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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 quintessentially genial host John Derbyshire.
The headliner in this week's news was our president's first trip abroad. He touched several bases; and once I started laying out my plan for the podcast, I realised I had something to say about all of them. So most of this Radio Derb concerns Joe Biden's encounters with foreigners of one breed or another.
Let's see how it goes.
02 — President Alzheimer goes traveling. Fifty years ago there was a silly movie titled If It's Tuesday, This must Be Belgium, about a group of American tourists "doing" Europe on a bus tour, nine countries in eighteen days. The advertising posters for the movie said, quote:
Europe sent us Dutch Elm Disease, German Measles, and Russian Roulette. We sent them World-Wind Vacation Tour #225. Now we're even.
Not quite even, apparently. To really mess with their heads, we sent our president over there last weekend, President Alzheimer.
Yes, Ol' Joe did Europe. It was a long weekend, actually. He showed up in Britain mid-week for the three-day G-7 summit meeting. Sunday he had tea at Windsor Castle with the Queen. Then he headed off to, yes, Belgium, for a NATO meeting on Monday.
Tuesday, still in Belgium — so yes, indeed: this being Tuesday, it must be Belgium — he met with leaders of the EU, the European Union. Then on Wednesday, down to Switzerland to meet Vladimir Putin.
So actually an entire week, with the weekend in the middle. Was anything accomplished? Not much that I can see.
I'll give over a segment to each event. First, though, some opinionating about our foreign policy in general.
I don't actually believe in foreign policy as our politicians seem to understand it. My touchstone here is the great H.L. Mencken.
I have quoted elsewhere the lines I treasure from Mencken's obituary of Calvin Coolidge, re-quote:
Counting out Harding as a cipher only, Dr Coolidge was preceded by one World Saver and followed by two more. What enlightened American, having to choose between any of them and another Coolidge, would hesitate for an instant?
That was written in 1933, following Coolidge's death in January that year. The World Saver who'd preceded Coolidge was Woodrow Wilson; the two more who'd followed him were Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. All three of those presidents had energetic foreign policies.
Harding and Coolidge didn't. Neither of them could be bothered much with foreign affairs, and the American people were fine with that. We were happy for a few years there in the twenties being what the Founders intended us to be: a commercial republic, trading with anyone willing to trade fairly with us, and otherwise leaving the rest of the world alone.
Sure, there was some dickering over loans we had made to belligerents in WW1 (leading to Coolidge's precious remark, quote: "They hired the money, didn't they?" End quote.) There was some hangover from the Spanish-American War: the Philippines simmering, Puerto Rico fidgeting. Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean were occasional low-level Monroe Doctrine nuisances.
None of that took up much of the president's time a hundred years ago. Coolidge made just one trip abroad, to Cuba; I'm not aware of Harding having left the country at all during his presidency.
World Savers the presidents of the 1920s weren't. League of Nations? Nah. You guys have fun over there, but we'll stay out of it.
That's my ideal. Now of course, this is not 1921. The world is way more connected today than it was in 1921. It's way more commercially connected, and a commercial republic has to engage with that — with the rest of the world.
With the coming of nuclear weapons, though, and with the demographic collapse in the advanced countries drying up the supply of young men, great-power military adventurism is a lot less appealing than it was a hundred years ago.
So sure, let's engage commercially with the world in a 21st-century way; and let's mind our defenses, keeping ahead in military technology. Alliances, though? Foreign entanglements? League of Nations, or whatever the thing was that replaced it? No thanks.
OK, to the president's actual meetings.
First a word about G-7. When I was prepping for my U.S. citizenship interview, I memorized the original 13 colonies. Being a numbers guy, I did it numerically: 4 New England, 3 Atlantic, 3 Tidewater, 3 South. You can memorize the G-7 countries the same, although it's simpler: 3 Anglosphere, 3 Europe, 1 other.
The other is Japan. The Anglosphere members are Britain, Canada, and the U.S.A. The Europeans are France, Germany, and Italy.
See, the idea is for this to be a club of prosperous, populous, liberal democracies. Brazil? Not prosperous enough. Australia? Not populous enough. China? Not a democracy.
So the point of the G-7 summit is to chew over commercial relations between this seven big, rich, well-governed nations. B-o-r-i-n-g. Yes, yes, I know this kind of thing is important. "Important" and "interesting" make a Venn diagram, though. Important things can be boring.
The only aspect of the G-7 summit that ignited a flicker of interest for me actually happened before it started. We learned that Biden's people, possibly Biden himself, had instructed our ambassador to Britain to scold the British government over its handling of the Northern Ireland issue arising from Brexit.
Northern Ireland is under the Crown and now out of the EU; Southern Ireland is independent and in the EU; that's creating knotty problems to do with customs and border control.
Under a President Harding or Coolidge, the Irish, the Brits, and the EU would be left to sort this out among themselves. Our present administration, however, like all the other post-Coolidge administrations, is headed up by World Savers, to whom minding their own damn business is apparently much less fun than insulting your old friends.
That aside, nothing much happened. To go back to those Cornish beaches for a moment, though, I will guiltily confess that I was hoping that something, some one particular thing, would happen, especially after reading about the ambassador's scolding.
As reported at length in my May Diary, I have just recently read the late Jill Tweedie's memoir. Born in 1936, Tweedie had vivid memories of Britain in the years just after WW2. One feature of that time and place was that most British beaches were out of bounds to civilians because of unexploded munitions.
Quote from Tweedie's memoir, page 71, quote:
An acquaintance of Mother's, a woman with an armful of bangles we knew as Aunty Joan, went just this way, blown up by a mine waiting patiently for her in a Cornish sand dune.
With that still fresh in my mind, I leave you to imagine my thoughts watching Biden, Johnson, Macron, and the rest of them capering on the Cornwall sands.
04 — Tea with the Queen. Tea with Queen Elizabeth seems to have gone well.
As it happens, Her Majesty had celebrated her 95th birthday the day before. That was her official birthday, mind, not to be confused with her actual birthday, although I don't think it's too wild a speculation on my part to assume that President Alzheimer was confused.
I'd better explain about the official birthday. The monarch's birthday is celebrated with parades, garden parties, and such. That kind of thing is not much fun in the winter months; so Edward the Seventh, whose true birthday was in November, declared an official birthday in the summer.
That custom has persisted, and the monarch now has an official birthday on the second Saturday in June. Her actual birthday is in April.
The official birthday came with a tinge of melancholy this year: June 10th would have been Prince Philip's hundredth birthday if he had lived a few more weeks. He died in April.
The Queen of course handled the Biden meeting with perfect aplomb. Goodness knows, she's had plenty of practice: sixty-nine years of managing polite exchanges with national leaders of every stripe — bumblers, braggarts, despots, lunatics, wily manipulators, and drooling morons.
Biden was an easy one, a piece of cake — literally, if this was a full and proper afternoon tea.
The U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the NATO Treaty is rock solid and unshakable. It's a sacred commitment.
Article 5 is the one that says an attack on one member state is an attack on all. So if Russia re-occupies Latvia, we're at war with Russia. Not the Europeans, who are rich enough and numerous enough to defend themselves — many times richer and more numerous than Russians — but us, the suckers of the world. Good to know.
Further along in the presser Biden did some domestic politicking. Sample, the context here being the rise of an anti-vaxxer movement. Quote:
I think it is a shock and surprise that what's happened, in terms of the consequence of President Trump's phony populism, has — has happened. And it is disappointing that so many of my Republican colleagues in the Senate, who I know know better, have been reluctant to take on, for example, an investigation because they're worried about being primaried.
Another sample, quote:
I think it's appropriate to say that the Republican Party is vastly diminished in numbers; the leadership of the Republican Party is fractured; and the Trump wing of the party is the bulk of the party, but it makes up a significant minority of the American people.
Well, let's wait and see what November next year brings, Joe. But remember, these words were spoken to an assembly of foreigners in Brussels, a foreign capital.
Yes, I know: Trump bad-mouthed his domestic opponents on a trip to Japan two years ago. He was fiercely criticized for it by the regime media. If they've had anything negative to say about Biden doing the same, I missed it.
And Trump has a loose tongue and zero experience in diplomacy; Biden is supposed to be a seasoned master of politics.
The trashing of this rule by two presidents in succession — the rule, I mean, that politics stops at the water's edge — tells us something about the times we're living through, something about the coarsening of our political culture.
Here is historian Paul Johnson writing about President Warren Harding, quote:
He did not believe that politics were very important or that people should get excited about them or allow them to penetrate too far into their everyday lives.
It's been a long hundred years. The old courtesies, the old rules, the old understandings, have all been knocked on the head, one by one. Here has gone the latest one: the old agreement that presidents aren't supposed to air domestic disagreements to foreign audiences. Requiescat in pace.
One rhetorical feature of the presser was that Biden Who-We-Are-ed for the first time I'm aware of, although I may have missed a few. Quote:
The leaders I'm dealing with in NATO and the G7 are leaders who know our recent history; know, generically, the character of the American people; and know where the vast center of the public stands — not Democrat, Republican — but who we are. We're a decent, honorable nation.
It was Barack Obama who let loose the Who-We-Are rhetorical virus. Obama when in office could hardly open his mouth without a Who-We-Are coming out, although in his post-presidential speeches he seems to have been trying to cure himself of Who-We-Are-ism.
Too late, though: Mrs Clinton exhibited a nasty case of Who-We-Are-ism in the 2016 campaign, presumably caught from Obama. Joe Biden, as Obama's Vice President, was bound to get infected, I guess.
06 — Down among the Euro-weenies. Biden's meeting with EU leaders on Tuesday was mostly inside baseball about tariffs, theirs and ours. There's been a low-level trade war going on for some years, we applying tariffs on their exports, they applying tariffs on ours.
That war heated up some under Trump, a strong believer in tariffs as a way to protect American workers, especially against China's dubious trade practices. Biden smoothed things out some with the Europeans, probably to the detriment of American workers, who Biden and the ruling class that backs him hope to replace with cheaper foreigners.
There was a small cloud over the meeting with EU leaders, though. The name of the cloud was China. The Europeans have been watching how China deals with smaller countries — notably Australia — that don't go along with Chinese plans and policies. They want to keep on good terms with the Dragon, even more than our own regime does.
Seeing the weakness and blundering of this new administration, the Euros are also asking themselves how long it will be before they are again dealing with a Trumpist president, if not actually with the man himself. From your wondering to God's ear, guys.
07 — Party time in the Kremlin. And then, the meeting with Putin in Switzerland on Wednesday.
The psychology of the meeting was interesting. Biden, as we all know by now, is a terrible speaker, getting lost in his sentences and lapsing into long pauses. The fact of his exchanges with Putin having to pass through a translator would have been to Biden's advantage. A skilled translator would have known to skip over the mumblings and confusions to just get across whatever it was Biden seemed to want to say.
Putin might not have been altogether fooled. I'm not clear how much English he can understand. There are video clips of him speaking English, but they could be practiced and rehearsed beforehand. I could do that with Russian; but I can't follow what a Russian-speaker is saying.
Still, a brain freeze of the kind Joe Biden suffers when speaking in public is hard to miss, even in someone else's language. If there was one, Putin had nothing to say about it.
To the contrary, he talked up Biden after the event. Here was Putin speaking on Thursday, the day after the meeting, quote:
I want to say that the image of President Biden that our and even the American press paints has nothing to do with reality. He's a professional, and you have to be very careful in working with him to make sure you don't miss anything. He doesn't miss anything, I can assure you.
We can't of course know whether Putin was speaking truthfully or playing four-dimensional chess. True, the Russians had no reason to love Donald Trump, who did them no favors — at any rate, none of the favors that his campaign-trail rhetoric promised to give them. They might reasonably hope for better things from a new administration.
It's still odd to see them gushing over Biden, though. It's only been three months since Biden called Putin a "killer," leading to a diplomatic rupture and withdrawal of ambassadors. And the four-year effort to demonize Trump as a tool of the Kremlin was led by the Democratic Party, Biden's Party. Now, suddenly, he's Putin's BFF.
Perhaps it's just a cynical calculation on Putin's part that a geezer as cognitively impaired as Biden will be an easy mark for whatever stunts they want to pull. Back of that is the equally cheerful belief that if Joe falls off his perch and Kamala Harris takes over, the Russians will have someone even more gullible and ignorant to play with.
So, party time in the Kremlin.
A rhetorical note on this one. In a presser following his meeting with Biden, Putin was asked if there was a growing trust and happiness between him and the US president after their meeting. He replied, quote:
В жизни нет счастья, есть только зарницы его. Дорожите ими.
Those are words attributed to Tolstoy — in conversation, not in his writings. The Washington Post translated them as, quote:
There is no happiness in life, there is only a mirage on the horizon, so cherish that.
You have to give Putin points for class there. It's been a while since we've had a president who could produce an apt quote from a great novelist. I'd be surprised to hear the current president do so; and I'd have been astounded to hear it from the previous one.
The Daily Mail took a more cynical approach. At any rate, they quoted what they said were many remarks on social media to the effect that this was a fearlessly impudent thing for Putin to say. Quote:
One remarked it was [inner quote] "simultaneously the most Russian and the most Bond villain thing I've ever heard a world leader say." [End inner quote.]
Eh, maybe. As a fan of great literature, though, I shall nurse the faint hope that this may start a trend among world leaders.
Oh, one more note on rhetoric. Biden held a post-meeting presser, too. In it, he once again Who-We-Are-ed. Quote:
I made it clear to President Putin that we will continue to raise issues of fundamental human rights, because that is who we are.
"Who We Are." Yep, the president has a really bad case.
08 — The Great Unmentionable. So, what do we learn from all this, comrades?
I'm going to take an indirect route to my answer. I'll start from a point that is totally unrelated and then work my way back to Joe's travels.
National leaders. We lost one this week: Kenneth Kaunda, first president of Zambia, which he ruled for almost thirty years. Kaunda died on Thursday in Lusaka, his nation's capital, at age 97.
No, it's not a name I'd expect a lot of listeners to be familiar with. For Brits of my generation, though — well, those who paid attention to the foreign news — it is well-known. We were in our senior high school and college years while Britain was getting out of the empire business, granting independence to colonies all over the world.
That included Africa. These new African nations that came up in the 1960s, and the leaders of their first independent governments, were all in the news. There was Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, and some lesser lights like Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria, who I include just because I like saying his name.
It may sound naive, but we young idealists had great hopes for these guys. Having thrown off the shackles of white supremacy, they would soon have their new nations on the road to freedom and prosperity!
Of course those hopes did not age well. The new African nations quickly fell into tribal warfare and corruption.
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa — c'mon, I told you, I just like saying his name — Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was overthrown in a coup, and was last seen in a roadside ditch outside Lagos with a very nasty case of lead poisoning.
Kwame Nkrumah was likewise deposed in a coup, in his case while he was on a state visit to China. Zhou Enlai had to break the news to him — surely one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of diplomacy.
The majority of these leaders died in their boots, however. So it was with Kenneth Kaunda.
[Added when archiving: Brain fog there. I meant to say "died in their beds." However, that somehow got garbled with the expression "died with their boots on," which is a different thing.]
Seeing his obituary, and nostalging about what I was doing when he was front-page news fifty-some years ago, I thought I'd look up Zambia and see how they're doing. Not very well, is the answer.
Corruption? Zambia ranks 117th out of 180 nations in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index for year 2020. That's tied with Egypt, Swaziland, Nepal, Sierra Leone, and Ukraine. Not a good place to be.
Prosperous? Zambia ought to be prosperous, with plenty of essential metals under the ground, notably copper and nickel. Somehow that hasn't translated into general prosperity. Annual per capita GDP is 3½ thousand dollars, giving Zambia a world ranking of 190. If they didn't have those metals, they'd be a total Foreign Aid basket case.
Zambians are not totally unproductive, mind. One thing they are extremely productive of is little Zambians. Total Fertility Rate is more than 4.6 children per woman. Median age: 17 years. Yes: half of Zambians are younger than 17. The population pyramid looks like a coolie hat: wi-i-ide at the base — ages 0 to 4, 5 to 9, 10 to 14 — tapering up fast to nothing much at all in the over seventies.
Now back to those G-7 leaders. Their nations are, as I said, all prosperous, populous, and democratic. Our own annual per capita GDP is 62½ thousand dollars, close to twenty times Zambia's. Hey! Corruption? We rank 25th in the world, tied with Chile: not great, but way better than Zambia.
Demography-wise, though, we are a disaster. So are the other G-7 countries. Our median age is 38½, well over twice Zambia's; and we are the youngest of the G-7. The others range from Britain at 40½ to Japan at 48½.
Total Fertility Rate? Remember that Zambia's is over 4.6 children per woman, and that any number less than 2.1 is considered to be below replacement level, i.e. you have a declining population.
There's the next hundred years right there. While the G-7 leaders are frolicking on the beach in Cornwall, taking tea with the Queen, and bickering over tariffs, the Zambians are busily making more Zambians. Similarly the Nigerians, the Kenyans, the Ghanaians, the Angolans, the Malians and Somalians, the Congolese and the Sudanese, …
One woman in South Africa claims to have given birth to decuplets — ten babies in a single confinement. Photographs of the lady in late pregnancy certainly support the possibility, although the latest news is the the whole story may be a money scam.
Whether it is or not, sub-Saharan Africa is popping out kids like the proverbial Pez dispenser. There is no way nations like Zambia can support these multiplying populations. They are already exporting the surplus to France, Germany, Italy, and Britain.
The leaders of these nations have no plan to deal with this, other than to virtue-signal about how generous they are to the wretched of the Earth.
In a particularly brazen display of indifference, Britain's useless, clueless government has declared this week to be Refugee Week, celebrating, quote, "the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary," end quote.
This, while illegal aliens — oh, I beg your pardon: "refugees" — from Africa and the Middle East are being helped ashore by so-called Border Control Officers after crossing the English Channel in rubber dinghies.
And yes, we're getting them, too. For years now, illegals from Sub-Saharan Africa have been among those apprehended at our southern border. Presumably they are crossing the border in even greater numbers now, although since the new administration well-nigh halted apprehensions, it's hard to know.
That will be the foremost topic through the middle and later decades of this century. Not tariffs, or alliances, or the Irish Question: demographics. Not Who We Are, but who we are being transformed into by mass uncontrolled immigration.
If pictures of the G-7 summit survive to be seen by our grandchildren, they will wonder what the hell we thought we were doing while the shape of the world shifted under our feet.
09 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Actually, make that "item," singular. I am over my time limit, so I can only offer you one, for the sake of continuity.
Item: In last week's podcast I noted the firing of British journalist Julie Burchill from a supposedly conservative newspaper over there, the Daily Telegraph. Ms Burchill's offense was to have tweeted that Prince Harry and Meghan Darkle missed the opportunity to name their new baby Georgina Floydina.
Well, Ms Burchill has now written an essay of spirited defiance, giving a muscular finger to the woke mob. It is reproduced in the June 14th Daily Mail online.
She spoils the effect somewhat by saying nice things about junkie street criminal George Floyd and wishing the death penalty on Officer Chauvin, who probably did nothing wrong. I like the cut of this lady's jib so much, I'll give her a pass on that.
Julie Burchill has a book coming out in the fall, title Welcome To The Woke Trials. I shall buy a copy.
10 — Signoff. There you have it, ladies and gents. Thank you for listening; and you folks there in the Mountain State, Happy West Virginia Day! For them and everyone else: If your Dad is still among us, don't forget Father's Day on Sunday.
Signout music. I am still getting those tiresome complaints from readers of the Radio Derb transcripts that in my selection of signout clips I disproportionally favor hot young female performers.
Once again I must totally deny any appearance bias in these selections. The sole criterion is musical quality. Radio Derb promotes and maintains the highest standards of objectivity and esthetic integrity.
I think foul scorn that these complainers should accuse me of a salacity that is, all too obviously, in their own minds; and I offer the same contempt to those others who sometimes email in to tell me that, because I am married to a Chinese lady, I am afflicted with something called "yellow fever."
Fie on all these small-minded grumblers! Ptui, I spit.
So much for that. Now, to play us out, and restore the elevated intellectual tone for which Radio Derb is world-famous, here is the thrilling final minute of Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra with Yuja Wang at the piano.
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Yuja Wang, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto.]