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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, piano version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Greetings, listeners, from your transatlantically genial host John Derbyshire, this Thanksgiving weekend.
I know what you're asking. Transatlantically, what? Well, for one thing friends have been calling and emailing in to remind me to watch England play the U.S.A. in the soccer World Cup this afternoon, and to ask which side I'd be rooting for.
I wasn't rooting for either side and in fact didn't watch any of the game. I have zero interest in soccer. At my school we played rugby. Soccer: a game for gentlemen played by hooligans. Rugger: a game for hooligans played by gentlemen. We were gentlemen.
And for another thing I just read this article at Wednesday's Daily Mail Online about how Thanksgiving is now a big thing across the pond. The Brits celebrate with turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, the whole deal.
That doesn't make much sense. Weren't the Pilgrims giving thanks for having got away from Britain and all its ills? They'd only just got nicely settled in Massachusetts when civil war broke out over there. That civil war worked out well for America, mind: the losing side came over here and settled Virginia.
So far as I can gather from reading the story, what's driving the popularization of Thanksgiving in the Mother Country is just the excuse to have another holiday, stuff yourself with food and do some shopping.
Still, it's kind of flattering, unless you are one of those crabbed souls who frown at "cultural appropriation," which of course I'm not. Perhaps we should take in some British holidays to reciprocate: Shrove Tuesday, Maundy Thursday, St George's Day, St Swithin's Day, Bonfire Night, Boxing Day … We're spoiled for choice.
You can never have enough holidays. Oh, here's another one.
02 — Indigenes on the warpath. Today, the day after Thanksgiving Day, is known as Black Friday. Confusingly, to those of us who have trouble keeping up with identitarian fads, it is also Native American Heritage Day.
It is, it seems to me, a serious shortcoming of the American language that we have never come up with a satisfactory way to refer to the people whose ancestors lived here before Europeans showed up.
We used to say "Indians," but as post-1965 immigration got seriously under way and our big corporations discovered to their delight how much cheaper it was to hire computer programmers from Bangalore than from Baltimore, that started to be confusing. When you referred to someone as an Indian you'd be asked: "Dot or feather?" … which was funny the first three or four times you heard it, then just annoying.
So we started saying "Native Americans." That was ambiguous too, though — as well as being cumbersome, six syllables in place of three. On strict lexicographical grounds, a native American is a person who was born in America. Donald Trump is a native American; so is Barack Obama … although Donald Trump will give you an argument about that. I, on the other hand, am not a native American; I'm an American citizen of British nativity.
The distinction is clear in writing, with capital "N" for "Native American" meaning Redskin — yeah, go on, sue me — and lower-case "n" for the other thing. In speech, though, it's ambiguous.
The Canadians have made an even bigger mess of this than we have. The group at issue up there is divided into First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. How you tell one from the other, and how you refer to a person of the First Nations — a First National? — I have no idea and am not interested in finding out.
The plain-speaking sheep farmers of the antipodes have more sense than we have. In Australia there are Aborigines, "Abos" for short. In New Zealand, Maoris. Can't we North Americans follow their example and settle on something unambiguous and short, or at least easy to abbreviate?
Well, our indigenes were in the news last week, at any rate the news in New York State. On November 17th the Education Department of this godforsaken sinkhole of a state decreed that high schools must stop using uppercase-"N" Native Americans as mascots for their sport teams or else lose state funding. They think fifty or sixty schools still have such mascots, in defiance of legislation and court rulings declaring it disrespectful.
I really don't get this. My home town here in Long Island has a youth football league named the Bulldogs. Is that disrespectful to bulldogs? I don't think so. Bulldogs are aggressive and tenacious. Isn't that what we want our footballers to be? Is there a youth football league somewhere in the U.S.A. named the Poodles? I doubt it … although the way things are going, perhaps there soon will be.
When a sports team names itself the Chiefs, or the Indians, or the Braves, I think our indigenes should be flattered … although I think they might reasonably draw a line at the Thieving Cannibals. If they don't like our naming customs, let them go back where they came from, across the Bering Strait back to Siberia.
03 — Does Zero COVID make sense? I had a rather alarming conversation the other day with a friend who is well-acquainted with the region where medical science intersects with politics.
We got to talking about the ferocious lockdowns in China. After some relaxation, the country's been hit with a new outbreak, said to be the worst yet. The lockdowns are going on again, more intense than ever.
Mrs Derbyshire has an old school friend in southwest China. Retired now, she lives with her husband on one of the upper floors of an apartment block. They are allowed out, properly masked up, for brief periods, strictly monitored, once or twice a week. My wife was actually on the phone with this lady when in the background she heard a voice call: "Come and get tested!" They have to go downstairs to the lobby to get tested for COVID every day. If you test positive, you're hustled off to a quarantine camp.
For a retired couple like them it's bad enough. If you're young and trying to make your way in some kind of career, or just doing regular paid work, it's been devastating. For the small service businesses and stores that working people patronize, it's been a killer.
My friend pointed out that the Chinese government's strategy makes no epidemiological sense. As The Washington Post pointed out today, quote:
A coronavirus outbreak on the verge of being China's biggest of the pandemic has exposed a critical flaw in Beijing's "zero covid" strategy: a vast population without natural immunity. After months with only occasional hot spots in the country, most of its 1.4 billion people have never been exposed to the virus … Opening to a world that's now mostly living with the virus would cause a wave of deaths, officials fear.
There is far more natural immunity in countries like ours, where every other person you know got COVID and recovered; and far less damage to our national economy.
So why have the Chinese authorities taken such a destructive approach? Why have the ChiComs done this to themselves? I had been assuming it's just the instinctive control-freakery of despots not restrained by law; but my friend told me there's a disturbing theory going round among specialists.
It's taken for granted, he said, that the ChiComs have been doing biological-warfare research for years, as we and other nations have. It's an arms race; you can't not do it when other countries are. The research may produce killer pathogens, but it also shows how to defend against them. If you don't do the research, you don't have defenses.
It may be, my friend said, that the ChiComs accidentally discovered or developed a very lethal pathogen; one that, if it got loose in China, would kill tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions. They are naturally terrified of that happening.
He asked me if I'd heard about the virus created by Boston University that killed eighty percent of the lab mice researchers infected with it. Yes, I remembered spotting that in the news last month. Was it for real?
Hard to say, my friend said, with peer review not yet out, but it's the kind of thing we're playing with here. If the ChiComs created something super-lethal, possibly in the same lab the original COVID escaped from, they might very well be scared out of their wits.
Walking away from that conversation with my friend — a sober and thoughtful guy, not a conspiracy nutcase or end-of-the-world alarmist — I have to admit, I was pretty scared myself.
04 — New York City progressives get new pets. Blue-state progressives derive their spiritual nourishment from there being some population of poor people on whose behalf they can pose as humanitarians.
Back in the days when Marxism was taken seriously the domestic working class filled that role. The working class, however, turned out to be a disappointment. When war broke out in 1914 they marched cheerfully into battle under their bourgeois officers, singing patriotic songs. They didn't want revolution and they didn't much mind capitalists getting super-wealthy so long as they, the working class, could live in a stable society under rule of law, with the opportunity to attain modest prosperity doing useful work, with decent provision of education and healthcare.
The disappointed progressives turned to blacks as a group they could patronize. That didn't work too well, either. Instead of being grateful to the patronizing white lefties, blacks felt, well, patronized and resentful. It turned out a lot of them didn't like whites very much, or the nation they found themselves living in. As one of them told his followers: [Clip. "God damn America!"]
What should progressives do to be saved? What race or group can now serve as a backdrop for their humanitarian posturing?
The Biden administration, which is Blue State progressivism enthroned, has given us a clear answer. Illegal aliens are the new proletariat, the new Negroes. Progressives can't get enough of them; they can't do enough for them. This is exceptionally clear in today's New York City.
Here's a guy with a beef. The guy's name is Daniel Barber, a black American. Mr Barber is an advocate for New York City's public housing tenants, of whom there are a third of a million.
That twangs my heartstrings some. I spent most of my younger years, ages 3 to 18, in public housing … in England, not New York City. I'm totally in favor of public housing, although I am of course well aware that public housing in 2020s New York City is not precisely the same thing as public housing in 1950s provincial England.
What's Daniel Barber's beef? His beef is that New York City is handing out city services — shelter, education, job training, health care and legal aid — to illegal aliens at a rate of, according to the city's budget office, six hundred million dollars a year. With an estimated seventeen thousand illegal aliens in the city, that's better than thirty-five thousand dollars per illegal per annum.
New York's public-housing tenants, by contrast, got 774 thousand for support services in 2021. Since there are 339 thousand of them that's only two dollars twenty-eight cents per capita … somewhat of a difference.
Yeah, sure: not many public housing tenants depend on city welfare programs. They're working or on federal welfare programs; they get health care coverage from employee insurance or Medicaid; their kids' education is separately funded, and so on. Still, six hundred million is a lot of dollars for criminal invaders, however often The New York Post refers to them as "asylum seekers." You can see why Mr Barber is vexed.
In October, the city built a special tent community on Randall's Island to house 500 migrants, but the controversial facility, which cost $16 million, was shut down this month. Many of the migrants arriving now have been moved to a series of shelters and hotels where they are being helped with education and job training.
The main reason New York City has so many illegal aliens is that Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been busing them up here since the summer on the very reasonable grounds that since the mass illegal entry of foreigners is a national problem it ought to be visible everywhere, not just in border states.
Progressives regard this as heartless and cynical. They want to patronize their victim class from a distance, not up close; just as 19th-century abolitionists wanted blacks to be freed, but to stay in the South, please.
The numbers of illegals will shortly get much bigger. Donald Trump's Title 42 policy allowed Border Patrol to exclude more than two million illegals who might spread COVID in immigrant detention centers. On November 15th a federal judge struck down Title 42, although he generously gave the federal government five weeks to arrange compliance with his order.
That means that starting December 21st it will be even easier to cross the border and stay here than it has been this past two years. Would-be illegals have gotten the message. They're massing on the Mexican side of the border.
And that means New York City will be budgeting a lot more to help illegals find work, schooling, and healthcare, and correspondingly less on residents who are U.S. citizens or legal aliens. Wealthy progressive New Yorkers like Chuck Schumer will be delighted; city residents in public housing will wonder who gives a damn about them.
05 — Johnson on old age. Our President attained the age of eighty last Sunday. Happy birthday, Sir!
Even with modern standards of health care, that's a pretty good age. Younger listeners may be wondering: What's it like to be eighty?
I don't know, although — like you — I hope to find out. We can speculate, though. For observations and insights into human nature and the human condition, my first port of call is the great eighteenth-century essayist and lexicographer Samuel Johnson.
In the year 1759, when he himself turned fifty, in order to defray his mother's funeral expenses Dr Johnson wrote a novel titled Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. It's not really a novel in the modern sense, more a series of essays dressed up as a novel, but very readable if you just take it as it is.
In Chapter 45 of Rasselas the young Prince and his companions are out walking when they meet an old man. After some conversational preliminaries the geezer discourses on old age. Quote:
"Praise," said the sage with a sigh, "is to an old man an empty sound. I have neither mother to be delighted with the reputation of her son, nor wife to partake the honours of her husband. I have outlived my friends and my rivals. Nothing is now of much importance; for I cannot extend my interest beyond myself. Youth is delighted with applause, because it is considered as the earnest of some future good, and because the prospect of life is far extended; but to me, who am now declining to decrepitude, there is little to be feared from the malevolence of men, and yet less to be hoped from their affection or esteem. Something they may yet take away, but they can give me nothing. Riches would now be useless, and high employment would be pain. My retrospect of life recalls to my view many opportunities of good neglected, much time squandered upon trifles, and more lost in idleness and vacancy. I leave many great designs unattempted, and many great attempts unfinished. My mind is burdened with no heavy crime, and therefore I compose myself to tranquillity; endeavour to abstract my thoughts from hopes and cares which, though reason knows them to be vain, still try to keep their old possession of the heart; expect, with serene humility, that hour which nature cannot long delay, and hope to possess in a better state that happiness which here I could not find, and that virtue which here I have not attained."
06 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: Next Tuesday, November 29th, is VDARE.com's Giving Tuesday. I'll be at the VDARE castle participating in the usual Giving Tuesday show, demonstrating my skills at power-saw juggling and so on.
November 29th is also the fiftieth anniversary of Pong, the first computer game anyone remembers — well, anyone who wasn't a software geek in the early 1970s, and very few were. The IEEE website has a nice commemorative piece up. I'd forgotten that the original Pong ball was square; a round ball needed too much circuitry.
The closing paragraph of the IEEE piece made me smile. Quote:
They set the Pong 2 prototype up in a bar and got a call the next day to take it out because it was not working. When they arrived, the problem was obvious: the coin box was jammed full of quarters.
They can do that in confidence because they know that hardly any media outlets will call them on it. Other than one or two that can easily be demonized as nests of Nazis and spreaders of Hate — Fox News, perhaps, or The New York Post — all the other outlets are on the same side.
So here was Associated Press last Saturday, actual no-kidding quote:
Joe Biden has said he's never spoken to his son about his foreign business, and nothing the Republicans have put forth suggests otherwise.
This isn't some 19-year-old cub reporter at The Oshkosh Advertiser. This is Associated Press, supposedly one of the most authoritative news outlets in the world.
Here's another one: CBS News. They told us on Monday this week that they had confirmed the authenticity of the data on Hunter Biden's laptop. CBS senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge said the laptop abandoned in 2019 at a Delaware computer repair shop, quote, "showed no evidence it was faked or tampered with," end quote.
This is more than two years after The New York Post reported on the laptop's contents, just before the 2020 election. The rest of the media covered that story all right: They covered it with a pillow pressed down over its face until it stopped breathing. Gotta get Joe Biden elected!
It's just so brazen and obvious. I've been following U.S. politics since the LBJ administration. I've followed all the scandals, the blunders and the attempted cover-ups, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Clinton's shenanigans. I don't recall anything this brazen, this clearly illustrative of the theory that political lying is meant not so much to deceive as to humiliate.
Do they really think we're so stupid?
Item: I don't think we are that stupid, but in another generation or so we may be. The highly-regarded Edward R. Murrow high school in Brooklyn has an American Literature curriculum for juniors. So these are literary works for consideration and analysis by students sixteen or seventeen years old.
What books are being assigned? Well, there is Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Tortoise and the Hare. No kidding.
Oh wait: The students also get some actual literature like The Scarlet Letter, but only in seven-page summary form.
A standard exercise for bright youngsters when I was at school was to read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, then Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, then write an essay saying which of those two possible futures you thought was the more probable.
If I had that exercise to do over again I'd say that neither is anything like as probable as the one shown in the movie Idiocracy.
07 — Signoff. That's it, boys and girls. Thank you as always for your time and attention and your many instructive and plagiarizable emails.
I signed off last week with a lovely piece from the very end of the Baroque period. This week I shall reach further back to the beginning of that period in the early 1600s, to what in fact some scholars consider a transition from Renaissance to Baroque. What did Western music sound like then?
It sounded like this, a brief extract from Claudio Monteverdi's great religious work Sanctissimae Virgini Missa senis vocibus ac Vesperae pluribus decantandae, cum nonnullis sacris concentibus, ad Sacella sive Principum Cubicula accommodata, commonly referred to as the 1610 Vespers.
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: The Monteverdi Choir, 1610 Vespers.]