»  Radio Derb — Transcript

        Friday, May 27th, 2022


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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 1, organ version]

01 — Intro.     And Radio Derb is on the air! Greetings, listeners, from your usually genial host John Derbyshire, here with a roundup of the week's news courtesy of VDARE.com.

I say "usually" genial because geniality seems out of place following the slaughter of innocents in Texas this Tuesday morning.

Tuesday's horror naturally brought to mind the similar event ten years ago in Newtown, Connecticut when 20-year-old Adam Lanza went on a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in that town. He killed twenty of the school's children and six teachers, then shot himself. Before setting out on his rampage he'd shot and killed his mother, with whom he lived. Lanza's parents had separated when he was nine; he hadn't seen his father for two years.

The killer in Texas this week was 18-year-old Salvador Ramos. The town here was Uvalde, Texas; the school, Robb Elementary. Ramos killed nineteen children and two adults before being shot dead by a Border Patrol agent. Before setting out on his rampage Ramos had shot his grandmother, although not fatally. He lived with the grandmother because his mother had thrown him out.

Aside from noting these obvious parallels I can't think of much to say about this business. More precisely, I can't think of much to say that I didn't say ten years ago about the Sandy Hook massacre; so to start us off this week, I'll play a clip of my opening segment from the Radio Derb podcast on December 22nd 2012. Here we go.


02 — A zone of chaos.     [Clip.]

I can never think of anything much to say about events like this. Given all the anfractuosities of human nature, this bizarre and extraordinary kind of event seems to me to belong to the random portion of our life in this universe, like asteroid strikes.

I'm skeptical of talk about causes and solutions. I don't believe this is a zone of cause and effect, of problem and solution: I think this is a zone of chaos; a zone where stuff happens, without any rhyme or reason we can comprehend at the present state of our knowledge.

For sure the event itself is not an issue on which any sane person can take sides. There is no argument to be made for the mass murder of little children. Even in the worst extremes of total war, where things can get pretty indiscriminate, the deliberate targeting of children is beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior, by common agreement among civilized peoples.

There are of course related issues on which we can take sides; but the arguments on those issues are so well-worn, have been so often heard, my reading eyes find it a struggle to get all the way through any commentary on them. I'll discuss three of the commonest in just a moment, each in its own segment, since these sidebar issues are once again in the air; but it'll be a perfunctory discussion.

Aside from recording what happened, expressing proper condolences to the bereaved, and mocking some of the sillier statements of our politicians, there is not much for either news journalists or opinion journalists usefully to say about a lunatic shooting up an elementary school. Unless you are a lunatic yourself, it's a horror beyond imagining — the more so in this case because it happened right before Christmas, the happiest time of the year for little kids.

That's just saying the obvious, though — something we all know by instinct. Beyond that, what's worth saying?

About the incident itself, nothing that I can think of; so let's take a look at those related issues.

[End clip.]

That was me speaking ten years ago; the first segment of the first Radio Derb podcast after the Sandy Hook massacre.

I then gave over a segment each to:

  1. Second Amendment issues.

  2. Mental health issues.

  3. Cultural issues: violent video games, absent fathers, and the rest.

Reading through the transcript of that podcast from ten years ago, there isn't much I'd change. You can read through it yourself, or listen to it, at my personal website: www.johnderbyshire.com, click on "Opinions," then on "Radio Derb," and my podcasts are all archived there with transcripts, all the way back to 2004.

Here today I'll just do a brief reprise of that format: a segment each on guns, mental health, and the culture.


03 — More guns, please.     The main thing I'd change on the segment about Second Amendment issues would be my 2012 description of the NRA as, quote, "one of the best-organized and most effective lobbies in our political life," end quote.

I'm still an NRA member and I still donate when I can, but they have foolishly gotten themselves into legal tangles that with good sense, good accounting, and foresight they would have avoided.

I doubt those tangles will end with the NRA being dissolved, but the NRA will emerge from them with its reputation damaged, and will be less able to stand as first line of defense for our Second Amendment rights. That's a big blow to our rights just by itself. The power-hungry government gun-grabbers will worm their way into any cracks in our defenses, and right now the NRA is showing a lot of cracks.

The Uvalde killings actually illustrated some of our favorite Second Amendment talking-points. For example, we have all enjoyed the quip that goes: "Call for the cops, call for a pizza delivery, see which one gets to you first."

In the case of Uvalde, Texas the answer is plain. Salvador Ramos fired off his first shots in the street outside Robb Elementary School at 11:28 a.m. The first 911 call came in about two minutes later, at 11:30. Cops first showed up at 11:44 — so that's a fourteen-minute delay.

In a big city with heavy traffic and a lot going on, that might just be excusable. Uvalde, however, has a population of just fifteen thousand. From Uvalde Police Department to Robb Elementary School is one mile as the crow flies, perhaps a mile and a half by the streets. A healthy adult can jog a mile and a half in fourteen minutes.

And Google Maps shows something labeled "Uvalde County Precinct 6 Constables Office" less than half a mile from the school — seven or eight minutes leisurely walk.

So … fourteen minutes? My bet's on the pizza delivery.

So the cops got to the school at 11:44. What did they do when they got there? Why, they made lots of phone calls: for body armor, snipers, trained negotiators.

Around 11:54 — so this is ten minutes after the cops showed up — around 11:54 parents began arriving and begged the cops to storm the school building where Ramos was. The cops, annoyed at having their phone calls interrupted, acted on the time-honored principle of policing everywhere: that law-abiding citizens are much easier to beat down than are criminals and lunatics.

At least one mother, name of Angeli Rose Gomez, who had children in third and fourth grade at the school, was handcuffed. She told The Wall Street Journal she saw other parents tackled, tasered, and pepper-sprayed while Salvador Ramos went gleefully about his work inside the school.

So yes: a typical response from government law-enforcement agents, whose primary concern is staying safe long enough to draw their gold-plated pensions. It's hard to see how private citizens, whose primary concern is the safety of their loved ones, could do any worse of a job. That's the beating heart of citizens' rights, including Second Amendment rights, right there.

Government sucks. Everything they do sucks, and everything they tell you is a lie. Arm yourselves, citizens!

As a footnote to that, I'm wondering whether perhaps Latino government is even suckier than the Anglo-Saxon variety. Uvalde, although of course in the U.S.A., is a very Latino town. Look at the names of the dead: Ramirez, Garcia, Rodriguez, Torres, ….

Is there an immigration angle here? A friend who lived and worked in that area forty years ago doubts it. He contributed the following insight. Quote from him, slightly edited:

These Hispanic Texans have been in the US longer than even most of my ancestors. Maybe there are some immigrants since I was there, that was a long time ago, but back then at least in Carrizo, Crystal City, and even more so in Uvalde, there were not a lot of recent immigrants. The immigrants either stayed in the border towns, or headed north to the cities. The Uvalde region was too poor, and the Hispanic Texans didn't like immigrants very much. They may have not liked Anglos much either, but they identified as Americans, they didn't wave the Mexican flag around.

End quote.

One final note here. Talking heads on TV are shrieking for Congress to do something or other about guns. Hoo-kay: What did they do after Sandy Hook? Obviously, nothing that fixed the problem of crazy kids shooting up schools.

Sandy Hook happened at the tail end of the 112th Congress: Democrats held the Senate and the Presidency, Republicans the House. Three weeks later there started up the 113th Congress: same configuration.

We can excuse the 112th Congress for not doing anything Sandy Hook-wise — heck, they were on Christmas recess. What did the 113th Congress do after starting up three weeks later? Let's see … 113th Congress, major legislation: Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act … Pandemic Preparedness Reauthorization Act … Freedom to Fish Act … duh-duh, duh-duh, duh-duh …

So actually, nothing. But that's what Congress mostly does — nothing. Well, not altogether nothing. There's the Freedom to Fish Act, forty billion dollars for Ukraine, the world's second most corrupt white nation (the first of course being Russia), and similar legislation that either nobody of any importance cares about or that nobody of any importance disagrees about.

On passing legislation on matters of concern to the mass of ordinary citizens, Congress is inert. That stuff is done either by presidential executive order or by rulings from judges. Congress is a waste of space.

So I'm not worried that Congress will take away our gun rights. Some kritarch may take them away; Joe Biden may take them away; but Congress? Fugeddaboutit.


04 — Can we minister to a mind diseased?     On mental health issues, I am even more sure than I was ten years ago that our understanding of mental health is about where our understanding of physical health was in the Middle Ages.

Why am I even more sure than I was ten years ago? Partly because at some point in that ten years I read Andrew Scull's 2016 book Madness in Civilization; subtitle "A Cultural History of Insanity from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine."

Scull gives a withering account of all the fads, theories, cults, and potions that have been used as a basis for treating mad people down through the ages, including this present age. You put the book down convinced of what you previously just suspected: that psychiatry is a pseudoscience, a racket kept afloat by Big Pharma and the health-insurance companies.

If you're not much interested in how mad people were dealt with in Ancient Greece or 18th-century England, just read the last chapter in Scull's book, dealing with the modern age. I'll give you a sample. This is from pages 385-6, quote:

A succession of studies during the late 1960s and 1970s had demonstrated the extraordinary unreliability of psychiatric diagnoses. Even with respect to what were regarded as the most serious forms of psychiatric disturbance, different psychiatrists only agreed upon the diagnosis about 50 percent of the time. Many of these studies had been conducted by the profession itself, including a landmark study by the British psychiatrist John Cooper and his associates of differential diagnosis in a cross-national context. That research showed that what British psychiatrists diagnosed as manic depression, their American counterparts were prone to label schizophrenia, and vice versa.

End quote.

That landmark study was in 1972. In an endnote Scull tells us that in one of the findings, British and American psychiatrists were both shown videotapes of two British patients and invited to diagnose what was wrong with them: 85 and 69 percent of American psychiatrists diagnosed schizophrenia; 7 and 2 percent of their British colleagues did so.

Scull's book is full of gems like that. Don't even get him started on the DSM, that's the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, which is supposed to be an encylopedia of mental disorders, but which keeps changing its mind about what is a mental disorder and what isn't.

The first edition of the DSM in 1952 listed homosexuality as a disorder; in 1973, after some lobbying, that was removed. Contrariwise, heavy smoking was not listed until the fifth edition of the DSM in 2013, where it showed up as "Tobacco Use Disorder."

Andrew Scull has a new book out this month. It was reviewed in Literary Review by an academic psychiatrist, Joanna Moncrieff, who teaches at my alma mater in London. Here is Dr Moncrieff's description of the DSM, quote:

A political document the function of which is to facilitate insurance claims, rather than having anything to do with science or medicine. The sense of certainty created by a diagnosis, though welcomed by many patients and clinicians, is ultimately illusory.

End quote.

I could go on, as you can tell … and on, and on. I've had some personal acquaintance with the psychiatric profession … but I'll put that in my monthly diary. Suffice it to say that I am a deep skeptic, and take reassurance from knowing that credentialed scholars like Andrew Scull and psychiatrists like Joanna Moncrieff are likewise.

I'd like to see crazy people locked up in asylums, for their own benefit and our safety. However, between the obviously crazy and the obviously normal, there is a wide and thorny terrain of oddity and eccentricity. The great majority of odd or eccentric people will live out their lives harmlessly muttering to themselves; some tiny proportion will do homicidally crazy things.

Can we figure out in advance whether some given individual belongs to that tiny portion or not? No, we can't. Can we lock up all the odd and eccentric? Possibly we could, if we were willing to spend half our Gross National Product building asylums and training staff. Should we? No, not if we have any regard for personal liberty.

Last Sunday morning a middle-aged white guy, a Wall Street professional, was sitting in a subway car going through downtown Manhattan. A young black guy was pacing up and down the car muttering to himself. Then suddenly, for no reason anyone can figure, he pulled out a handgun and shot the white guy dead. The shooter has since been found, arrested, and charged with murder.

Two days after that, on Tuesday evening, I myself was riding the subway on my way to Penn Station from an event uptown. There were two other people in my car: a young white guy sitting opposite me engrossed in his smartphone, and, further along from us, a large and very disheveled black guy talking quite loud to no-one at all. He wasn't paying any attention to us, just talking to the empty seats opposite him, occasionally raising his voice to a shout.

The shooter had been arrested earlier that day, so I knew this wasn't him. I can't say I was nervous: well-nigh all lunatics are harmless. I didn't move, though, in case he saw me moving and got up to come and yell in my face, which I thought I'd prefer to avoid. Nothing happened; I got out at Penn Station.

Here's a thought experiment. Imagine that a month ago, say, you could have brought both of those guys — last Sunday's subway shooter and my Tuesday subway shouter — in front of a panel of credentialed, experienced psychiatrists. Would the shrinks have been able to tell you which of the two guys would shortly commit a murder?

No, they wouldn't. Mental health isn't anything like physical health. There aren't distinctive diseases, with known causes, unambiguous symptoms, and predictable developments. We understand less about the mind than Geoffrey Chaucer understood about the body.

Sure, we have a handful of drugs like Lithium that help with manic depression; although, as Dr Moncrieff says, Lithium is also toxic, and the long-term benefits are questionable. Most psychiatric medicines are either placebos or mild narcotics. None of them cures anything.

All we can do is what our ancestors did: lock up in asylums people who are obviously mad — humanely, for our general safety, and always with the hope their madness may pass spontaneously, which sometimes happens.

"Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?" Macbeth asked his family physician. The doctor, an honest man, answered in the negative. The answer today would be the same.


05 — Phones and sex.     And then, the culture. Back in 2012 I pooh-poohed most of the commentary about Sandy Hook that blamed it on the culture: on violent movies and video games, absent fathers, or the decline of religious belief. No, no, and no, I argued.

That's what I still say. I wouldn't today rule out cultural developments altogether, though.

Smartphones, for example, were still somewhat of a novelty in 2012. Today they are ubiquitous.

All right, I admit: I hate the damn things. You're walking along the street, or sitting in a subway car, and everybody — well, except for the crazy guy further along in the car yelling at invisible enemies — everybody is staring at their damn fool smartphones. How can the word "zombies" not come to mind?

Or you go to the doctor's or the dentist's. He keeps you waiting for half an hour and there is nothing to read. These places used to have a stack of magazines you could browse in. Now … nothing, except perhaps some six-page drug company brochure masquerading as a health magazine. The other patients waiting are all locked in on their smartphones.

I suppose I shall have to get one of the filthy things eventually; everyday life is increasingly organized around them. Still, I regard my eventual acquisition of a smartphone the same way I regard death: inevitable sooner or later, but to be postponed for as long as possible.

All right, all right; I've vented my dislike of smartphones. I'll allow, though, if you attach electrodes to my gonads, that smartphones are a convenience for normal people.

What are they to abnormal people, though? Here are a couple of data points.

  • Quote from Fox News on Sunday's subway shooting in New York City, quote: "NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig said during a Tuesday press conference that the only words witnesses heard Abdullah utter before the attack were: 'No phones.'" End quote.

  • Salvador Ramos, the Uvalde school shooter, lived with his grandparents. On Thursday this week journalist Ali Bradley interviewed the grandpa. He told her that Salvador was always on his phone, and that just hours before the shooting, Salvador's grandma said she was going to take him off their mobile payment plan.

I'm just sayin'. What means handy convenience to a normal person might mean something entirely different to a lunatic.

And then, much more in evidence now than it was ten years ago, there is the sex revolution.

Note my careful wording there: "the sex revolution," not "the sexual revolution."

The sexual revolution was that era fifty or sixty years ago when traditional social constraints relating to sex were lowered or eliminated. Disapproval of illegitimacy and homosexuality — or, as I once expressed it, "bastardy and buggery" — disapproval also of open sex talk and pornography, all that disapproval was mocked or legislated away, leaving us all free to find sexual happiness wherever we chose, to the general improvement of mental health and the advance of personal liberty, we were promised.

That was the sexual revolution. Its results were mixed. Yes, there was some increase of liberty. Harmless people who had lived lives of shame, fear, and concealment were free to participate openly and honestly in society. There were also downsides, though: exploitation, the decline of the family at the bottom of society, some crudity and ugliness in language and the arts, and of course AIDS.

I'll discuss all that another time. Here I'm talking about the sex revolution: the recalibration of traditional male and female roles, always to the disadvantage of men; and more recently the effort to deny biological sex altogether, to elevate the airily subjective over the grittily real.

Some of the effects are well-known. For example: In spring of 2021 59.5 percent of college students in the United States were women. It's a good bet that the proportion passed 60 percent sometime last year.

And then there's actual, you know, sex. There's a steady trickle of news stories about how millenials and Gen-Z-ers — that's people born after 1996 — aren't having as much sex as previous cohorts. Here's one from last October telling me that among Gen-Z-ers aged 20 to 24, fifteen percent are sexually inactive. Having been aged 20 to 24 in the late 1960s, I find that pretty incredible.

Some of the factors here aren't hard to figure out. It's a fact well-known to dating services that women are much pickier than men. Not to be too crude about it: men will date anything. A woman, however, is seeking a man who looks like he's going somewhere. She wants to date up.

Back to those college attendance statistics. How are the female sixty percent going to date up, if "up" is defined as having a college degree, and way more gals than guys have one?

Then there's the sexual harassment hysteria. We used to find mates at our workplace; nowadays, dating a co-worker — or even just suggesting a date — is asking for a lawsuit.

No wonder the word "incel" is current. A lot of young guys are involuntarily celibate. They console themselves as best they can with video games, violent ones for preference.

Lay the past two years' COVID restrictions and lockdowns on top of all that, and yeah, the culture is definitely in play.


06 — Those dreary steeples.     The old British joke about Ireland used to be that as soon as some British government thought they had found an answer to the Irish Question, Ireland changed the question.

It's looking a bit like that over there right now. The issue here is the Northern Ireland Protocol.

What's that ? OK, remember Brexit? January 1st last year the UK finally, formally, decisively left the European Union, the EU … except for some fiddly issues over import controls.

Before Brexit both nations of the British Isles — both the UK and the Republic of Ireland — were members of the EU, with freedom of movement for goods and people across the border. What border? Well, the UK is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so there is a land border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

After Brexit the situation is different. The UK is now out of the EU, but the Republic of Ireland stayed in it. So that border is now a border between the UK — an independent nation — and the EU.

No problem. There must be lots of land borders between the EU and non-EU nations, mustn't there? What about the Balkans, where half the countries are in the EU and half aren't? What about those nations we've been hearing about that border Ukraine: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia?

So yes, the Brits could have just put up a border fence with customs posts and so on. Problem is, Northern Ireland has a big sub-population of Irish Republicans, who don't like Northern Ireland being in the UK. They so much don't like it, their activist wing spent the last third of the 20th century blowing things up and killing people about it.

The Brits worked out a peace agreement in 1998 giving both factions in the North — the Republicans who want a united Ireland and the Unionists who want to stay in the UK — something of what they wanted. It was a balancing act, though, and still is. Both the Brits and the EU think that erecting a fence along the border might get the Troubles going again, so they stitched up a compromise.

Northern Ireland stays in the UK, but follows EU standards for food and other goods. That means Northern stuff can pass freely into the Irish Republic, and vice versa. Customs checks between Britain and Northern Ireland are done at Northern Ireland's ports of entry, as if it were an EU member … which it isn't: it's part of the UK.

Got it? That's the Protocol.

It isn't working, of course. The Unionists hate it because it treats them as a foreign country. Republicans like it because it makes the border with the Irish Republic inconsequential. Business people mostly hate it because it loads them up with bureacracy. The Brits and the Unionists want to downsize it, and the EU is mad as hell.

Our own congresscritters are stirring the pot in hopes of getting votes from Irish-Americans. Congresscritter Richard Neal of, yes, Massachusetts was over there the other day with a nine-strong delegation, telling the Brits to leave the Protocol alone, or else. Aren't there any issues back here in the States you should be legislating on, Congressman?

The main Unionist political party in Northern Ireland, the DUP, dislike the Protocol so much, they forced an election over it early this month.

Election to what? Sorry, I have to explain that. Part of the 1998 deal was for Northern Ireland to have its own wee legislature — called the Assembly — and Executive, answering to the legislature. It's all bogus, of course: Britain pays all the bills for the North, so the legislature doesn't have anything to legislate about. The idea is just to give a "voice" to the different factions.

Well, the Chief Executive, a DUP guy, resigned at protest over the Protocol, forcing an election. The result was a win for Republicans: 36 seats against Unionists' 35, and 17 seats going to a can't-we-all-get-along centrist party.

That would make the legislature ineffective, if it had ever been meant to be effective, which fortunately it wasn't. What scared Britain and the Unionists, though, was that those 36 seats for Republicans included 27 for the Sinn Féin party, making them the biggest single party in the Assembly.

That came on top of Sinn Féin darn near winning the Republic of Ireland's general election two years ago. They got 37 seats in Ireland's 160-seat parliament, just one seat fewer than the winning party's 38.

What's scary about that? Well, Sinn Féin is the most Republican of Ireland's parties, north and south. It supported and financed Republican terrorism through those decades of trouble. The party has a lot of blood on its hands — not just British and Unionist blood, either. Policemen in the Republic, and Irish soldiers too, were killed by Republican terrorists for whom Sinn Féin served as a respectable-looking front.

There's been a lot of speculation about how things would develop if Sinn Féin were to further advance to control both the Irish parliament and Northern Ireland's Assembly. My favorite in that line was a May 11th op-ed at the website of RTE, Ireland's main broadcaster. The writer argued that one possible outcome would be a British reclamation of all Ireland.

I seriously doubt anyone in Britain wants that. The last time I was living in Britain, 1978-85, the universal opinion among Brits was that Northern Ireland should be given independence and left to sort out its issues with the Republic as best it could.

British weariness of Ireland and its everlasting squabbles goes back way further than that. Here was Winston Churchill in 1922, in the aftermath of World War One, quote:

As the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that have been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world.

End quote.

If Britain still had statesmen of Churchill's caliber, they'd figure a way to turn this wrangling over the Protocol into a second Brexit: a British exit from Ireland, once and for all. Brits would be cheering from Land's End to John o' Groats.


07 — Miscellany.     And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.

ImprimisLast week I told you about fifty-two-year-old Classics professor Josh Katz at Princeton University. Prof. Katz, although a very fine scholar, had revealed having Bad Thoughts about black campus radicals. In an open letter to the college president he had called them "terrorists," which is what they were.

That made Princeton want to fire him. Prof. Katz had tenure, though, so in order to fire him the college had to resort to subterfuges.

They accordingly did so, and on Monday last they finally fired him.

We don't yet know whether Prof. Katz is going to law over his firing. He does have an attorney, though, and she sounds ready to sue. Quote from her:

I don't think there is a person out there who genuinely doubts that if Professor Katz had not published his article [criticizing black radicals] in 2020 that he would [still] be employed by Princeton.

End quote.

I hope he sues and takes them to the cleaners.


Item:  Back in October last year I commented on that letter from the National School Boards Association, the NSBA, to President Biden urging him to sic the Justice Department on parents at school board meetings complaining about anti-white propagandizing in their kids' schools. I described the NSBA as, quote, "a far-left globalist, anti-American activist outfit with funding connections to George Soros," end quote.

That got a nice little ball rolling. As of this Tuesday, twenty-four state school board associations have cut their ties with the NSBA. Twenty-four down, just twenty-six to go.

Ah, the power of Radio Derb!


Item:  Finally: I notified you back in March that Turkmenistan's general election that month had been won by 40-year-old Serdar Berdymukhammedov, son of the then-current President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. So how is the younger Berdymukhammedov doing?

Well, his focus so far has been on raising his nation's Total Fertility Rate. It's currently 2.03 children per woman. That's way better than our own feeble 1.84, but Berdymukhammedov, Jr. is not satisfied and wants it still higher.

In pursuit of that worthy goal, Turkmenistan's new young president has issued edicts preventing women from introducing, quote, "foreign objects" into their bodies. That includes everything from false eyelashes to Botox injections, hair dye, and all kinds of cosmetic procedures including even manicures.

It all seems a bit fussy to me, but no doubt President Berdymukhammedov, Jr. is motivated by concern for his nation's future. Let's see how it all works out. Meanwhile …

[Turkmen national anthem.]


08 — Signoff.     That's all, ladies and gents. Thank you for listening; and let's take time this Memorial Day weekend for some solemn reflection.

We have been forced to think this week about the death of children, perhaps the subject of all subjects we least want to think about. Having raised two of my own, and being now the grandpa of a beautiful baby boy, I can think of no greater sorrow than the loss of a little one.

People felt this way even before the rise of modern medicine, when the death of children was commonplace. Think of Ben Jonson's verses on losing his son at age seven and his daughter at just six months old.

Back in the 1830s there was a German poet who lost two of his children. He vented his grief into more than four hundred poems. Seventy years later the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler turned five of those poems into songs, the Kindertotenlieder. I'll play us out with the incomparable Kathleen Ferrier singing the third of those five. She's singing in German, so here's a translation.

When your Mommy steps in through the door
And I turn my head to see her,
My gaze doesn't fall first on her face
But on the place nearer to the doorstep
Where your dear little face would be,
When you with bright joy stepped inside —
As you used to, my little daughter.

There will be more from Radio Derb next week.


[Music clip: Kathleen Ferrier, "Wenn dein Mütterlein tritt zur Tür herein."]