[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. Radio Derb is on the air. This is your mellifluously genial host John Derbyshire with all the news that's fit to podcast.
Before we begin, just a little housekeeping here. Numerous listeners were kind enough to email in to thank me for reviving the voice of the great Johnnie Ray. One listener, however, chid me for omitting a key portion of the song "Cry" in relation to John Boehner, so here is the missing phrase: ["It's only false emotion …"]
And then, listeners have asked me what's become of my diligent research assistants Mandy, Candy, and Brandy, whose dulcet tones have not been heard recently on the show. Well, here's what happened. I took the girls with me on my last trip to Turkmenistan, where I was of course a guest of my dear friend President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. The great leader has some research projects of his own under way and is always on the lookout for suitably-trained personnel to assist with his lucubrations. He was most impressed with the girls' advanced techniques, and asked if he might engage their services. Naturally I could not refuse such a request from a world-historical figure like President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov; so I returned alone, leaving Mandy, Candy, and Brandy under the watchful protection of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov at the Presidential Palace in Ashgabat. Bereft of their valuable and untiring support, I must try to maintain the high standards of news analysis you are used to here at Radio Derb, as I work here by myself, holding the fort [beep] …
Oh, I'm sorry. Let me explain: Following last week's shooting in Arizona, Buckley Towers has a policy of not permitting any military allusions or metaphors. Should I accidentally utter any phrase with military connotations, an alarm goes off. See: "holding the fort" [beep]. That's what happens. I tried to reason with the suits about this, but they stuck to their guns [beep]. Naturally I don't want to come under fire [beep] for being out of step [beep], so I retreated [beep] to my bunker [beep] to nurse my wounds [beep] … Hold on, maybe I can turn the fool thing off. I'll take a shot at it, anyway [beep] … [Tinkering sounds] There, I think that's disarmed it. Disarmed it, I said … Yeah, we're good to go.
02 — Tucson shooting: Joy on the left. It's been a joyful few days for the political left. There they were, sulking in the doldrums after the November election results, their legislative hopes stalled, the president they'd invested so much hope in trimming and triangulating for all he's worth. Yes, the left was enduring a long dark night of the soul.
Then news of the Tucson shooting came through. There must have been a worrying couple of hours there. What if the shooter was another crazy Muslim, like the Fort Hood guy? Or a black man, like the Long Island Railroad killer? What if he was black and Muslim, like the Beltway Sniper? Oh lord! The suspense must have been unbearable.
Then the blessed word came out: It was a white guy! Joy unconfined! [Joyful music] Hadn't they known it all along? It was one of those Tea Party nutjobs, with a McCain-Palin sticker on his pickup truck and a subscription to American Renaissance — the Redneck Demon from all their nightmares, unhinged from listening to Rush Limbaugh, a closet full of SS memorabilia, frustrated beyond endurance that he's no longer allowed to lynch blacks, beat his wife, or chase homosexuals out of town. In short, a conservative!
When they were through celebrating their incredible good luck, the lefties fired up their word processors. Within hours we were hearing about how the GOP should take a stand against, quote, "eliminationist rhetoric" — that was Paul Krugman; or there was the Pima County sheriff demanding that the federal government establish a commission to promote civility — perhaps with a Civility Czar appointed by the president; or the founder of the far-left website Daily Kos Twittering, quote, "Mission Accomplished, Sarah Palin"; or Hillary Clinton telling some Arabs that the Tucson guy was just like their jihadi terrorists.
As more facts came out it turned out that all the left's rhetoric was based on nothing at all. The Tucson shooter had been obsessed with the Congresslady he shot for years, from before the Tea Party came up. He never listened to talk radio and took little interest in the news. His friends thought he was a lefty. Nobody could make any political sense of his internet comments, or indeed any sense at all. The guy was crazy as a coot.
The lefties were on a roll though, and couldn't be stopped. Their star exhibit was a map Sarah Palin's campaign staff had put out with little gunsight markers on states they thought promising for their candidate. This map, said the media lefties, incited people to homicidal violence. If they really believed this, it was mighty odd that they kept showing the map and talking about it — perhaps they were hoping for another lunatic to shoot a congressman. It also turned out that Democratic candidates used similar maps with similar symbols. Democrats, up to and including the president, also used gun and shooting imagery freely in their political language.
None of it mattered. The lefties were in the throes of a massive collective orgasm of joy. They treated the Tucson shootings as a gift from heaven, and were determined not to let any of it go to waste. Not only civility and common sense went out the window, but reason and logic, too.
I found it all very scary — a window into the liberal soul. These people really hate their fellow citizens, or great swathes of us. They believe we are a mindless mob, easily whipped up into homicidal frenzies by cynical demagogues.. And the people who believe this are not some dropout blowhards banging on counter tops in bars at 2 a.m.; they are the editorialists of major broadsheet newspapers, presidents of universities, Nobel Prize-winning economists, Secretaries of State, TV star commentators on seven-figure salaries. These are movers and shakers screaming, screaming, screaming their hatred of low-class white Americans for the world to hear.
The loathing and contempt our elites feel for ordinary Americans was on loud and riotous display this week. They left no doubt about how much they hate us, the Great Unwashed, the dull-witted knuckle-dragging mass who never went to law school. Whether our elites hate the First Amendment more, or the Second, is an interesting point for discussion. First or Second, though, be sure they'll do all in their considerable power to shut us up and take our guns. This week gave a loud and clear warning to every American who cherishes liberty and the Constitution.
03 — Tucson shooting: Smoking the pipe of peace. Wednesday night there was a memorial service at the Tucson campus of the University of Arizona.
It was a strange sort of event. I'll confess I'm not the ideal customer for things of this sort. If they give comfort to the afflicted, I guess they're worthwhile, but you know you're going to hear a lot of gaseous uplift stuff — again, not that gaseous uplift stuff doesn't have its place in the scheme of things, I just have low tolerance for it personally. As part of my duties as a commentator I sit through these things, but always with the lurking hope that someone might be caught picking his nose on camera, or trip and fall on the way to the podium, or say something off the wall.
The Tucson event started off in a promisingly bizarre mode with a pagan ritual, paganism being the majority religion in the U.S.A., or perhaps just in Arizona. Some kind of medicine man got up, boasted at length about his Mexican and Indian ancestry, called out to the creator to send down some, quote, "masculine energy," and welcomed the federal dignitaries for coming to, quote, "our beloved city here, our beloved city of Chukson or Tucson as it's known."
Then he waved a bunch of turkey feathers to the four points of the compass and asked the Great Manitou to bless the entire animal kingdom, not forgetting the lizards and the fishes. I think that's what he did, anyway — my attention was wandering at this point. I was actually recalling with pleasure that scene in Scary Movie 3 where the president, played by the late great Leslie Nielsen, is welcoming people to some White House event, and spots an Indian in the crowd. [Nielsen clip] Possibly that's not funny in Arizona; but where I work, here in our beloved city of New Amsterdam, or New York as it's known, we get a laugh out of it.
Since this was supposed to be a healing and unifying event, it would have been a nice multicultural gesture at this point for Chief Turkey Feathers to pass round a pipe of peace, but I guess the campus is a smoke-free zone. As always, multiculturalism goes no further than the picturesque. The chief stepped down from the podium to heap plenty applause and headed off back to his tepee, where no doubt Mrs. Turkey Feathers had a nice pot of buffalo hump stew waiting for him.
The rest of the thing was a snoozer. I perked up a bit when Eric Holder came out. Surely he could be depended on to say something inappropriate? Alas, no: He just read a few verses from one of the duller bits of Second Corinthians. Multi-culti-wise, that was two deities that had been invoked: the Great Manitou and Jehovah. To which deity would Janet Napolitano address her supplications? Allah? Vishnu? Zeus? I was on tenterhooks, whatever tenterhooks are; but no, the androgynous guardian of our domestic security just gave us another one of the duller bits of Scripture, Isaiah Chapter 40, before zooming off on her motorbike for a game of golf with the girls.
I thought the president might at least squeeze in a brief plea to Ahura Mazda or Wodin, but he too stuck to a predictable script. The name of the script is "triangulation." The lefty president sics his media stooges on electorally-threatening members of the opposite party, watches chuckling with pleasure as the media shills toss and gore his enemies, then steps up to some public podium to make a speech pleading for us all to get along and, quote from Obama-Bubba's actual speech, quote, "talk to each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds."
The audience whooped and hollered in an utterly inappropriate way, but that's what people are like nowadays. College students will whoop and holler at the Last Judgment. I fully expected them to break into a chant of "Are we downhearted? No!" At least they seem to have refrained from doing a wave.
04 — Tucson shooting: Locking up lunatics. One of the sidebar issues raised by the shooting was the proper way to deal with people who are mad — people like Jared Loughner, the Tucson gunman.
This is a knotty issue. Mad people used to be locked up in asylums. In 18th-century England in fact people used to take day trips to the asylums to look at the lunatics — a primitive form of entertainment, possibly the original inspiration for TV programs like The View. Then in the 1960s when drug treatments for mental disorders began to appear, the asylums were emptied out. The logic was, that mad people could live at home — or "in the community," as the saying went — and be depended on to take their medications, and get new supplies when they needed them, and that solved the mad-people problem. Since part of the deal with being mad is that you can't be depended on for anything at all, this logic was deeply faulty; but this was the sixties so nobody noticed.
And to be fair, it wasn't all sixties loopiness. Psychiatry is a very approximate science, and madness is not a clear-cut condition. There are degrees. If Aunt Ethel is eating her own poop with Reddi-Whip topping while swinging naked from the light fixtures, you can be pretty sure her mind's blown a gasket. However, if she just mutters to herself a lot and tells you the FBI has bugged her house, not many people — certainly not me — would consider her a candidate for institutionalization. The poet William Blake thought there were angels living in his house, and he had long conversations with them. His friends thought he was mad, but harmlessly so, and anyway a fine poet who ought to be left alone to turn out verses.
With all that in mind, a lover of liberty should be wary about giving civil authorities the power to lock people up. Some respectable and sensible commentators wouldn't do it at all. Having a few lunatics walking the streets, and the occasional congressman shot, is just part of the price we pay for our liberties, they say. It's not an unreasonable position.
It's not my position, though. If family members, or employers, or friends, perceive someone as behaving in ways that suggest a screw loose, I think a compulsory evaluation is in order, with the option of forced institutionalization available to the examining doctors. Sure, there were abuses in the past, and sure, we need plenty of safeguards; but I don't want to share the streets with paranoid schizophrenics, and I don't see why I should have to. Humane incarceration under medical supervision is best for us, and also for them.
And in fact Arizona has a sytem that would have allowed this. Nobody bothered to take the necessary steps, though. Part of that is ordinary human carelessness, but surely another part is the social climate of our times, when "judgmentalism" is thought to be a moral crime.
Then, when we are through contemplating the madness of Jared Loughner, let's pause for a moment to contemplate the madness of our judicial system, a vast racket for the enrichment of lawyers. Jared Loughner shot twenty people in cold blood, on the street and in broad daylight, killing six of them. There were multiple witnesses and he was taken down and apprehended on the spot, gun in hand. There isn't the faintest shadow of doubt about what was done, or that he did it. Yet his trial will take months to arrange and may last for years. If he were to be found sane and given the death penalty, appeals could drag on for decades, as they have with Wesley Cook, or "Mumia Abu-Jamal," as he's known, who is coming up to his fourth decade on death row for a crime he no longer bothers to deny having committed. Judicially, the case of Jared Loughner could be dealt with in an afternoon. Instead it will drag on for decades while the lawyers rake in millions. Now that's madness.
05 — Tucson shooting: Gun control. Among other fallout from the Tucson shooting there were renewed calls for more gun control.
OK, here's the ABC of guns once more. There are people who will be inclined to respect gun laws, and there are people who won't. Let's call the first group doves and the second group hawks. Under any kind of gun laws the hawks will, by definition, have guns in defiance of the laws. The only people whose gun ownership will be restricted, under any imaginable laws, are the doves. In a nutshell: Gun laws arm the lawless and disarm the law-abiding.
Furthermore, some subset of the lawless will have a strong desire to own guns, creating a strong demand. Restrictions on the manufacture, importation, or distribution of guns will then just cause the price of the item to rise.
How about a total ban on the manufacture or import of guns? Well, given that twelve million people had no trouble getting into our country illegally, it's hard to believe we could keep guns out. Suppose we could, though, and suppose we could shut down all non-military manufacture and distribution of firearms. There'd still be plenty around. For starters there is what systems analysts call "the installed base" — that is, all those guns we already have. Lawless people aren't going to surrender their guns.
And firearms are a 17th-century technology. They are rather easy to make, given some basic tools. Check out the Wikipedia article titled "Improvised Firearm." A gun-free society is not possible, except under North Korean levels of social control. Or even then, actually. The small town in mainland China where I lived in the early 1980s was still under Maoist social controls, not far removed from North Korean style, yet there was gun crime. There was in fact a shooting while I was there: The brother of a cop took the cop's gun when the cop was sleeping off his night shift and went and shot a love rival.
We're not ever going to be gun-free. The only issue is how difficult we want to make it for law-abiding citizens to own guns. Here I refer you to John Lott's interview this week on the main NRO website. John's been studying the statistics on gun ownership and gun crime, U.S.A. and international, for years.
He explains that all the gun laws Congress comes up with are either pointless or actually counter-productive. Background checks do nothing to prevent people with criminal intent from getting guns. Banning 30-round magazines? A magazine is a metal box with a spring. Your grandma could make one. Bans on assault weapons? Since the last ban expired in 2004, gun crime has fallen steadily. Bans on guns at public events? Then every public event has to be in a closed venue with guards at the entrances. Gun-free zones? Can you say "turkey shoot"?
Aren't handguns good for nothing but killing people? No, a handgun is the perfect weapon for self-defense, especially in an enclosed space, and safer than a rifle as the bullet travels more slowly and stops sooner, before passing out through your wall and in through your neighbor's. The nation of my birth instituted a total handgun ban after the mass killing at Dunblane, Scotland in 1997. The homicide rate in Britain rose thereafter for six years. It's since fallen slightly, but it's still higher than before the ban.
In short, gun control and gun laws are a crock. Their entire effect is to make it harder for citizens to protect themselves against the bad and the mad. The poor souls murdered by Jared Loughner are vivid in our minds. Un-vivid in our minds and un-thought about are the Americans who die every day of the week at the hands of criminals because laws discourage or prevent them from owning the means to defend themselves. While we mourn the dead in Tucson let's spare a thought for the nameless, unpublicized victims of gun laws. And let's hold tight to our Second Amendment rights.
06 — The Chinese Mom from Hell. Amy Chua, who is a law professor at Yale University, caused a stir with an article she wrote for the Wall Street Journal, title "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior." (And to be fair to Professor Chua, I should note that titles of newspaper articles are chosen by subeditors, not by the people who write the articles.)
Prof. Chua shared her parenting secrets with us. Quote: "Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do: attend a sleepover, have a playdate, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin." End quote.
Being one of Prof. Chua's children is, in other words, something like going through Marine Corps boot camp, without the rest breaks. The kids are harassed and bullied to do the best they can do. Any frivolous activities are banned, and the word "frivolous" encompasses wellnigh anything non-academic, including most forms of peer group socialization.
In the Chua case it's worked. Her two daughters are doing very well. One has played piano at Carnegie Hall. This is not altogether surprising. Both intelligence and personality features like conscientiousness are largely heritable, so with two Ivy League professors as parents, the kids had a genetic head start.
If you have a small number — maximum two, I should think — of smart kids, this is a great way to get them bringing home good school reports. I don't know that you can say any more than that about it, though. Most people are not very academically inclined. If a kid's natural bent is towards some other kind of excellence — social, mechanical, athletic, creative — you're just misdirecting them. And why this prejudice against all musical instruments but piano and violin? I used to be friends with a bassoonist. He boasted that he could get a job any time, anywhere in the world, as orchestras are always short of bassoonists.
Furthermore, as Robert Weissberg notes in his excellent book Bad Students, Not Bad Schools, the U.S.A. has not historically been a nation in which academic excellence is the supreme measure of worth. Weissberg quotes the president of an American college boasting that his institution will have an academic program the football team can be proud of. We are not a nation of arrogant credentialed Mandarins tax-farming a cowed peasantry. We are a commercial republic of free citizens under impartial laws: a nation of tinkerers and inventors, of entrepreneurs and prospectors, pioneers and adventurers, barn-raisers and Welcome Wagons, preachers and politicians. Our kids should be raised appropriately, with some freedom to seek out and build upon their own enthusiasms, which will not often include Advanced Placement Algebra or classical piano technique.
In Imperial China the order of the social classes was 仕農工商 At the top of the hierarchy was the 仕, the scholar-bureaucrat who'd passed all the imperial examinations. Next was the 農, the farmer. Then came the 工, the craftsman. Down at the bottom of the heap was the despised 商, the merchant. Americans have never thought of themselves like that; and on a survey of Chinese history, or for that matter of modern China, I think this is something we should be thankful for.
Sign your kid up for the school play; and if he shows signs of musical aptitude, get him a bassoon.
07 — Work till you drop. Eleven days to the State of the Union speech, then three more weeks to the president's budget proposal in mid-February. A month or two or three after that the U.S.A. will hit its congressionally mandated debt limit. If there's no deal to raise the limit, the federal government will have to cease operations and default on its international debt obligations, with extremely dire consequences. So the fiscal state of the Union is very bleak.
Our nation's debt-to-GDP ratio — how much we owe versus how much we earn — is at the highest level since World War Two. With the baby boomers retiring and resource competition jacking up the price of commodities, notably oil, things are going to get much worse.
Measures announced so far — a freeze on civilian federal pay, some trimming at the Pentagon — are picayune and will make no difference, even assuming they're not just smoke and mirrors, as government "cuts" so often prove to be.
Other countries are in the same bind. It's a systemic problem throughout the advanced democracies. We all used to laugh ar Argentina blithely printing money to deal with social and political problems, but we've been conducting our own slow-motion Argentinas.
For a glimpse of the near future, look at Britain. It's just been announced that from April this year employers over there will lose the right to retire workers at age 65. They've had that right since the 1950s when, with the prospect of boomers coming into the workforce, it made sense to clear some room for them. Now the situation's reversed: Britain can't afford Social Security payments and needs those income taxes. So far the announcement has had the opposite effect to the one intended, as, again, so often happens with government action. Employers are laying off older employees while they can, fearful of litigation under the new rules if they ask over-65s about retirement.
Yes, folks, we're going to have to work till we drop. This will be better for some of us than for others. The generality of us slow down as we get older, become less alert and less … interested. On average, a person gives less of a damn about anything at 70 than he does at 30. This does not make for dedicated and conscientious employees. It doesn't matter much in jobs where giving a damn is not a big factor — DMV clerk, say — but with airline pilots or pharmacists, it matters a lot.
On the other hand we codgers who were raised in leaner, less self-indulgent times generally have a better work ethic and lower expectations than the pampered crybabies whose formative years were those of the self-esteem cult and "child-centered" education. I'm not that old, yet I went to a school where seriously recalcitrant pupils were beaten on the backside with a stick. Things were clearer, simpler, and more binary, and nobody cared much how you felt about them. The Gods of the Copybook Headings were still widely worshipped, and in fact we still had actual copybooks to practice our penmanship in. That's what it was called, "penmanship" — lessons where you spent forty minutes learning good handwriting. It sounds like the Middle Ages now, but it was character-forming. That's why we older types have character while you young pups are just little flabby bags of hedonism.
So there are pluses and minuses to letting codgers hang around in the workforce. I'm fine with it myself. I like work. I can't play golf, don't watch TV, and dislike Florida, so there's no point my retiring. Other people will feel differently. Like it or not, though, this is the world that's coming upon us, out of fiscal necessity.
Unless, of course, you had the foresight to Get a Government Job. Probably the government-job gravy train won't last much longer either, but those currently on the train will be spared the worst. They will be the aristocracy of the near future: retired at 55 with padded-up, tax-free, index-linked pensions and generous healthcare bennies, while we private-sector codgers are still shuffling off to work on frosty mornings in our eighties. It would, of course, be terribly and maliciously wrong of me to suggest that government retirees might find their windows getting broken by wheezing mobs of working geezers. I therefore will not suggest it.
08 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Item: News item here from San Ysidro, California: A Border Patrol agent has been arrested for harboring illegal immigrants in his home. Marcos Gerardo Manzano Jr. was arrested along with one of the aliens. It's believed that Manzano was also harboring his father, a Mexican national who has twice been deported for drug offenses; however, Manzano Sr.'s current whereabouts are unknown. So, here's at least one case where the fox is guarding the hen-house down there on the southern border. Now, I've no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Border Patrol agents — all but the occasional bad apple — are doing their work honestly and patriotically. I can't help wondering, though: Don't they do background screening and monitoring with agents? You're guarding the Mexican border, and your Dad's a Mexican national running drugs? Come on, guys.
Item: One of the themes I comment on in my earth-shaking bestseller We Are Doomed is that we live in an age of ethnic disaggregation. Something about the modern age makes us less able than ever to live in harmony with peoples we perceive as different. Czechoslovakia broke up, Yugoslavia broke up, Belgium's breaking up, and there have been vicious ethnic civil wars all over the place, including some you've barely heard of. Read John Lee Anderson's account of the savage ethnic war in Sri Lanka in the January 17th New Yorker, for example. Now it looks like Sudan will split on ethnic lines, into an Arab-Muslim North and a Negro-Christian South. They're having a referendum on the topic. It started Sunday and goes on all week, so I don't have an official result for you, but it's a foregone conclusion that the South will vote to secede. There's been some scuffling about the exact line of the border; and when I say "scuffling," this is African style scuffling, so feel free to visualize a heap of corpses. Quote from the BBC concerning the border town of Abyei, quote: "The Dinka Ngok think it belongs in the south, while the nomadic Arab Misseriya see it as northern … More than 30 people died in clashes between the Misseriya and Dinka which began in Friday in northern Abyei." End quote. I'm siding with the Dinka Ngok myself, just because I think it's a cool name for a tribe, but I guess it'll sort itself out. Then Africa will have 54 countries instead of 53, and there'll be jobs for life for a few thousand more foreign-aid bureaucrats, and one more place for movie stars to go to get that cute-African-baby fashion accessory..
Item: Meanwhile, where does all this ethnic hostility come from? From oxytocin, that's where. Oxytocin is a hormone involved in social bonding among higher animals. If you give it to female rats, they nurse their babies more. Monogamous animals have more of it, and it makes human beings trust each other more. Only up to a point, though. The New York Times reported January 10th on some research by psychologists at the University of Amsterdam. What the researchers found, says the Times is that oxytocin strengthens in-group bonding but at the expense of good feelings towards out-groups. Quote from the lead researcher: "Ethnocentrism is a very basic part of humans, and it's not something we can change by education," end quote. What a surprise, what a stunning surprise.
Item: What is marriage? The foundation of Western Civilization? A remnant of patriarchal oppression? The joyful culmination of two kindred souls bonding? A mere contractual arrangement between two citizens for the sharing of property and living space? Or what? Well, here's an answer from across the pond: Marriage is an art project. Two students at the University of Worcester, in the West Midlands of England, have married each other for class credits, as an art project. The groom is a homosexual guy, the bride a heterosexual gal. They have, they tell us, no plans to consummate the marriage, which to me at least comes as something of a relief. There's an obvious segue here into the well-known limerick about the gay guy from Khartoum who took a lesbian up to his room, but I'll resist the temptation.
09 — Signoff. There you have it, folks: a potpourri of the regrettable, the incredible, and the inevitable, brought to you from Radio Derb's glittering state-of-the-art sound studio here on the 95th floor of Buckley Towers, in the heart of Manna-hata, or "Manhattan," as it's known. Tune in again next week for more mayhem and madness from Radio Derb.
So many listeners liked the Johnnie Ray clip we closed out with last week, I'm going to give you one more. Here's the nabob of sob, the weeping warbler, the Prince of Wails, the moist minstrel himself, ladies and gentlemen, Johnnie Ray.
[Music clip: Johnnie Ray The Little Cloud that Cried]