»  Radio Derb — Transcript

        Friday, May 14, 2010

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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]

01 — Intro.     Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. This is your declamatorially genial host John Derbyshire with another edition of Radio Derb, brought to you as always from National Review's glittering state-of-the-art sound studio here on the 95th floor of Buckley Towers in the heart of Manhattan. The news came thick and fast this week, so let's get right to it.

02 — Kagan nomination (1) — The Real World.     Monday, President Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the upcoming vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid defended the nomination thus, quote: "She has fresh ideas. She's been out in the real world recently." End quote.

Wow, an Obama appointee who's been out in the real world — there's a first. What's she been doing? Meeting a payroll? Raising kids? Working a crummy job to pay the bills? Fixing cars, changing faucet washers, shooting guns, making things out of wood, catching fish, writing poems, changing diapers, glazing windows, planting tulips, solving equations, nursing elderly relatives, chairing PTA meetings, making sales, chasing down debtors, changing tires, arguing with contractors, playing the stock market, …?

Well, it's not improbable she's been doing one or two of the less demanding things on that list, but that's not what Harry means. For fourteen of the last twenty years, Ms. Kagan has been a law professor at elite colleges. Of the other six years, five were spent as counsel and policy adviser to Bill Clinton, and the other one — since March last year — she's been U.S. Solicitor General, the legal bridge between the White House and the Supreme Court.

I guess it's this last year that Harry Reid's referring to. Now, Harry comes from a hardscrabble background, so he must once have know what the real world is like. Twenty-seven years in Congress will dull the senses, though. Harry now believes that if you're tending a flock of government lawyers for the White House, you're in the real world.

It is true, of course, that by comparison with the faculty lounge at Harvard Law School, pretty much anything this side of an LSD trip counts as real world, but I'm still not impressed by Ms. Kagan's acquaintance with the real world. If she were to swim the Hellespont, maybe …

03 — Kagan nomination (2) — Free speech.     I'm pretty much at one with what seems to be a majority of conservatives in regarding Kagan as the least bad candidate under the circumstances. It's hard to see her as being much of a friend to limited government, private enterprise, and national sovereignty, but she's not exactly the Creature from the Black Lagoon either. She's a soft liberal, not a hard liberal; a soggy liberal, not a crunchy liberal. She's not a liberal because she harbors a savage indignation against all that is traditional or customary; she's a liberal because everyone she's ever known, all her life, is liberal, and it's never occurred to her that there is any other way of looking at things.

She might even be redeemable: a few good intense one-on-ones with Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Roberts might acquaint her with lines of reasoning she never heard in the faculty lounge at Harvard or Chicago U., let alone in the Clinton White House. Let's hope for the best there. What we have at the moment, though, is a not-very-imaginative lady, offspring of a lawyer and a schoolteacher, who's been hanging out with lawyers and educators all her life, without let or pause. She has spent decades in the warm, perfumed soak bath of political correctness that is the modern American law school. In that respect, she's not a surprising choice for Barack Obama to have made. He has the same background and mentality. Both persons give the impression of being quite shocked and pained that people hold opinions that nobody in their cloistered, precious little circle ever holds.

This stunned incomprehension came out in Barack Obama's much-mocked speech last Sunday. Speaking at Hampton University, a historically black college in Virginia, the president said, quote: "You're coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't always rank that high on the truth meter. With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations … information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation … All of this is putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy …"

So there's more information and opinion flying around now, some of which isn't true. The president seems not to have grasped a rather fundamental point: that truth emerges when, and only when, different ideas and opinions are allowed to compete.

It seems to me, in fact, that far from it being the case that there are too many opinions out in the public forum, there are not enough. Our public debates, it appears to me, are carried out within bounds that are much too narrow. Large areas of serious, reasonable, well-documented opinion are never heard in major public forums — not even on Fox News — because of the fear that someone's feelings might be hurt. The parameters of public debate are not, as the president says, too wide; they are too narrow.

That's not what they teach in law schools, though. The same blinkered mentality displayed by the president shows up in an article Elena Kagan published in the University of Chicago Law Review back in 1996, title, "Private Speech, Public Purpose: the Role of Government Motive in First Amendment Doctrine." Kagan argues that Congress can pass laws restricting freedom of speech if it does so with good intentions, the meaning of the word "good" there to be interpreted, of course, by left-liberal law professors like Elena Kagan and Barack Obama.

This is a horrible and poisonous doctrine. That it should have been offered by a candidate to the Supreme Court, and endorsed by the U.S. president, reminds us — as if we needed reminding! — that these are times in which we must hold on tight to our liberties, if we are not to lose them for ever to logic-chopping law professors.

04 — Kagan nomination (3) — Softball.     Before leaving Elena Kagan, this wouldn't be the Radio Derb you know and love if I didn't pass some comment on what I shall, with my customary delicacy, refer to as "the softball issue."

It's not just the softball, of course. Ms. Kagan is overweight, she has that guyish hairstyle, she's never been married, she wears plaid, she got really angry about the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and Andrew Sullivan outed her.

None of this strikes me as conclusive. I don't mind confessing that I once played softball, for the Savin Business Machines company team — I still have the shirt. I am not a lesbian. Likewise with the other stuff. I married late, and by age 35 there were definitely people who wondered if I was gay, including some gay people, which was pretty annoying.

The Kagan hairstyle is a close crop all right, but not the real-deal lesbian pudding-basin job. Plaid is not dispositive; all liberals hate the military; and Andrew Sullivan lives in a world whose sky is some color other than blue. Pink, perhaps. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, Ms. Kagan does not own a motorbike or a shed full of power tools.

I'm going to suspend judgment on the whole issue, and in fact I'm going to declare that I don't care about it much. In a perfect world I'd want my Supreme Court justices to live the kind of life most Americans live, at least approximately, rather than some fringe lifestyle; but this is not a perfect world, and sexual eccentricity is far from being the greatest of its imperfections. Let's concentrate on the lady's opinions, abilities, and professional experience.

05 — U.K. election.     Henry Kissinger famously said of the Iran-Iraq War that it was a shame both sides couldn't lose. I felt the same way about the British election; but my wish, unlike Henry's, was actually granted — all three parties lost. That is, none of them got a majority of seats in the House of Commons, so none had the right under Britain's constitution to form a government.

Nations must be governed, though, so a deal had to be cut in which two of the three parties made a coalition. The logical pair would have been the center-left joined with the tree-hugger left — in American terms, Democrats with Naderites. What the Brits got instead was a coalition between the Conservative Party and the Tree Huggers. The logic was that the Tories, with 48 more seats than Labour, had really won the election, even though they didn't have a majority; and the only way for them to govern was to join the Tree Huggers. Furthermore, a Labour-Tree Hugger coalition would not be a majority. Deals would have to be cut with small fringe parties, and things would get messy.

So here's the party of Margaret Thatcher yoked to the party of Ralph Nader. How's that going to work out? Answer: It doesn't matter. Britain's in such a fiscal hole — a bigger one than Greece, actually — that national policy over the next few years will be one hundred percent driven by events. The true name of the British Prime Minister, for the next half-decade at least, will be not Mr. Cameron or Mr. Clegg, but Mr. Necessity.

Like the rest of the Western world, Britain's been living far beyond its means, and the bailiffs are banging on the door. It wouldn't have made any difference if the Monster Raving Loony Party had won the election: they'd still have to do just what Cameron and Clegg will have to do: slash spending and raise taxes through the roof. There are happy times when the leaders of a nation enjoy the luxury of choosing between policies. For Britain, these are not such times. The leaders of Britain, in the waters they are sailing into, will not enjoy the freedom of choosing between policies, any more than our next president will.

06 — Hilary & Karzai.     Hamid Karzai came to Washington. You remember him: he's the president of Afghanistan, that terrifically important country where we're fighting a trillion-dollar war for the vitally critical purpose of … [Crickets]

Well, as a 20th-century British politician said on a different occasion, as Karzai stepped off the plane in Washington, our Secretary of State came forward and grasped him warmly by the throat. They then sped away in the State Department limousine for "high-level talks."

Mrs. Clinton assured Karzai that, quote, "the United States' commitment to Afghanistan will remain long into the future." Of course it will. In the coming era of fiscal collapse and hyperinflation, American voters will be only too glad to spare a few trillion of their shrinking dollars to prop up Karzai and his opium-lord brother. Sure we will.

As if this transparent lie wasn't enough of an insult, Karzai then had to endure a private dinner with Vice President Joe Biden. Miraculously, Karzai did not seek asylum in the Chinese embassy at this point. He is obviously a man of rare self-control. Let's hope he accomplished the purpose of the trip, which from his point of view was to get an estimate of how much longer he could go on transferring money from the pockets of American taxpayers to his numbered Swiss bank account before America's fiscal problems get so dire we forget all about him.

I'd say a year, Hamid; but that's just a guess. Keep that suitcase packed under your bed, and the Saudi visa up-to-date, pal.

07 — Ground Zero mosque.     Having wandered into the Muslim zone there, here's the latest tale of insane American ethno-masochism from that same zone.

An outfit named the Cordoba Initiative, apparently an offshoot of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, is planning to build a new mosque. Where are they going to build it? At 45 Park Place in downtown Manhattan, just a stone's throw — or, to modify the metaphor slightly, an airline passenger's body part trajectory — from Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center once stood.

The story here is not so much the brazen audacity of the Muslims planning this project, as the puppy-dog eagerness of New York liberals to let them do it. Where proposals for land use in New York City are concerned, it helps to get a nod from one of the city's fifty-odd Community Boards, advisory bodies made up of local worthies appointed by the city's elected politicians. Ground Zero comes under Community Board One, whose financial committee is presided over by a bloke named Edward Sheffe.

The Muslims presented their mosque proposal to Mr. Sheffe, and he was enthusiastic about it. Quote from him: "We were interested to hear about the group's plans for the site. The committee was gratified that the Cordoba Initiative came to two meetings, since it is not officially required to receive Community Board approval for its building plans. They chose voluntarily to share their plans. They have no obligations to appear before us. Most of us found it pretty much a compliment and a sign of cooperation with the community."

Isn't that sweet! But who's paying for this mosque? Nobody really knows; but the radical Sunni Muslim organization Hizb ut-Tahrir seems to be involved. At least, an imam named Faisal Abdul Rauf has boasted thus in a video clip on the Hizb ut-Tahrir website, laughing as he does so. Yeah, it's real funny, Imam.

Andrea Peyser in the New York Post suggests that big lefty outfits like the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations may be putting up money, but I can't find either confirmations or denials of that. Probably most New York liberals believe it would be racist, nativist, and unacceptably exclusionary to deny Muslims their Ground Zero mosque, so probably we'll get it.

Did I mention that the ground-breaking ceremony is scheduled for September 11, 2011? No kidding. But of course it would be shameful, if not hurtful, to object to that as well. There is no greater crime against multiculturalism than to hurt the feelings of some protected minority group — I think we all know that, don't we?

What's that you say? What about the feelings of people whose loved ones died in the 9/11 attacks? Oh, nobody cares about them. They're just, you know, "little Eichmanns."

08 — Decline of the summer job.     I always wince when I hear a politician talk about "creating jobs." Any U.S. government that really wanted to create jobs could create a million at one stroke, just by imposing a moratorium on immigration.

To suggest any kind of restriction on immigration, however, is to mark yourself down as a mean-spirited person filled with hate — just the kind of person, probably, that would object to building a mosque next to the World Trade Center site. And so, having allowed our public discourse to be taken over by an insane style of multiculturalist nonsense, we are stuck with insanely nonsensical immigration policies.

One aspect of this was brought to light this week in a report from the Center for Immigration Studies, title: "Immigration vs. Teen Employment." Sample quote: "The summer of 2010 is shaping up to be the worst summer ever for the employment of U.S.-born teenagers (16 to 19 years old). But even before the current recession, the share of U.S.-born teens in the labor force — working or looking for work — was declining … Competition with immigrants (legal and illegal) explains a significant share of this decline." End quote.

This I find heartbreaking. The summer job is where teenagers first learn about work — about the basics of showing up on time, co-operating with fellow workers, taking orders from supervisors, dealing with customers. Everybody in my generation went through this. I worked in a brewery, a men's clothing store, a couple of factories, and several construction sites. That's how we paid for summer vacation trips.

And by the time we graduated college and got real jobs, we knew those basics. We also knew how darn lucky we were to have a job that didn't involve shoveling concrete, keeping up with an assembly line, carrying large heavy objects up twenty-foot ladders, getting blisters on our hands, and taking orders from a guy who interposed the f-word in front of every noun.

As the CIS study notes, using immigrants rather than American teens for these summer jobs is mighty handy for businessmen, who get adult immigrants with work experience instead of clueless green teenagers. It's mighty bad for America, though. Quote: "The increase in U.S.-born teenagers not in the labor force was 3.4 million between 1994 and 2007," end quote.

That's 3.4 million Americans missing out on a valuable part of life, for the slight convenience of our businessmen, and the preening self-congratulation of our immigration boosters.

09 — Miscellany.     [Explosion] Striving for ever more dramatic effects with which to introduce our brief miscellany of closing items, I asked my sound engineer Ahmed to come up with something, and that's what he came up with. Says he recorded it on his last visit back home to Waziristan. Thanks, Ahmed! [Ahmed: "You are welcome, eater of pig's flesh."] OK, here we go.

Item:  I'm having a fire sale on brief items from the military this week — got three of 'em for you. Stand at attention, please, while I read these: heels together, back straight, belly in, shoulders square, thumbs down the trouser seams. Thank you. One: Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe, the third of the Navy SEALs accused by their superiors of hurtful behavior towards the enemy, was acquitted at court martial May 6th. This stupid and bogus prosecution by careerist Navy desk officers and PR hacks had already failed to convict the other two SEALs. Lt. Cmdr. Jason Grover, the Navy prosecutor, naturally disgruntled at losing his case, said this after the McCabe verdict, quote: "SEALs were trying to protect one of their own. They circled the wagons." End quote. I certainly hope so, Lt. Cmdr., I certainly hope so.

Asked why this fool prosecution had ever been brought, Lt. Cmdr, Grover simpered that, quote, "To show that we uphold the rules and we're better than the terrorists." Y'know, I'm just about up to here with this stuff about the need to show we're better than the terrorists. I'm not at all sure I want us to be better than the terrorists. This preening moral superiority sticks in my gullet. Perhaps if we were as ruthless and nasty as the terrorists we might actually get somewhere with this so-called War on Terror. In World War Two the Axis powers flattened our cities, but we flattened more of their cities. Not much moral superiority there … but we won that one. The heck with being better than the terrorists. Let's go back to being the meanest s.o.b.s in the valley.

Item:  Military item number two: To further display our spotless moral superiority so that the whole world can swoon in breathless admiration at the snow-white purity of our souls, a new medal is to be issued by the commanders of our troops in Afghanistan, a medal for "courageous restraint." What happens is, you come under fire, but you don't fire back for fear you might break a window in someone's house. That's "courageous restraint." It'll get you a medal. Posthumous, mostly, I'd guess.

Item:  Still with the military — straighten up there in the rear rank! — Retired generals John Shalikashvili and Hugh Shelton, writing in the Washington Post, warn us that more than a quarter of young Americans are now too fat to fight. They're demanding that Congress pass new child nutrition legislation. Yeah, yeah: our guys may be too fat to fight, but they're not too fat to practice "courageous restraint," and that's what gets you the medals nowadays.

Item:  All right, stand at ease — stand easy. Smoke 'em if you've got 'em. The National Center for Educational Statistics has issued results for the NAEP in 2009, that's the National Assessment of Educational Progress in mathematics, reading, writing, and science for grades 4 and 8. From the numbers you can estimate the mean IQ in each state for those age groups. Smartest four states, from the top: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Minnesota. Dumbest states, from the bottom up: District of Columbia, Mississippi, New Mexico, California. Read into that what you will.

Item:  If you ride the automated mass transit in San Francisco, you're on your honor to purchase a ticket. The transit authority does, however, employ fare inspectors, who ride the vehicles at random checking that passengers have valid tickets. At least it used to: the Municipal Transportation Agency has announced it is suspending the fare checks after complaints from — yes, you guessed it — "the immigrant community." The fare inspectors have been mistaken for ICE agents, you see, and this has hurt people's feelings. We must not hurt people's feelings, especially in San Francisco.

Item:  Having poked its finger in the eye of all the nation's PC elites by passing a state law to declare illegal immigration illegal, Arizona's now poked a finger in the other eye, passing another state law to stop schools teaching students to hate white people. Is there no limit to the outrages Arizona is willing to inflict on our sensibilities? Next thing you know they'll pass a law to make state offices fly the flag. The flag of the U.S.A., I mean — nobody would dare object to them flying the Mexican flag.

Item:  After modern humans came out of Africa 60 thousand or so years ago, they spread into the Middle East and Europe, where they encountered a much older stock of humanoids, the Neanderthals. Paleoanthropologists have been speculating for some years that there might have been some cross-breeding between Neanderthals and Homo sap. before the latter totally displaced the former. Yes there was, says a team of researchers in Germany. The genome of human beings outside Africa is one to four percent borrowed from Neanderthals. … Wait a minute … what's that sound I hear? Could it be the flapping of tiny wings? … Come on, Ahmed, give me some flapping sound. [Flapping] Yes! — it's the Muses, come to kiss me. Ahem:

A Homo sap. daughter was seen
With Neanderthal boys. "What's it mean?"
    roared her Dad. She ne'er blinked.
    "Dad, they're almost extinct.
We're just trying to save the odd gene."

10 — Signoff.     On that lyrical note, ladies and gentlemen, I leave you. With the weather warming up, I'm heading for the yacht basin. A couple of hours from now I'll be out there on Long Island Sound in my 70-foot schooner, ably crewed by my research assistants Mandy, Brandy, and Candy, all of them skilled in the nautical arts. Yes, Mandy will be astride the futtocks, Brandy will be trimming my tackle, and Candy will be keeping the sheets in order. I tell you, these are very capable young ladies. You should see what Candy can do with a marlinspike — unbelievable …

[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]