange forces are the Dark Matter of contemporary social theory. They're like the luminiferous ether of 19th-century physics. You can't see, hear, taste, or touch them, but they must be there! How, otherwise, could outcomes be so unequal after such efforts to attain fairness?
Well, they could be so because of innate group differences. Men on average are taller than women on average; Dutchmen on average are taller than Japanese on average. Why shouldn't the same kinds of average differences show up in all heritable traits — a category that, we now know, includes everything we can measure about human personality, intelligence, and abilities?
The evidence is now surely in, final and conclusive, that you can have proportional diversity of outcomes by group — by sex, race, and so on — or you can have meritocracy, but you can't have both.
So which do we want? Until we make up our minds about that, all the fudging and lying and magical thinking that are exposed in little episodes like the Ryan Zinke case will continue to plague us.
05 — A stone-kicker classic. In the matter of fudging, lying and magical thinking about group differences, there's no-one can beat university administrators.
Last week I reported on the hot water that Professor Amy Wax got into by voicing the observation that in her years of teaching law at the University of Pennsylvania she couldn't recall a case of a black student graduate in the top quarter of her class, and it was rare to see one in the top half.
The Dean of U. Penn. law school hotly denied the truth of Prof. Wax's observation. Quote from him:
Black students have graduated in the top of the class at Penn Law.
The Dean offered no evidence, though; and it turns out that graduation rates by race are a very closely-guarded secret at the school. We are just left with she said, he said.
That's what I covered last week. At the time of my podcast I had not yet read Prof. Wax's March 22nd op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, title: "The University of Denial."
Prof. Wax's op-ed has a metaphysical flavor that tickles my fancy. She opens it with a quote from sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, quote:
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
That's a favorite with us stone-kickers, a company into which I hereby induct Prof. Wax.
She continues in the same vein, quote:
Somewhere deep in a file drawer, or on a computer server humming away in a basement, are thousands upon thousands of numbers, with names and identities attached. They're called grades. They represent an objective reality, which exists independent of what people want reality to be. They sit silently, completely indifferent to indignation, angry petitions, irritable gestures, teachers' removal from classrooms — all the furor and clamor of institutional politics.
That's a stone-kicker classic. I'm going to have it written out by a good calligrapher, framed, and hung on the wall of the meeting hall of my local stone-kickers' lodge.
Please allow me another quote from this Wall Street Journal op-ed. The lady is very quotable. Quote:
The mindset that values openness understands that the truth can be inconvenient and uncomfortable, doesn't always respect our wishes, and sometimes hurts. Good feelings and reality don't always mix. But there is a price to be paid for putting the quest for psychological comfort over openness on matters central to how our society is organized. While some people benefit from the favored view, others lose out. People accused of bigotry and discrimination — claims that are more pervasive than ever — are understandably unhappy about being deprived of the ability to defend themselves by pointing to alternative reasons for group differences.
That strikes right to the heart of the metaphysical crisis of our time. The truth about human nature can indeed be inconvenient and uncomfortable; but this fact is intolerable to a great many of us, perhaps a majority. As a great thinker once wrote, quote:
The ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, social, and personal. We want our wishes to come true; we want the universe to care about us; we want the approval of those around us; we want to get even with that s.o.b who insulted us at the last tribal council. For most people, wanting to know the cold truth about the world is way, way down the list. [We Are Doomed, Chapter Seven.]
The truth can be cold indeed — too cold for all but the hardiest of stone-kickers. I welcome Prof. Wax to our fellowship, whose motto is: Magna est veritas et prævalebit.
As a different great thinker put it: "The truth is great and shall prevail, when none cares whether it prevail or not."
06 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: The rise to fame of young David Hogg brought to my mind the only other famous Hogg I know: Quintin Hogg, later ennobled as Lord Hailsham, who enlivened British politics all through my teen and young-adult years.
A conservative Tory, a patriot and veteran (in spite of having been too young for the First World War and too old for the Second), and an effective and useful government minister, Hogg was known to us mainly for transmitting the message, in all he said and did, that politics was fun.
What a contrast with the angry, glowering, 17-year-old David Hogg, to whom — as to most Progressives — politics is a war of the righteous against the legions of Satan.
Quintin Hogg certainly enjoyed the pleasures of the table. My own MP, Reggie Paget, who was of the other party, famously took advantage of this to deliver a witty insult.
This was at the time of the Profumo sex scandal in 1963. Quintin Hogg's government colleague, War Minister John Profumo, had resigned after being caught lying about his private life. Hogg, who by this time was Lord Hailsham, attacked Profumo fiercely on TV. Reggie Paget responded to Hogg's attack by observing that, quote:
When self-indulgence has reduced a man to the shape of Lord Hailsham, sexual continence involves no more than a sense of the ridiculous.
Last week it was announced that Hawking's ashes would be interred in Westminster Abbey, alongside such other luminaries of British science and technology as Newton, Darwin, Herschel, Lord Kelvin, and Robert Stephenson.
I have mixed feelings about that. Hawking's contributions to science were considerable, but in a narrow sphere, and not on anything like the Newton-Darwin level. Many other less well-known figures did work of the same weight. You have to think Hawking is being honored for his fame as much as for his actual contributions.
As I made clear two weeks ago, I yield to no-one in my admiration for Hawking's fortitude and good humor in the face of personal tragedy. Still, many other more obscure people have showed the same qualities.
No offense to anyone here; and if you disagree, by all means let me know. And, with a hat-tip to Steve Hsu here, should you wish to know what Hawking's contributions to science actually consisted of, the obituary by Sir Roger Penrose in the Guardian, March 14th, is a very good readable account if you have a modicum of background math and physics.
In Heaven, the French are the cooks, the English the policemen, the Germans the engineers, the Swiss the managers, and the Italians the lovers. In Hell, the English are the cooks, the Germans the policemen, the French the engineers, the Italians the managers, and the Swiss the lovers.
That joke points up the key thing about national stereotypes: they are two-sided. Germans may be control freaks, but they sure make great cars … and so on.
The main negative stereotype attached to the French is actually not that they are lousy engineers, but that they are rude. Well, maybe there's something in it. Quote from The Guardian, March 26th, quote:
A French waiter fired for being "aggressive, rude and disrespectful" says his behaviour wasn't out of line — he's just French.
Sergeant Gerry Boyle comes irresistibly to mind. [Clip: "I'm Irish, Sir. Racism's part of my culture."] I think all anti-globalists, all supporters of national distinctiveness, should support Guillaume Rey.
And I await with keen interest the lawsuits by Swiss lovers.
Item: Now to this month's award for antiwhite sociobabble. Who described what as the following? Quote:
A decolonising model of practice based on dialogue, communication, power sharing and negotiation, and the acknowledgment of white privilege.
Give up? Well, that was the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, announcing a new policy that Australian nurses and midwives must announce their "white privilege" before treating patients.
By way of a rationale for this new requirement, the board has explained that the cultural safety of indigenous nonwhite patients is just as important as their clinical safety.
Imaginary conversation, in a sheep station somewhere in the outback.
"Nurse, nurse, please help my husband! I think he's having a heart attack — he's losing consciousness and he can't breathe!"
End of imaginary conversation.
What on earth has happened to Australia? The Diggers used to be the plain-spoken, b-s-intolerant, forthright stone-kickers of the Anglosphere, jeeringly irreverent to all the fake pieties and social fads of those precious wine-sipping Poms and Yanks. Now they're all as PC as a bunch of New England liberal-arts professors, as PC as a private jet full of software tycoons.
Item: Finally: We have all heard the expression "running around like a headless chicken." Well, in Thailand recently there has been an actual case, captured on YouTube.
This chicken was indeed decapitated. The video clearly shows only a bloody stump where the head used to be. It was running around there for several days, though, fed by Buddhist monks from a nearby temple, who dropped nourishment down the poor creature's esophagus with a syringe.
So, a real headless chicken, really running around. The news stories don't give a name for the chicken, nor any other identifying information, but I'm willing to bet this chicken is a Republican.
07 — Signoff. And that's it, ladies and gents. Note please how scrupulously I returned there to Radio Derb's canonical format after last week's aberration.
Thank you all for listening, and a very happy Easter or Passover to you and yours, where applicable.
Now for some signoff music. One of my innumerable musical partialities is a fondness for sentimental Edwardian ballads, as sung in the music halls of that time and sometimes given permanence in the very earliest sound-recording technologies.
Here is a favorite, recorded by George Baker in 1905: "If Those Lips Could Only Speak."
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: George Baker, "If Those Lips Could Only Speak."]