»  Radio Derb — Transcript

        Friday, March 18, 2011

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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]

01 — Intro.     Radio Derb is on the air! This is your radiantly genial host John Derbyshire with news from all over. Let's start in the World's Greatest Deliberative Body.

02 — Continuing irresolution.     Two weeks ago Radio Derb reported on the crisis over the 2011 budget, now in its sixth month.

Just to remind you, Congress was supposed to pass a budget to fund federal government operations for the 2011 fiscal year, which runs from last October to this coming September.

The Democrat-controlled Congress, with a Democrat in the White House, should have had no difficulty passing a budget by last October 1st, but they thought other things were more important — for example, ramming the president's preposterous and unconstituional health care bill down the nation's throat. Then came the midterm elections, and the House flipped Republican, and what Congress might have done easily a few weeks earlier it now had no hope of doing on Democrats' terms.

So our federal legislators never did get a budget passed. Federal operations are being funded by stop-gap resolutions, each one basically saying: "Let's just go on spending for a couple more weeks on last year's plan, with some slight modifications here and here."

Well, in our March 4 broadcast we reported on that week's stop-gap resolution, the fifth in this ongoing non-budget crisis. It was only good for two weeks, though. It ceases to have any force in law at the stroke of midnight tonight, Friday March 18. A sixth resolution was needed, so on Tuesday this week the House of Representatives passed one. The resolution was then passed the Senate on Thursday.

There are a number of things to be said about this, starting with: "This is a hell of a way for the world's most advanced, most powerful nation to finance its governmental affairs."

The most important thing that needs to be said, though, is that Congress is playing pinochle in the lounge of a sinking ship. Our national debt is 14.3 trillion, a staggering sum of money — close to fifty thousand dollars for every man, woman, and child of us. The national debt is not a fiction or an abstraction; it's money we have borrowed, on which we are obliged to pay interest.

Tuesday's continuing resolution cut six billion dollars from spending for the period it covers — the next three weeks. Here's CNS News putting that in context, quote:

If Congress were to cut $6 billion every three weeks for the next 36 weeks, it would manage to save between now and late November as much money as the Treasury added to the nation's net debt during just the business hours of Tuesday, March 15.

That's right. The national debt increased by $72 billion just on Tuesday this week! And Congress plays pinochle.

And even these picayune cuts don't touch the fast-expanding entitlement programs. The watertight compartments are filling up one by one, and Congress is essentially doing nothing.

"Continuing Resolution" is a nice phrase. If you look up the word "resolution" in your Webster's dictionary, you get this meaning, which is the one intended: "a declaration submitted to an assembly for adoption." You also get some other meanings, though, including this one: "settled determination; firmness or constancy of resolve." In that second meaning, what we are seeing in Congress is continuing ir-resolution.

03 — Suicide of a democracy.     That's Congress as in both the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate. True, 54 House Republicans balked at Tuesday's resolution, but the silly thing passed anyway. John Two-Hanky Boehner is there at the pinochle table along with most of his Republican colleagues.

And of course, while most congressional Republicans are reluctant to face reality, the people over on the political Left don't even know that there is such a thing as reality. Here was Senator Chuck Schumer, a leader of the congressional faction that thinks the federal government spends far too little. Boehner had to rely on House Democrats to get this latest resolution through, says Schumer correctly, posting on the congressional blog. But why? Here's Chuck's explanation, quote:

The reason was, conservative Republicans abandoned their party leadership in droves out of anger that the measure lacked special-interest add-ons dealing with ideological issues like abortion, net neutrality and global warming.

End quote. "Special-interest add-ons," how sly is that? The whole argument of those dissenting Republicans is that the government needs to spend less. Chuck manages to make it sound like they're adding on some new spending. We have a master propagandist here.

Here's another quote from Chuck — the guy is really priceless. Quote:

Outside forces on the far right are also cheerleading a shutdown. Tea Party Nation, for example, has called on Republicans to oppose any more budget measures unless they repeal healthcare and do away with family planning.

End quote. See, those heartless people on the far right want to end health care in America and make family planning a thing of the past. Look, I don't mind a little exaggeration for polemical effect, but really, Senator.

This is the tone of the debate, as the debt swells and the economy sputters. Fourteen point three trillion dollars. A seventy-two billion increase just last Tuesday. Oh, and our Treasury Secretary, 14-year-old Timmy Geithner, says we need to borrow more or else the roof will fall in.

How did things get this bad? How did the management of this nation's affairs attain such altitudes of stupidity and irresponsibility? The answer, in a word, is democracy. Here's a Washington Post-ABC News poll, reported in the Post last Tuesday. Highlights:

  • On the question of finding the right balance between slashing unneeded government spending and continuing essential functions, 43 percent side with the president, 42 percent with the GOP.
  • While 41 percent of Americans say big cuts in federal spending are likely to spur job growth, about as many, 45 percent, say such a move is more apt to result in job losses.
  • When it comes to dealing with the economy, Obama has an advantage: 46 percent say they put more faith in the president, 34 percent say so about congressional Republicans.
  • Obama has a 12-point lead on the question of who better understands the economic problems people face
  • The president has a nine-point edge on dealing with the deficit.

Here's the second president of the United States, John Adams, quote: "Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide." End quote. I think he nailed it.

Fourteen point three trillion dollars. Fifty thousand dollars a head. That's two hundred thousand dollars for my little household. And Chuck Schumer's bleating about the end of family planning. Cry, the beloved country.

04 — Japan: the nuclear crisis.     The congresscritters have been able to get away with their pinochling more easily than they might have otherwise, because of the awful news from Japan all over our newspaper front pages.

This end of the week, the news is mostly about the six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi complex. All of them survived the earthquake unharmed, as they were designed to. Their emergency cooling systems likewise survived intact. The highly radioactive fuel in a reactor gets very hot and needs constant cooling, even when no electricity generation is going on. Pumps powered by electricity provide the cooling. If electricity fails, backup diesel generators kick in to keep the cooling sytems going. It all worked fine.

Then came the tsunami. It knocked out the backup generators. So now there was no cooling. This was really bad design. As a physicist friend of mine remarked, quote:

You can watch all the short movies of the tsunami and its consequences and see yourself that simple 3-storey concrete buildings withstood the wave; only one-storey buildings were washed away. Now, you're building your nuclear plant just 300 feet from the physical shore line, and you are doing it in the country whose language is the source of the word "tsunami." Could you show just a little bit of caution, and put your diesels on a three-storey concrete pedestals?

End quote. That simple precaution was not taken, and the result followed.

Well, that's water under the bridge — or, in this case, over the backup diesel power generators. What's the prognosis here? What can we expect?

Obviously one thing we can expect is a lot of hysteria. We live in a hysterical age. The Speaker of the House of Representatives weeps copiously when recalling his perfectly unremarkable lower-middle-class upbringing. Another congress-sissy, this one a Muslim, weeps when speaking of insults offered to a co-religionist — insults which, it turned out, were a figment of the weeper's overheated imagination. Public-sector workers in Wisconsin, faced with some slight trimming of power and privileges they should never have been granted in the first place, scream that ruthless capitalist hyenas are stomping on their inalienable rights, do their best to shut down the state legislature, post gruesome death threats to lawmakers, and in one case screech "You're dead!" at political opponents across the floor of the legislative chamber.

People have lost all sense of proportion. Making a pass at a girl is now "sexual harassment," an actual crime in many jurisdictions. Minor acts of rudeness are now considered evidences of a desire to commit mass murder or reintroduce slavery. Not wanting your son taken on a camping trip in the woods by a homosexual scoutmaster is proof that you are an evil person whose soul is dark with moral turpitude … and so on. As I said, it's a hysterical age, a feminized age ruled by snarling aggressive women and whimpering girly men.

So I guess it's not surprising that reaction to Japan's nuclear plant crisis has been hysterical. Tokyo will have to be evacuated! A great plume of radioactive dust is crossing the Pacific! Flee! Flee! Take to the hills! America's stock of iodine pills has sold out. Makers of hazmat suits are doing brisk business. Is this the end of the world? No, but a lot of people think they can see it from here.

For crying out loud. The worst case scenario anyone has so far been able to come up with from Fukushima is that there will be a melt-down at one or more of the reactors, destroying the containment vessel. That, remember, is the total worst case, which can likely be averted.

What happens then? Well, a plume of radioactive steam and smoke goes up around 1500 feet into the air for the few hours, at worst days, it takes to control the fire. Is that bad? It's way bad, but only for the immediate neighborhood — max twenty miles in whichever direction the wind's blowing. You wouldn't want to be eating any lettuce grown under that 20 mile plume. Tokyo? Ah, that's 150 miles away. Los Angeles? Five and a half thousand.

Even that may be overstating things. At Chernobyl, a far worse situation, the fire burned not for hours but for months. The debris went not 1500 feet into the air, but thirty thousand feet. Even so, there is no evidence that anyone more than twenty miles away came to any harm, other than by eating contaminated food, which was a dumb thing to do.

Here's a pop quiz: What was the death toll from Chernobyl — a far worse disaster than anything we can expect at Fukushima, remember? Well, 31 died when the thing blew. A hundred and thirty-four people got injurious doses of radiation, and some of those people have died in the quarter-century since, though many from causes not related to radiation. Wikipedia lists 60 known deaths from the explosion and radiation overdoses. However, UNSCEAR — that's the United Nations Scientific Committee of the Effects of Atomic Radiation — gives the number as 57. Estimates of the number who may eventually die from cancers triggered by lower radiation doses are all over the place. UNSCEAR claimed four thousand cases of thyroid cancer up to 2002, but this number is widely disputed, and thyroid cancer is anyway preventable with iodine supplements. Even if you get thyroid cancer it's highly treatable, with 5-year survival rates 85 percent for females and 74 percent for males. And again, the peril there was from contaminated food and water, which people ought to have been prevented from ingesting.

So if you're having nightmares about Los Anglenos glowing in the dark, forget it. The last estimate I've seen for deaths from the earthquake and tsunami was nudging 15,000, and that will probably go higher. Chernobyl, a far worse disaster than Fukushima, most likely killed less than five percent of that number, perhaps less than two percent. Japan has suffered a terrible catastrophe, but Fukushima is merely a footnote. So please, calm down and stop screaming. Last year 269 people were killed in traffic accidents on the streets of New York City. It's unlikely in the extreme that Fukushima will kill that many Japanese. It's an order of magnitude more unlikely that it will cause even a single American to lose a day off work. Calm down for goodness' sake.

05 — Japan's demeanor.     If you want a model for grace under extraordinary pressure of distress, you could hardly do better than the average Japanese citizen. The people of Japan have behaved themselves with great dignity and civility, to general admiration.

This is something that would have surprised our forefathers. The early 20th century Japanese were not noted for ruliness. Hundreds died in the rice riots of 1918, and there was massive destruction of property. That's rice riots, mind, not race riots. Though there were race riots too: The great earthquake of 1923 was followed by widespread disorder, including the massacre of over six thousand Korean residents. Prewar Japanese politics was very brutal; the system as it was in the 1930s has been described as "government by assassination." And of course the Japanese treatment of prisoners of war and occupied peoples is notorious. So when and how did the Japanese get so well-behaved?

The 1945 defeat surely helped. A really big defeat can have much civilizing effect. After the Battle of Lechfeld in a.d. 955 the Magyars stopped being a wild Asiatic horde and turned into the Christian Kingdom of Hungary in the space of a single generation. It's almost as if, having given war their best shot and failed, a nation collectively decides to walk a different path.

Modernity has something to do with it too. In the premodern period, when folk didn't travel much or interact with foreigners, every people on earth thought themselves special, and the rest just a comical rabble with weird customs, speaking gobbledygook languages. For island nations the effect was magnified. Here's the Italian historian Paolo Giovio, describing the English of the mid-16th century, quote: "the English are commonly destitute of good breeding, and are despisers of foreigners, since they esteem him a wretched being and but half a man who may be born elsewhere than in Britain," end quote. Yep, that's how I was brought up. "The wogs begin at Calais," we used to snigger to ourselves. The Japanese I think were even worse.

In a globalized world of mass media and easy travel, those attitudes are not tenable. Being rude to foreigners is no longer an option: you're just encountering too many of them, on your TV screen if not in person. You become aware that your nation is just one among many, some of them richer and more powerful than yours. It's humbling and leveling; it makes for a turn of attitude.

There's more than one direction you might turn in. In the West we've embraced xenophilia and multiculturalism, even setting other cultures above our own in moral worth. The Japanese turned in a different direction, inward, to the quietly prideful, self-sufficient ethnonationalism we see today. "We don't mind foreigners or look down on them," they say, "but they have their own countries, and we have ours."

That attitude has its downside — the collapsing demographics of Japan, which they could easily alleviate by admitting a couple of million Indonesians for settlement every year. They'd rather not do that. They'll take the downside because they like the upside, which is, great social cohesion and a sense of the nation as a huge extended family — which, genetically speaking, it is.

And that's what you see in the orderliness and self-discipline following this disaster. They're not looting for the same reason you don't steal from your brother.

I don't say that's the entire explanation. A population isolated and inbreeding for a hundred generations or more will develop distinctive frequencies of personality, behavior, and intelligence traits. The short way of saying that is: the Japanese behave like this nowadays because they're Japanese and this is now.

I have a private suspicion that Japan will come back from this dreadful catastrophe stronger than before, perhaps even turning around their demographic decline. We'll see. In the meantime let's wish them luck, and help them as each of us feels moved to do.

06 — Taoism for Libya.     All right, Libya. I know I've been a bit flippant about Libya. When I see Middle East Muslims at war with each other, my default attitude is the one voiced by Henry Kissinger during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, quote: "It's a pity both sides can't lose."

I am therefore totally on board with President Obama's Taoist approach to the situation — that is, watchful inaction. In the matter of Libya, no policy is the right policy. It would be immensely satisfying to see Gaddafy swinging from a lamp-post, but from the point of view of cold statecraft, there's a case for Gaddafy. As David Frum pointed out in an excellent article in Wednesdays' Daily Telegraph, long quote:

Perhaps President Obama reasoned something along these lines: "Yes, Gaddafi is a very bad guy. But he quit the terrorism business a decade ago and paid compensation to the families of victims of the Lockerbie bombing. He surrendered his nuclear program in 2003. He co-operates with the EU in stopping illegal migration into Italy. He is a reliable oil supplier and a good customer for Western companies.

"It's very sad to see Gaddafi crush an uprising so brutally. But things could be worse. Tribal leaders, fighting each other, inspired by Islamic ideology — all just 300 miles from the coast of Sicily? We could have 300,000 refugees showing up on the Nato side of the Mediterranean. Better stick with the devil we know."

End long quote. It's true, as David also observes, that Gaddafy will be gone some day, and there's no knowing what we'll get in his place, except that it surely won't be Jeffersonian democracy. But then, there's no knowing what we'll get if he loses in this fighting, with the same negative exception. It's the devil we know for a few more years, followed by unknowns, versus unknowns next week.

That's really not much of a choice, but a slight preference for Gaddafy winning is understandable. In any case, anything we tried to do would most probably leave the Middle East Muslims hating us even more. Taoism is right, and the commentators bleating that Obama should be more proactive are wrong. Just for once — go ahead, say it Derb — just for once, I'm with Obama here.

07 — West Bank massacre.     As if we needed a reminder that we're dealing with a region of highly doubtful collective sanity, here came some Palestinian terrorists to remind us.

Last Friday night two Palestinian terrorists broke into the home where Rabbi Udi Fogel lived with his wife Ruth and their six children. Rabbi Fogel was asleep with the couple's three-month-old baby Hadas. The intruders cut the Rabbi's throat and decapitated the baby. Ruth Fogel was in the bathroom; when she came out, the two terrorists stabbed and killed her. Then they stabbed to death two of the Fogels' sons, 11-year-old Yoav and four-year-old Elad in their beds. Two other children, an eight-year-old and a two-year-old toddler, were in a different room the killers missed. The Fogels' 12-year-old daughter was visiting at a friend's house. When she came home two hours later she found the two-year-old toddler standing over the bloody corpses of his parents, calling for them to wake up.

Among Palestinian militants, this was considered a heroic operation. Hamas operatives in the Gaza Strip were handing out free candy to passers-by by way of celebration. Nice.

Reaction from other Palesinian Arabs has been mixed. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the massacre, saying on Israel Radio that it was, quote, "a despicable, immoral and inhuman act." That may, of course, not be what he's saying to his own people, given that Abbas is a duplicitous son of a bitch with a shaky political base, but it's better than nothing. Other Palestinians went into denial, saying it was a robbery gone wrong, or a Mossad operation. Nobody has yet blamed the U.S.A., but it's only been a week.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki got the chutzpah award for the following remark, quote: "No Palestinian has ever murdered an infant or civilians in such a manner, either for nationalist causes or in revenge, which raises doubts regarding Israel's haste to accuse the Palestinians." End quote. Let's just meditate on that for a moment: "No Palestinian has ever murdered an infant or civilians in such a manner."

That's so far from reality you have to wonder what Hamas is putting in that celebration candy.

08 — "Biblical exodus" from Africa     Continuing our coverage of Europe's nightmare: a flood of refugees and economic migrants from that huge, poor, overpopulated continent on the south side of the Mediterranean.

I've mentioned the Italian island of Lampedusa, between Sicily and Tunisia. More than nine thousand refugees have arrived on Lampedusa in the past two months. Well, a hundred miles East of Lampedusa is the island nation of Malta, half a million people on a territory one-tenth the size of Rhode Island.

Malta's been getting refugees too — twenty-six thousand in the last month. More than half of Malta's entire military budget goes to food and shelter for refugees.

Still they're coming. Malta and Italy are the most-worried countries so far, but France and Germany are waking up to the problem. A prominent member of Nicholas Sarkozy's party said the refugees should be, quote, "put back on their boats." She had to apologize for that, but the fact that a respectable representative of the ruling party would say such a thing tells its own story.

Down at the less respectable end of French politics, Marine Le Pen, leader of the nationalist, protectionist, immigration-restrictionist National Front, paid a three-hour visit to Lampedusa. Interviewed in Rome afterwards she said, quote: "They cannot be allowed on the shore. Send boats out to feed them. But they must not set foot on land." End quote.

Yet another European lady, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, asked on Tuesday this week about the refugees, said that, quote: "We are ready to help in economic terms, but I don't see the future in having us expand legal immigration."

This will get worse before it gets better, if it ever does get better. Jean Raspail's 1973 novel Camp of the Saints, about an invasion of Europe by Third World refugees, is back on the best-seller lists in France.

09 — Miscellany.     And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.

Item:  Italians took time off from worrying about the refugee issue to celebrate their nation's 150th birthday. Radio Derb is glad to celebrate with them. Italy has contributed more to human civilization in this 150 years than the whole of North Africa has in ten times as many years. Thanks, guys. Next up, ten years ahead: Germany, formally united as a nation in 1871. By way of preparing for that, I recommend Peter Watson's excellent new book The German Genius.

Item:  Here's one that got my blood boiling. You know about La Raza, of course. La Raza means "The Race," and it's the name of the U.S.A.'s biggest lobbying organization on behalf of open borders and Mexican colonization of our southwest. Where do you think La Raza, The Race, where do you think they get their money from? Well, they get some of it from you and me. The conservative newspaper Human Events has been scrutinizing La Raza's tax returns. In 2006 and 2007 they were getting three and a half million dollars in grants each year from the government. By this point the Bush administration was so pleased with La Raza's efforts, they raised the grant to over $5 million. So next time you see one of those mass demonstrations for amnesty, with a sea of Mexican flags filling your TV screen, take pride in seeing your tax dollars at work.

Item:  Viral video clip of the week was undoubtedly UCLA third-year political science student Alexandra Wallace letting loose on the bad manners of Asian students — talking on their cell phones in the library, for instance. [Clip]. This fired off one of those stupid stylized public dramas we're all so wearily used to. Weeping victims of the outrage step up to display their wounds and demand justice; more militant types call in death threats — Ms. Wallace is I believe now under police protection; minor officials — in this case spokes-critters for the UCLA administration — honk moral disapproval using all the threadbare vocabulary of bogus indignation: "hurtful," "repugnant," "abhorrent," and all the rest; and at last the offender does a full public recantation, groveling and begging for forgiveness at the altar of political correctness. I'd assume Eric Holder's Justice Department is readying a full investigation, so Ms Wallace can look forward to a couple of years giving depositions. Meanwhile I, being known to have some acquaintance with oriental languages, I am getting asked what it was that the buxom Ms Wallace said there. Well, her pronunciation was terrible so it's hard to be sure, but it sounded to me like the Chinese for: "They're real, I swear!"

Item:  Just a request here. It was a year ago now that Lee Jin-gyu of South Korea warmed our hearts by marrying a pillow. It was a huggable body pillow with the face of an anime character painted on it. If you've seen that great Craig Gillespie movie Lars and the Real Girl you know the zone we're in here. Well, what I want to know is, how are the newlyweds getting on one year later? I can't find anything on the news websites. If anyone can update me, send an email to the address you see at johnderbyshire.com.

10 — Signoff.     That's it, folks. The Japanese are stoical, the Palestinians are homicidal, California girls are bold and bodacious, and congresscritters are fiddling while our national finances burn. All quite normal, really.

[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]