»  Radio Derb — Transcript

        Friday, August 15th, 2008


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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, organ version]

01 — Intro.     Welcome to Radio Derb, listeners old and new … and listeners slightly used, too, if there are any of those out there. This is your genial host John Derbyshire with a round-up of the week's news, delivered with a reactionary, mean-spirited, Tory anarchist slant.

The Russians get top billing this week, just like the good old days when Khrushchev was banging his shoe at the U.N. Oh, yeah, yeah, I know, Khrushchev was Ukrainian. No nit-picking please, I'm not in the mood for it.

Let's see what those pesky Russians have been up to.


02 — Teaching Georgia a lesson.     Well, we may have thought we had Georgia in the bag as a loyal and democratic ally, but, as the song says [Ray Charles: "other arms reach out to me …"]

The other arms reaching out there were Vladimir Putin's, reaching out to administer a few swift slaps by way of reminding Georgians what neighborhood they live in. [Ray Charles: "no peace I'll find …"] No, you sure won't, not when you're forgetting to show proper respect to the neighborhood enforcer. You'd think nobody watches The Godfather any more.

Well, pundits have been riffling through their analogy rolodexes, the precise analogy they've come up with depending on each particular pundit's political disposition: Czechoslovakia 1938 was popular, so, though from a different set of pundits, was Kosovo 1989. I didn't spot a Belgium 1914 or a Korea 1950, or a Kuwait 1990, but then I don't actually read all that many pundits. I'm sure these analogies are out there.

My own analogy of choice would be Grenada 1983 — that is to say, a great power teaching a lesson to an obnoxious small nation in its back yard.

Look, Russia is not the U.S.S.R. It is not the Homeland of the Proletariat, seeking to stir up our workers and peasants to overthrow capitalism. It's a great power with a long tradition of bullying its near neighbors, an inferiority complex the size of the Virgo Supercluster, some nasty demographic problems in the offing, and a whole lot of oil and natural gas to sell.

That's the context. What should we do? We should bellyache — that's pretty much all we can do, having all our military and diplomatic resources thoroughly invested in the grand and wonderful trillion-dollar project of installing governments of Iranian-backed con men in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then, having bellyached good and loud, we should set about trying to learn to be as skillful as Vladimir Putin is at getting what he wants internationally.

Here's my question for the presidential candidates: How good are you at chess? You know, that game the Russians are really, really good at? Eh, John? Eh, Barack?


03 — Olympics (1): Medal tables.     Other news of the week: the Olympics.

I see Georgia's got two golds — Judo and wrestling, and a bronze for shooting. Russia's got three golds for wrestling, though the first names of the winners are Nazir, Islam-beka, and Aslan-bek. No prizes for guessing what religious group those Russian wrestlers hail from. [Adhaan clip.] Russia also looks set fair to win golds for looting, raping, pillaging, and humiliating dim-witted American politicians.

How's Iraq doing? [Beep.] Ooops, "text not found." Afghanistan? [Beep.] Darn. I guess the medals for embezzling American taxpayer funds, getting foreigners to knock off your political enemies for you, heroin trafficking, and wiring up roadside bombs haven't been announced yet.

Not to worry, though. Those allies of ours are still way up in world corruption rankings — Afghanistan at 172, Iraq at 178, out of 180 nations competing.

Of course, if you want to be competitive at those high levels in the Corruption Olympics, you need something to be corrupt with. That brings us back to Joe and Sally American taxpayer. Doesn't eveything?


04 — Olympics (2): U.S.A., China, U.K..     Meanwhile, how's the U.S.A. doing in the medal tables?

Pretty well, actually. We have 34 medals as I'm looking at it here on Thursday afternoon. We seem to be strong on swimming, fencing, and women's skeet and trap. Real strong on swimming, and the medals aren't all going to Michael Phelps, either.

My congratulations to our athletes. I hope the medals keep piling up for us. Though at the same time, I kind of hope we don't end up with more than the Chinese. I mean, I'd hate to think of all those Chinese athletes being reassigned as sports coaches to the Mao Tse-tung Reform thru Labor camp No. 43 on the Tibetan plateau. Gets awful cold up there.

The country of my birth's doing pretty well, too: golds for swimming and cycling — how many golds are there for swimming? How many ways are there to swim, for goodness' sake? — okay, silvers for canoeing and cycling again, bronzes for equestrian and swimming.

And all nice British names, not a Muhammed or a Fatima in sight there. William Fox-Pitt — that's one of the Brits with a bronze for equestrian. What other nationality could he possibly be? William Fox-Pitt. And let's not ignore his fellow bronze winner, Daisy Dick. Daisy Dick. With a name like that, she deserves a bronze at least just for surviving high school.


05 — Census Bureau report.     Sorry, getting a little frivolous there. Let's get back to some serious matters.

Demographics, for example. There is a small and despised minority of us out here who nurse the sneaking suspicion that a nation's success has something to do with the characteristics of its population. We are inclined to think that the particular problems of Mexico, Nigeria, Albania, and Pakistan are something to do with the fact that those places are populated by Mexicans, Nigerians, Albanians, and Pakistanis, rather than, say, Norwegians or Japanese.

Of course, that can't be the whole story: North Korea and South Korea are both populated by Koreans. It's surely something to do with it, though, isn't it?

Well, whether it is or not, the U.S.A. is on a path to find out. New estimates from the Census Bureau say that our country will be majority-minority by the year 2042, eight years earlier than their previous estimate.

Quote from a political scientist — this is Mark Sawyer, director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Politics at the University of California, quote:

If we don't invest in educating and training African-American kids, immigrants and Latino kids, we won't have a middle class. We'll have a very, very poor disposable class that's largely black or brown.

End quote.

Well, we'd better get, er, "investing," then. I mean, the thought of a wealthy white and Asian elite living in gated communities and being serviced by a black and brown underclass, so they never have to get their hands dirty or work up a sweat — who could that thought possibly appeal to? I can't imagine.

No Americans, surely. This is the nation of barn-raisers and swamp-drainers, of bold frontiersmen and prairie homesteaders — the nation of can-do and self-sufficient ingenuity. Isn't it?


06 — Gypsies in Italy.     The big news in Italy is: Gypsies.

"Roma," we're supposed to say nowadays. It'll be something else next week, though, so I'm just going to stick with "Gypsies." Setting aside the trouble of keeping up with these absurd demonymic fads, "Roma" has the disadvantage of getting everyone mixed up with Romania, which in point of fact is where most of Italy's gypsies have been immigrating from. This is just a linguistic accident. "Rom" is the word for "man" in the Gypsy language, which was originally a dialect of northern India. "Romania," the name of the European country, expresses the fact that this was once a border territory of the Roman Empire.

Having got that cleared up, what's this issue with Gypsies in Italy? Well, what's basically happened there is that Political Correctness has bumped up against a poor and backward sub-population with a propensity for crime. Imagine that.

The tensions have been building up for some time. Back in fall of last year a woman in Rome was murdered by a Gypsy. A mob in Rome — are you getting confused here? Rome, capital of Italy: Roma, the name that Gypsies everywhere call themselves by: Romania, a big country with lots of Gypsies: try to keep it all straight — where was I? Oh, yes: a mob in Rome then assaulted some Gypsies in retaliation. The Italian government then deported a bunch of Gypsies.

In May of this year there was an even uglier incident in Naples, down in southern Italy, when Gypsies were suspected of abducting a child, and an angry mob of Neapolitans set fire to the Gypsy camp.

Sergio Berlusconi's conservative government promised stronger measures against Gypsy crime. By this time, though, the poo-bahs of Political Correctness were stirring.

The European Union, whose bureaucrats are more PC than a wagonload of college professors, made it know that they are, quote, "monitoring the actions of the Italian government very carefully."

Next up was a Roman Catholic — OK, keep tabs here, Rome: a city, Roma: a people, Romania: a country, Roman Catholic: a church: please pay attention — a Roman Catholic magazine, Famiglia Cristiana, suggested that the Berlusconi government was trending towards fascism.

That started a small kerfuffle in the Church, with a Vatican spokesman saying the magaine's views were not shared by the Papal establishment. Romania's lodged protests too, saying its citizens should be free to travel anywhere in the EU.

Romans, Roma, Romania, Roman Catholics — it's like a tag wrestling match. Ah, the blessings of diversity!


07 — Mexican incursion.     When the military of a neighboring country roll across your border, that's an invasion, right? Historically regarded as a casus belli, right?

Not if the neighboring country is Mexico, apparently. The U.S. Border Patrol agency has logged 43 — count 'em, 43 — crossings into the U.S. by Mexican military patrols since last October. That's an average close to one a week.

In the latest one, August 3rd, the Mexican troops pointed their guns at one of our Border Patrol agents. Quote from the agency report:

The soldiers held their weapons on the agent for several minutes until he identified himself in Spanish, whereupon they lowered their guns and walked back across a gap in the border fence.

What have the Mexicans got by way of an explanation? I don't know, but our own State Department quickly stepped in with an excuse for the incursion. In Washington DC, State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said the encounter, quote, "stemmed from a momentary misunderstanding as to the exact location of the U.S.-Mexican border."

Er, wait a minute. The Mexicans, according to Border Control, went back to their country through a gap in the fence. So how were they unsure about the location of the border? Didn't the fact of there being a fence there, like, give them sort of a clue?

Why is Mr Gonzalo Gallegos, who it says here in the article I'm reading in the Arizona Republic is a State Department employee in Washington DC, why is he making excuses for incursions by the Mexican narco-army?

Perhaps the Arizona Republic got it wrong; perhaps Mr Gallegos is a spokesman for the Mexican State Department. Though really, at this point, what difference would it make?


08 — Science news.     Let's step away from all this ugly political rancor and see what's happening in the wonderful world of science. What have we got?

Well, some researchers at the University of California in Berkeley say they are getting close to creating an invisibility cloak. They've developed a material that can bend light around 3-D objects making them disappear.

Far as the media is concerned, of course, John McCain already has one of those. Not that I'll complain if they can make something big enough that the whole of Berkeley disappears. Or the whole of California for that matter …

What else? Robots! The 35th Annual SIGGRAPH Exhibition has been under way in Los Angeles — SIGGRAPH is an acronym for "Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques" — and there's some fun stuff there: a robot with facial expressions, a robot with social skills, and a robot that can do push-ups. Fascinating.

Oh, and there's been a display of battlefield robots taking place over in England. The idea here is to get robots into the most dangerous battlefield situations so as to save soldiers' lives.

This makes me think of that old science fiction story where a war goes on for years and years and gets more and more mechanized, till all the humans have retreated to caves underground, leaving the robots to fight it out on the surface, while they monitor the battles by video feeds from the battlefields. This goes on for a couple of decades; then some group of humans decides to venture up to the surface to see it it's still habitable at all. They find that the robots have turned the earth into a lovely park, in which they sit around sipping mint juleps and reading poetry, taking a break now and then to video some fake battle scenes to send down to the humans underground.


09 — Recession.     And news on the economy here. Gas is getting a bit cheaper, oil down to $117 a barrel — or rather up, since it just went up by four dollars after a long slide. Still, we're way down from $147 in July, so that's good.

House prices are down too, though whether that's good news of course depends on whether you're trying to sell or trying to buy. Median house price fell eight percent in the second quarter. Home builders and home improvers are having hard times, so if you're not in foreclosure and you still have a job, now's the time to get that new deck built. You'll get a good price, you'll give work to people who need it, you'll arrest the declining value of your property a wee bit, and you'll help the economy a wee bit.

Prices of pretty much everything else are going up. Consumer prices actually rose 0.8 percent in July, which if you annualize it is ten percent. Last year's dollar is this year's 90 cents. This is the worst inflation since 1991, and puts the Fed in the usual bind, whether to raise interest rates and deepen the recession, or let things go and risk more inflation.

Now you may say, hey ho, the business cycle, it goes up, it goes down. Right, so it does. There are unpleasant things going on though.

For most of a human lifetime, the business cycle has indeed had peaks and troughs. However, each peak was higher than the previous peak.

That didn't happen this time. In 2000, at the end of the previous cycle, the median American family made about $61,000. In 2007, which economists think was the end of the latest cycle, median family income, inflation-adjusted, was actually $500 less — about $60,500. This never happened before.

Houston, we have a problem. We can all live with the business cycle; but if the business cycle itself breaks down, where are we?


10 — Don Helms RIP.     [Hank Williams clip: The Angel of Death.]

Sad news from Nashville: the Angel of Death came calling and took away one of the last surviving bit of the "old, weird America" — the America that still existed when I was a kid in the fifties, and that we observed and listened to with wonder and fascination from across the Atlantic; the America of share croppers and mule skinners, freak shows and hobos and hellfire preachers, hillbillies and hucksters.

It's all pretty much been paved over and lawyered and educated out of existence now, but there are scraps and traces here and there, if you look closely. Well, we lost one of those traces on Monday, when Don Helms died at the age of 81 in Nashville.

Don played steel guitar in the Drifting Cowboys, which was the backing group for the greatest country singer-songwriter of all time, the immortal Hank Williams. It's Don Helms's steel guitar you hear supplying those mournful tones in Hank's best-known numbers.

Did I say mournful? Don could go way beyond mournful. [Hank Williams clip: I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow.]

Don Helms was the last surviving member of the Drifting Cowboys, and so far as I know the last person alive to have accompanied Hank Williams. That's enough glory for anybody. Goodnight, Don, rest in peace.

Just going back to the Angel of Death for a moment, and the old, weird America: Did you get the way Hank pronounced "poor"? Here's a story about that.

At Hank's very first recording session in 1946, when he was still doing a lot of religious songs, he recorded one titled "Wealth Won't Save Your Soul." It ends up like this: [Clip].

Those backing singers who come in at the end there are the Oklahoma Wranglers, a popular act by themselves, who happened to be around in the studio at the time. Well, they wanted to sing "poor," but they couldn't get Hank to pronounce it. It's "purr," Hank insisted. That was how he said it, that was how everybody he knew said it, and that was how he was going to sing it.

At last Fred Rose, Hank's manager, told the Wranglers: "Aw, dammit, just sing it the way Hank does." So they did, though how they kept straight faces, I don't know.


11 — Election news.     Oh yeah, the election, which I guess is still going on. Is it? … My producer signals "Yes."

All right, let's see what I've got here.

John McCain went somewhere and then came back.

Barack Obama said something and everybody present cheered ecstatically.

Hillary Clinton made her first campaign appearance on behalf of Barack Obama. She said she guessed he'd make a really fine President, if that's what the stinking ingrate Democratic Party and the damn fool voters want.

John Edwards admitted to having had an affair with a woman, astounding the forty million Americans who'd thought he was gay.

Will that do? Thanks.


12 — Signoff.     There you have it, listeners. Not a bad week, as weeks go — except of course for Caucasians.

Evelyn Waugh fans will remember that passage in The Loved One where Dennis, the Englishman, goes to a Los Angeles funeral parlor to arrange for his uncle's funeral. "Was the deceased Caucasian?" asked the mortician. "Good heavens no," says Dennis, "why on earth would you think that? He was English." Perhaps that's only funny if you're English.

Anyway, here is Radio Derb wishing all of you, Caucasian and non-Caucasian alike, a pleasant weekend and a useful and healthy week to follow.

Here to see us out are two great American performers: Hank Williams and Don Helms.


[Music clip: Hank Williams, "Cold, cold heart."]