»  Radio Derb — Transcript

        Friday, January 11, 2008

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[Music clip: Haydn's Derbyshire Marches.]

01 — Intro.     And Radio Derb is on the air once again. That was one of Haydn's Derbyshire marches, and this is John Derbyshire here, your genial host for a half hour of mulling over the follies of the world, as they manifested themselves during the past seven days. I have a bigger than usual catalogue of follies this week, so let's get to it.

02 — NH primary (Dems).     So, what the heck happened with the polling there in New Hampshire? The polls and the pundits all had Hillary down for the count. Some polls had her losing to Obama by double digit percentages. In the event, she beat him by three points. The analysts tell us that (a) a lot more women came out to vote than the pollsters predicted, and (b) many independents went from Obama to McCain. In the grand scheme of things, Hillary's win is a plus. If the universe must contain Democrats, a sixties radical like Hillary is preferable to an eighties radical like Obama, as a stomach ache is preferable to appendicitis, as a descaling and polishing is preferable to root canal, as crabgrass is preferable to poison ivy, as a dog bite is preferable to a shark bite, as George W. Bush was preferable to John McCain, as … Well, you get my drift. There were also a lot of quiet, private smiles on the faces of old cynics like me, who detest the pretentious, preacherish, content-free uplift that passes for political rhetoric with far too many Americans. Somebody once said that democracy is a big, brightly-painted gas balloon that floats majestically up into the sky. The population gazes in wonder at the spectacle, while politicians go around picking their pockets. Well, Obama's gas balloon just sprung a leak, and that's fun to see. (Not that Hillary doesn't schlep a couple tanks of helium with her on the campaign trail.) It's still early days, though, and I guess we'll be seeing more of Barack Obama, and hearing more of his discount-store Sermons on the Mount. 2008 is going to be a very long year.

03 — NH primary (GOP).     On the Republican side there was another comeback kid, our old pal John McAmnesty. Republicans don't go for the gassy stuff quite so much as Democrats do. We prefer our sentences to have subjects, main verbs, objects, and meaning. There you see the advantage of high school Latin classes. The other advantage is that you know quotes like spes addita suscitat iras, which is what Virgil tells us about the Trojan troops when they saw Aeneas give the signal for battle: "Increase of hope inflamed their passion," which I guess applies to the McCainiacs after New Hampshire. Mike Huckabee is probably more in the frame of mind of Juno later on in Book Ten of the Æneid, when she asks the ruler of Heaven, who is also her husband, and as a matter of fact also her brother, Quod ut O potius formidine falsa ludar et in melius tua, qui potes, orsa reflectas, which, in a loose translation, means: "Since you're so almighty powerful, God, I really wish you'd turn this around for me." Well, well, the caravan moves on. I shall take such small satisfaction as I can from voting for Ron Paul three weeks from now. Nobody else has been saying what we all really know: That the federal government tries to do far too much, both at home and abroad, and does practically all of it very, very badly. All right, all right, Fred Thompson's come close. I'll settle for a Fred-Ron ticket if I can't get Ron-Fred. Fat chance either way: but right is right, and as the socialist darkness descends on our land and careerist bureaucrats gnaw away at our liberties, the dwindling few voices speaking up for limited government and constitutional restraint need support. They've got mine.

04 — Black hole.     News from the world of science: Astronomers over in Finland have found the biggest black hole in the universe. [Gracie clip] Thank you, Gracie. This thing weighs in at 18 billion times the mass of our sun — I mean, the local star, not Danny Derbyshire — though at the rate Danny's growing, he'll catch up to the thing pretty soon. Anyway, there's this humongous black hole sitting there at the center of a quasar 3.5 billion light years away. It's a very interesting object — it has another black hole orbiting around it, just in case you were worried it might be lonely out there. Did I tell you the formal astronomical name of this object? I didn't? Well, then I shall. Here you go: It's named OJ287. That's OJ. 287. Biggest — well, never mind.

05 — Word news.     Words are my business, the way blocked drains are a plumbers business, so I'm always a sucker for word news. Here's an item in that line from Down Under. Australia's Macquarie Dictionary has a public contest going to select the Word of the Year for 2007. They've put up a list of 85 words you can vote for. I must say, I thought the list as a whole was a bit lame. "Tanorexia," for example — that's the obsessive desire to have tanned skin. Didn't skin-tanning sort of kick the fashion bucket back around 1980, when George Hamilton got his first diagnosis of melanoma? Aren't we all supposed to be pale and interesting nowadays? I guess fashion news takes a long time to seep through to Australia. Then there's KIPPERS, which are adult children who fail to leave home. It's actually an acronym from Kids In Parents' Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings. Uh-huh. "Floordrobe" isn't bad: that's the use of your bedroom floor as a wardrobe, a phenomenon all too familiar to parents of teenage kids, which is to say, proto-KIPPERS. How about "pod slurping" — the practice of downloading large quantities of data to an MP3 player from a computer. Yeah, not bad. "Manscaping" — male grooming procedures involving the removal of body hair. Do guys really do that? Boy, I'm out of touch. Actually, anybody can think up stuff like this. Five minutes thought here at the Radio Derb console brought forth a couple. "Huckabeen" — that's a presidential candidate who gets one moment of glory in an early small-state primary, but whom everyone has forgotten about three months later. He's a Huckabeen. And then: "McCain Drain" — that's the phenomenon of independent and conservative voters fleeing away from a candidate whom they had rightly admired as a war hero, when they discovered that all his policies on domestic issues are three points to the left of Noam Chomsky.

06 — Jacob Zuma.     [Umshini wam, mshini wam / Khawuleth'umshini wam …] That's a little number I picked up off the internet. The words, as I am sure my learned and multicultural listeners recognized, are in the Zulu language of South Africa. A translation goes something like this: "My machinegun, my machinegun, please bring my machinegun …," though we are told that there is a salacious subtext to the lyrics. Be that as it may, Umshini-wam is the theme song of South African politician Jacob Zuma, who has just been elected president of the African National Congress, South Africa's largest party. I should emphasize that Mr. Zuma is president of the party, not president of the country. South Africa already has a president, Mr. Thabo Mbeki. Mr Mbeki's party, as it happens, is also the African National Congress, which means it's a bit of a humiliation for him that Mr. Zuma has snatched the leadership of the party. Mr. Mbeki has to step down no later than 2009 under South Africa's constitution, so Mr. Zuma is well placed to be the country's next president. As well as being very fond of his machine gun, Mr. Zuma is fond of the ladies. He has four official wives, some larger number of mistresses, and eighteen acknowledged children. Last year he was up in court on a rape charge, though he got away with only a reprimand from the judge. The year before that he was sacked from the government for corruption, and in fact there are now new corruption charges against him being investigated. You get the picture here. I'd say Mr. Zuma is a shoo-in for the presidency, and in fact a pretty good bet to declare himself President for Life, like his pal Robert Mugabe next door in Zimbabwe. So we'll be seeing a lot of Mr. Zuma in future. Might as well start practicing his song. Ready to give it a try? Here we go. Umshini wam, mshini wam / Khawuleth'umshini wam …" I dunno, it just doesn't sound the same when I sing it.

07 — Iran buzzes U.S. ships.     Three U.S. warships were buzzed by five Iranian speedboats in the Strait of Hormuz last Sunday. The U.S. vessels didn't blow the Iranians out of the water, to Ralph Peters' disgust, but at least our sailors didn't bend over and squeal like pigs, as those British sailors did last Spring. I'm not going to second-guess the U.S. commanders here, but I do hope they have clear instructions that if unauthorized small craft come within some well-defined distance, they are free to open fire. I don't want to see another U.S.S. Cole.

08 — W in MidEast.     Our president is on a tour of the Middle East. He stopped off in Israel to tell the Israelis they should give up their settlements in the West Bank, and to tell the Arabs they should stop shooting rockets at random into Israeli towns — as if the two things were equivalent. Neither party, of course, has any intention of doing the thing requested. The so-called Palestinian authorities, in fact, have no influence over the people firing the rockets, so they couldn't fall in with our President's wishes even if they wanted to, which they don't particularly. I have in my possession a copy of the London Sunday Times for the day I was born, back in 1945. The lead headline says "Crisis in the Levant," that being what they called the Middle East back then. I confidently expect that when I finally shuffle off this mortal coil, sometime in October 2026 according to an actuary friend, the newspapers — if there still are any newspapers, which is looking pretty doubtful — will still be carrying headlines saying "Crisis in the Middle East." It's just a permanent feature of the universe, like hurricanes or solar flares. Back in the middle of the Peloppenesian War there was a peace treaty, called the Peace of Nicias, that was supposed to guarantee fifty years of peace between Athens and Sparta. The peace only lasted six years, and it wasn't even that peaceful. Why not? Because while both sides were temporarily exhausted — that's why they agreed on a treaty — neither felt itself truly defeated, and both used the peace to recruit allies and build up strength. Conflicts don't truly end until someone's been defeated, and knows it. The Arabs have never defeated Israel. On the other hand, the Arabs have never felt themselves defeated. And so the wretched business rumbles on. I suppose some unforeseen development will tip the balance one way or the other, one day; but since that doesn't look likely to happen in my lifetime, I see no point in bothering about it.

09 — Light bulbs.     You know those twiddly new light bulbs, the ones that are basically teeny fluorescent strip lights twisted round into a helix shape? The ones that none of your light fixture covers fits over? The ones that don't respond to dimmer switches? The ones that flicker and emit irritating low buzzing sounds? The ones that make all you indoor photographs come out with a greenish tinge? The ones that contain mercury, so that disposing of any quantity of them is a hazard to the environment? Those ones? Well, Congress and the president just made them compulsory. Yep, the new energy bill sets efficiency standards for light bulbs that the traditional incandescent bulbs can't meet. So you'll be using the new ones, whether you want to or not, and this shining city on a hill will become a flickering, buzzing, ill-fitting, non-dimmable, green-tinted city on a hill. It's getting to be kind of traditional for energy bills to deprive us of familiar conveniences. Remember the 1992 energy bill — the one that mandated toilets have tanks holding no more than 1.6 gallons, in order to save water? Except that you have to flush the darn thing three times to get the job done? In fact, all that did was create a flourishing black market in contraband three-gallon tank. I expect the new bill will create a similar market in contraband incandescent light bulbs imported from the Third World. They'll probably be unsafe, liable to short-circuit and start a fire, or to explode in your face, imbedding splinters of hot glass in your eyeballs. But hey, you wouldn't want to stand in the way of progress, would you?

10 — Smallest car.     "Here it is — the $2500 car!" That was the headline I saw on Drudge. Well, I thought, that looks interesting, so I clicked on the link. I got a message from Times Online saying: "This website is exceptionally busy and could not fulfil your request, please try later." If you ask me, that's a leading indicator all by itself. I mean, there are enough people interested in a $2500 car to lock up the website? I finally got through to the item. It's a car called the Nano, built by an Indian firm name of Tata. Ten feet long, seats four in comfort, says the promotional literature, without telling us whether that's four Indians or four residents of Biloxi, Mississippi, which I should think is something we'd want to know. 65 miles to the gallon, or 45 to a pound of cow dung. If you should die while owning a Nano, it's preprogrammed to drive itself right up on to your funeral pyre … Yours for a hundred thousand rupees — that's 2500 of today's dollars, 3500 of next week's, and so on, so you better get your order in.

11 — Birthright citizenship.     Birthright citizenship's been in the news. That's the rule that says that anyone born in the U.S.A. is a citizen. The rule is based on the 14th Amendment, which says, quote: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States." There is a body of legal opinion saying that the words "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" are open to legislative interpretation, so that Congress could declare that, say tourists, or say, illegal immigrants, are not so subject, and so any children they have on our territory are not U.S. citizens. Certainly the current interpretations, which makes absolutely anyone a citizen if he's born here, has created some unwelcome phenomena. There's the matter of "obstetric tourism," for instance. It's an entire business in South Korea, with open advertisements in the newspapers urging Korean Moms-to-be to take a trip to the U.S.A. with a delivery, and U.S. citizenship for the baby, included. Then there is the fuss over deporting illegal immigrants whose kids are citizens by virtue of being born here. It's hard to see why anyone would support the current interpretation. What would be wrong with saying: If you have not settled here lawfully, your children will not get automatic citizenship? Why would anyone object to that? In fact, the rest of the world has trended that way. Countries like New Zealand and Ireland that used to have birthright citizenship, have abolished it because of the abuses. So far those countries have not collapsed in anarchy and violence, not that I've heard. Well, as I said, birthright citizenship has been in the news. Mike Huckabee was reported earlier this week as supporting the end of birthright citizenship, though he seemed to think a constitutional amendment was required. Then Huckabee said, no, he thought birthright citizenship would be just fine. Then Ron Paul put out a TV commercial clearly and frankly calling for an end to birthright citizenship. All the liberal muckety-mucks started falling around swooning at the horror of this, and people had to run to get smelling salts for them. It's a well-known fact, of course, that if the U.S. government did anything to suggest that foreigners should be treated in any way differently from U.S. citizens, there would be plagues of frogs and locusts, the rivers would run with blood, and the sun would explode. It's a pretty good rule of economics that if something is handed out free of charge to pretty much anyone who wants it, it must be something that the people doing the handing out regard as of little value or importance. Which is a very sad comment on the state of American patriotism today.

12 — NJ apologizes for slavery.     New Jersey has apologized for slavery. The state assembly and senate both voted through a resolution expressing, quote, "profound regret" for their role in the practice. New Jersey actually banned slavery back in 1846. Fifteen years later, 70,000 young men from New Jersey went off to fight for the Union, in a war that ended slavery in the U.S.A. for good. Nearly six thousand of them died in that war. You'd think that would have purged the stain. Since New Jersey currently has no significant problems needing the legislature's attention, though, they have plenty of time on their hands for gestures like this. Can anyone in Trenton spell the phrase "cheap grace"?

13 — L.I. shooting.     A little local news here. Out here on Long Island, a homeowner was convicted of manslaughter for shooing a young man in his driveway. The young man had shown up with some friends who believed, wrongly as it turned out, that the homeowner's son had made rape threats to a sister of the young man's friend. The young man showed up with some buddies, there was a shouting match in the homeowner's driveway, and the homeowner produced a handgun and shot the young man in the head. Oh, did I mention that the homeowner was black and the young man white? So this homeowner got the manslaughter conviction and is now free while he awaits sentencing in February. Naturally, him being black, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the rest of the race-hustlers are out in force, protesting in the homeowner's defense. This puts your correspondent in an awkward position. I don't ever want to find myself on the same side of anything as Al and Jesse; yet I have to admit, when it comes to dealing with unwanted intruders on your property, I'm something of an absolutist. If you ask the intruders to leave and they don't, I think shooting should be on your list of options. I find, in fact, that many of my neighbors, who are as Al- and Jesse-phobic as I am, take the same line. There are some particular circumstances in this case that blur the issue somewhat. The homeowner's gun was not registered, as it's supposed to be in this county. He shot the young guy in the head, when he could have just winged him — which is what I would have done. And of course the whole sorry race business further muddies the waters. Still, either we have the right to defend our property, or we don't. If we do, I don't think courts should be too persnickety about second-guessing our reactions to perceived threats. Put it this way: I definitely want to be able to shoot intruders with my registered guns if I feel my family is threatened. In fact, I shall do so, and take my chances with the courts. As that saying goes: Better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6. The homeowner in this case is looking at a possible five to fifteen. Personally, I'd fine him 500 bucks for the unregistered weapon, and let him go. That would please Al and Jesse, and that would be a shame, but it'd be the right sentence none the less.

14 — Signoff.     And that's it for this week, ladies and gents. Thanks once again for listening. More madness, sadness, and badness from Radio Derb next week Until then, I hope you will all try to keep smiling, keep your peckers up, and don't take any wooden nickels. Especially from presidential candidates …

[Music clip: More Haydn.]