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[Music clip: Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, harpsichord & kazoo version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Greetings, listeners, from your puzzlingly genial host John Derbyshire with some commentary on the week's news.
The structure of this week's podcast varies very slightly from the usual. Looking at the notes I made through the week, there weren't many topics I wanted to comment on at length. There are therefore fewer main segments and correspondingly more brief items down in the Miscellany.
Perhaps that's a Derbish way of saying that there is not much news of any consequence. Or it may be related somehow to the fact that I have been spending less time than usual paying attention to the news and more time trying to fit three thousand wee bits of cardboard together to make a picture of Venice at dusk.
Whatever. Here's the show.
02 — Biden violates the Prime Directive. All over the news Thursday and Friday was President Joe Biden falling flat on his face at the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony in Colorado. Back in Washington, D.C. Thursday evening, exiting the presidential helicopter, he banged his head on the door frame.
These things can of course happen to anyone. They matter more, however, when they happen to geezers.
I myself suffered a minor fall a few years ago, not long after my seventieth birthday. My family doctor told me there was no serious damage, but he then instructed me on the Prime Directive of life after age seventy: DON'T FALL!
His homily went something like this. I'm just working from memory here. Quote:
Listen, John, listen. If you fall and break a leg at age twenty-five, six months later you're playing tennis again. If you fall and break a leg at age seventy-five, you may never come home from the hospital! DON'T FALL!
I have striven to observe that Prime Directive, the more so since a dear neighbor, aged seventy-something but lively and active, fell down the stairs in his house last year and broke his hip. He was taken to the local hospital and, sure enough, never came out alive.
So yes, it can happen to any geezer. When it happens to a President of the United States, though, it is a matter of serious national importance.
Rich Lowry, my old boss at National Review, of which magazine he is still editor, had a good column about this in today's New York Post.
Yeah, yeah, I know: National Review, stodgy old-style neocon conservatism, fired Peter Brimelow because the donors didn't want frank talk about immigration, dropped me because the donors didn't want frank talk about race, … I know.
But: stopped clocks, some things are true even though Comrade Zilliacus says they are true, and so on. Lowry writes some sensible stuff.
Sample quote from today's column, quote:
A bad Biden fall or some other health event could happen on a catastrophic political timetable — if something happened to Biden in late October 2024, it could easily throw a close race to his Republican opponent. Hillary Clinton's polling took a hit in 2016 after her fainting spell on Sept. 11.
Indeed, the Prime Directive aside, Biden's stumblings could be politically very consequential. The determining factor of the 2024 presidential election may be Joe Biden's vestibular system.
03 — A trillion here, a trillion there … I feel mild regret at having spoken slightingly there of National Review conservatism. That conservatism has something to be said for it. Its fundamental ideas are what attracted me to it, and I still hold them dear.
I'm talking about basic truths like:
Et cetera, et cetera.
These basics came to my mind when I read about the congressional fight over the Debt Limit. That issue was resolved yesterday, as we all knew it would be. Our national legislators are often stupid and occasionally crazy; but they are not, collectively, stupid or crazy enough to put the U.S.A. in default on its debts.
The particular one of those basic conservative axioms that came to mind was the second one: Our government spends far too much money, far too carelessly.
Federal spending is way, way out of control. Everett Dirksen may or may not have said the words that made him famous fifty-some years ago, supposed quote: "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money." Whether or not he said those words, they express the irresponsible spirit of our national legislature in recent decades.
The only progress we've made in this zone since Senator Dirksen left us fifty-four years ago has been that a billion dollars, in the context of federal spending, is now truly a negligible amount. Were he still among us today, the Senator would have said "trillion."
This compromise legislative package to settle the Debt Limit issue is being advertised to Republican voters as a triumph of federal-spending reduction. It's nothing of the kind. It includes some picayune adjustments to programs here and there; but, their picayunosity aside, we all know the congresscritters, bureaucrats, and judges will find some way to ignore or subvert them.
The most advertised reduction is for the eighty-billion-dollar expansion of the IRS gestapo that Congress voted through last year. The Debt Limit package reduces that by … two percent! Instead of jeering at establishment Republicans at the Stupid Party, perhaps we should start calling them the Two Percent Party.
All right, all right: the House GOP were stuck with a weak hand to play, and they played it decently well. The overall picture here, though, is of a steady, uninterrupted ascent from billions, through trillions, to — what's the next -illion? — quadrillions, I guess.
The notion that the federal government should regard the national wealth the way our leaders once regarded it, as a sacred trust they held for the people, not to be squandered or abused, is long gone. Our national ideal today is not the thrifty yeoman farmer or community-serving small businessman; it is the drunken sailor.
After "quadrillion" comes "quintillion." After the United States of America comes … Zimbabwe.
04 — The Radio Derb candidate? Those basic Reaganite notions of twentieth-century conservatism that I mentioned: are they even in play in our national politics today? Will they feature at all in next year's election season?
Yes they will. Already declared as a candidate in the Republican primaries is 37-year-old Vivek Ramaswamy, a native midwestern entrepreneur of, obviously, South Asian ancestry.
At his website Ramaswamy lays out a program he calls "America First 2.0," under twenty-five headings. Here they are: I shall read them all out to you. Quote:
That's not bad at all. There are only three things missing that I'd like to know about.
First off: term limits for congresscritters. Ramaswamy has term limits for federal bureaucrats, but not for elected officials.
Checking around, though, I see that Ramaswamy has signed the pledge at the U.S. Term Limits movement website. That's the pledge that reads, quote:
I, as a candidate for President of the United States, pledge to support congressional passage and state ratification of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would set term limits on service in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House as there are term limits on the President, as enacted by the 22nd amendment.
That takes satisfactory care of one missing item. Checking around for Ramaswamy's position on legal immigration, though, I came up with nothing at all.
Does Vivek Ramaswamy mind if American corporations lay off American workers in order to replace them with cheaper guest workers from countries like, oh, say, … India?
And then, NATO. Why are we committed to defend nations that should, by aggregate population and wealth, be perfectly well able to defend themselves? They need to be in alliance to do that, of course, and I have no issue with NATO itself. I just don't understand why we are in it.
Those are policy topics I'd like to hear Ramaswamy open up about.
Policies aside, though, there is an issue I mentioned in last week's podcast when I listed the four big things I look for in a candidate. The second of those big things was, quoting myself:
Has he given evidence of his ability to work the political machine? Does he know how to get his way, so that some at least of the things he and I want done will actually get done?
That was of course me looking over my shoulder back at the Donald Trump presidency. Trump had a good program with his America First 1.0 back in 2016. Once he was in the White House, though, it quickly became clear that he had no clue how to work the political machine, and the D.C. establishment played him like a violin.
Can we take a chance on another political novice? Is the Deep State now so entrenched that we should put faith only in candidates that have successfully confronted them on their own turf? How many such candidates are there, actually?
I'm pondering …
05 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: Obsessed as we naturally are with our own national concerns — the Cultural Revolution, federal finances, next year's election — let's not lose sight of what a godawful mess much of the rest of the world is.
People sometimes respond to that with: "Yeah, well, that's what they're used to. They don't mind it as much as we would."
Possibly so, but there is some evidence to the contrary. A dozen or so years ago economist Steve Hanke devised his Misery Index: a measure of how wretched life is in a country. He's been publishing an annual list ever since: Hanke's Annual Misery Index. As you'd expect from an economist, the list leans heavily on measures like unemployment, inflation, and national wealth. Still, it gives a clue.
The latest edition of Hanke's Misery Index was just recently released.
Most miserable country out of 160 listed? Zimbabwe. Least miserable? Switzerland.
Compared with last year the U.S.A. moved downwards on the list, which means we got less miserable: from number 102 to number 134. Poor old Britain, on the other hand, moved up the list to "more miserable," from 153 to 129.
Not many surprises here. I'll say again what I have said often before, just because it annoys the hell out of lefties: Untold numbers of Zimbabweans, before they go to bed at night, kneel down and pray to God for the white colonialists to come back and rule them.
Item: But the world as a whole has gotten richer over recent decades, right?
Eh, sort of, but not in a good way — not in a way likely to continue.
Analysts David Oks and Henry Williams have a rather depressing article in the Winter 2022 issue of American Affairs Journal titled "The Long, Slow Death of Global Development." The blogger Isegoria posted a good brief summary May 21st.
Bottom line, quote:
Industrialization, development, and massive income growth in East Asia has statistically "compensated" for stagnation almost everywhere else — with East Asian industrialization partly responsible for the loss of other countries' manufacturing bases …
In other words: yes, the developed West has gotten better, East Asia is way better, but the rest of the world — Latin America, South Asia, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa — is hardly better at all.
Eh, those wily Orientals!
Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.
Reading the revelations we've been getting recently about the finances of the Black Lives Matter movement, it looks very much as though they skipped the first two phases there and went direct to being a racket.
Item: If you read my monthly Diaries you'll be familiar with the term "Bloody Code" and the story of poor Mary Jones.
The Bloody Code was the penal code of 18th-century England, with savage penalties for quite minor crimes. Mary Jones was the unfortunate lass who was publicly hanged in 1771 at age 19 for shoplifting. As I noted in my September Diary last year: "By some accounts Mary was breastfeeding her youngest child in the wagon that took her to the gallows."
We have made progress this past quarter-millennium, thank goodness. It's hard not to think, though, that our progress has overshot the mark of true justice. Shoplifting in American cities today is not significantly punished at all. Indeed, shoplifting in quantity for resale is a flourishing branch of commerce.
We have overshot so far, in fact, that while shoplifters get essentially no punishment at all, law-abiding citizens who interrupt the shoplifters can be penalized.
Earlier this month a Lululemon clothes store in Atlanta, Georgia was hit big-time by shoplifters who stole armfuls of exercise wear. Two young female employees who tried — verbally — to stop them, and one of whom then called the police, were subsequently fired.
Wherever poor Mary Jones is today, she must be shaking her head in disbelief and lamenting that she was born 250 years too soon.
Item: I don't know which of the world's nations has the bloodiest Bloody Code nowadays, but North Korea is surely a strong contender.
An outfit named Korea Future that publicizes conditions in North Korea puts out reports on penal policy there. Religion is outlawed; possession of a Bible will get you a life sentence. And not just you: the Norks practice what the Nazis called Sippenhaft — punishment of the whole family for crimes committed by one member.
Quote from a Korea Future report, quote:
One case involved the 2009 arrest of a family based on their religious practices and possession of a Bible. The entire family, including a two-year-old child, were given life sentences in political prison camps.
Life in a labor camp for a two-year-old! Perhaps 18th-century England wasn't so bad after all.
Item: On the Cultural Revolution front, Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland has issued a guide for its staff listing fifty — count 'em, fifty — different pronouns that employees are allowed to use on their identification badges.
I'd like to give you examples but the problem with these pseudo-pronouns — well, not the problem but a problem; the problem is that this is shrieking insanity in A MAJOR MEDICAL FACILITY — a problem is that we are not told how to pronounce them, and it's hardly ever obvious.
I think I know how to pronounce "p-e-r," but how about "a-e" or "Z-i-e"? Is "a-e" pronounced as in "Caesar" and "algae" or as in "maestro"? Is the "i-e" in "Z-i-e" like the one in "pie" or like the one in "field"? If I get it wrong when speaking of someone, have I committed a microaggression by mispronouning them?
Wokeness has now reached the point where, to be fully compliant with its protocols, you need to take a course of study. I guess that's the point: to make work for all the Gender Studies graduates.
Item: Finally, still on the Cultural Revolution front: If you are truly woke you will have spotted a deplorable microaggression in what I just said. I used the word "field," right? That is seriously triggering.
So at any rate says Smith College, the beating heart of northeastern lesbianism. Smith has removed the word "field" from its social work program because, they say, it reminds some of the field work of slaves.
Hold on here, though. Back in slavery times, weren't there house slaves as well as field slaves? So shouldn't the word "house" also be banned?
I leave it with you. I just hope the language wreckers keep their hands off mathematics. There's a whole area of higher algebra called Field Theory. I have a ten-page summary of it in my book Unknown Quantity. I really don't want to have to rewrite all ten of those pages.
06 — Signoff. That's all, ladies and gents. Thank you for listening, and particular thanks to the listeners who have already emailed in to wish me Happy Birthday. It should indeed be happy, with my dear family around to spoil me for the day — including baby Michael, our grandson, now sixteen months old and toddling heroically.
In my monthly Diary, posted yesterday, I confessed to having spent most of my time this month wrestling with a Turkish jigsaw puzzle. A reader has prompted me with appropriate signout music.
Here it is: peak Rolling Stones, from their 1968 LP Beggars Banquet. Song title: yes, "Jigsaw Puzzle."
The Wikipedia page for this song tells us that, quote:
The lyrics depict the observations of the singer who finds himself surrounded by [inner quote] "misfits and weirdos." [End inner quote.]
Tell me about it, Mick. Today, fifty-five years on, Western society seems to consist of little else but misfits and weirdos.
I speak at the beginning of Pride Month, where the word "pride" no longer refers to justified satisfaction at having accomplished some worthwhile goal, but to a male preference for buggery with other males and the glee of teenage girls who have had their bristols lopped off.
Nineteen sixty-eight was, by comparison, an idyll of bourgeois good sense, even with Mick, Keith, Charlie &. Co. stirring things up.
I remember this song mainly for a dumb mondegreen. The second verse goes like this, quote:
And here comes the bishop's daughter
It so happens there is a town in southern England named Bishop's Stortford. That's what I heard: "Here comes the Bishop's Stortford."
Say what? It's not totally unknown for place-names to have secondary meanings — Derby, for example, or Turkey, or, well, … Bristol. Was "Bishop's Stortford" insider rock-group jargon for something or other? It wouldn't be out of character for the Stones to give us some cutting-edge slang.
You may be quietly suspecting that the young Derb, immersed in late-1960s popular culture, could possibly have been listening to the Stones in a mental state somewhat short of perfect clarity.
I shall leave you with your suspicion. There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: From The Rolling Stones' "Jigsaw Puzzle."]