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[Music clip: Haydn's Derbyshire Marches.]
01 — Intro. Another week, another trillion dollars of shareholder value turned to pixie dust. When did we start talking in trillions like this? How many people have any idea how big a trillion is? A trillion grains of table salt would fill my living-room up to the ceiling; a trillion drops of water would need a largish reservoir to hold them; a trillion human hairs laid side by side with no space between them would go all the way round Earth's equator; traveling back in time a trillion seconds would land you among the flint-knappers of the Old Stone Age; if the territory of the United States were divided into a trillion equal square parts, each part would be about ten feet on a side; if you were to jump as high as Olympic high jumpers jump, you would have jumped a trillionth of distance to the planet Uranus; and so on. There's a lot of us, and we're the richest nation that ever was in the world, but it's still a mighty big number. Well, I'm sure our President-elect will know what to do when he has the reins of office firmly in his hands. But first, he has to deal with his Auntie.
02 — Auntie Obama. I just love this story about Barack Obama's aunt. In case you didn't catch it, here's the executive summary. Obama tells us in his autobiography that when he went to Kenya in 1988 to look for his roots, the first person to greet him was this aunt, his father's half-sister, name of Zeituni Onyango. According to the account he gave in his book, Aunt Zeituni's first words to him were: "Welcome home!" Then, he says, she kissed him on both cheeks. Well, in the year 2000, Aunt Zeituni came to the USA on a temporary visa. Whether her nephew greeted her with cheek-kisses is not known, not to me at any rate. What is known is that when her visa expired, Aunt Zeituni applied for asylum on the grounds she didn't want to go back to Kenya. Her application was rejected in 2004, and a judge ordered her to leave the country. Aunt Zeituni chose not to obey the court, thereby voluntarily changing her status to "fugitive alien." As such, she went on living in the public housing that Boston Housing Authority had provided for her the year before. As an illegal alien, of course Aunt Zeituni's first impulse was to find one of those jobs that Americans won't do, and she quickly found one, as a "health advisor" to the people in her public-housing complex, with a salary paid by Boston Housing Authority — or, to put it another way, since municipal housing authorities receive state and federal subsidies, Aunt Zeituni was paid by the taxpayers of Boston, and Massachusetts, and the U.S.A. All this was discovered by investigative journalists at the London Times, American journalists being of course much too high-minded to concern themselves with such grubby matters, and anyway being too busy totting up the cost of Sarah Palin's wardrobe. Well, I don't know how much Aunt Zeituni's salary is, but she scraped up enough cash to contribute $260 to her nephew's presidential campaign — illegally, since she is not a citizen. Our President-elect returned those donations, though not until after they'd been publicized, says that he thinks his aunt should obey the law. Good call, Barack. For those listeners not familiar with the law in this area, permit me to explain. The law is, that the fugitive alien keeps on appealing her case for ever, while continuing to live in taxpayer-subsidized housing, drawing a taxpayer-funded salary from Boston Housing Authority, and being treated at taxpayer expense in her local hospital emergency room when she's sick. And if you object to any of that, the law says you can go boil your head. Everything clear?
03 — Obama kids' schooling. And then there's the touchy business of the Obama kids' schooling in Washington DC. Should they attend DC public schools, as Amy Carter did? Or be enrolled in a tony private school, like Chelsea Clinton? It's not an easy call for the Obamas. Amy Carter's experience wasn't a very happy one. She wasn't allowed into the school playground at recess because it was too near the street. On the other hand, a left-wing liberal sending his kids to snooty private schools is going to come in for some mockery, as Clinton did. In the case of the Obamas, there is also the "r" factor, DC public schools being 83 percent black and ten percent Hispanic. If the Obamas send Sasha and Malia to a posh private school, there'll be muttering that they're shunning their own people. My guess is that they'll go with public schooling. And actually, why wouldn't they? Back in April, Andrew Coulson at the Cato institute computed that the District spends nearly $25,000 per pupil, if you factor in all spending. That's $10,000 more than the average for DC private schools! Hey, this is the best public school system in the nation! Alternatively, the Obamas could revert to the old aristocratic model and just bring in tutors for the kids, to teach them at home. There must be plenty of people available to do some home-schooling for these girls. How about Aunt Zeituni?
04 — Bailout. [Ker-ching!] Bailout mania — come and get your bailout! As everybody knows, the basement of the White House contains hundreds of brass-bound oak chests, each one filled with gold sovereigns. This is called "government money." When things are going along smoothly, the government just keeps quiet and hopes everyone will forget about it. When too many banks have run themselves into the ground with improvident lending, though, or some huge industrial conglomerate — an auto-maker, say — has allowed predatory unions to jack up its costs so much that its prices aren't competitive any more, well, then the clasps come off those chests and government money is showered on these unfortunate enterprises, so that they can go on doing what they were doing so well. This is just fine, because the money being used there is not your money or my money, or — heaven forbid! — money foreigners have given us in return for promises to pay it back with interest. No, no, it's government money, you see, so everything's fine. As soon as the crisis is over, the Treasury people will fasten down the clasps on those big old money chests, turn out the basement lights, close and lock the basement doors. And you know what happens then? It's really amazing. All those gold coins, left alone in the dark there, breed, like mushrooms. So next time there's a crisis, there will be just as many as there were before! See? Government money — it's wonderful stuff. It's not like your money or mine, when you spend it it's gone. Government money is always there! As much as you want! So come and get your bailout — the line forms on the left here. Next! [Ker-ching!] Next! [Ker-ching!] [Ker-ching!] …
05 — Japanese Air Force. Most of us got our image of the Imperial Japanese Air Force from watching movies about Pearl Harbor, or from reading about kamikaze pilots. You know how it goes: fearless young men with chrysanthemums their sweethearts gave them tucked into their flak jackets, hurtling themselves at the enemy screaming BANZAI! or TORA! TORA! TORA! or some such. Well, that was then, this is now. What the Japanese Air Force is mainly into these days is not so much suicidal heroism as suicidal embarrassment. Item. General Toshio Tamogami was actually the head of Japan's air force until recently. Until October 31 to be exact, when he was fired by Japan's Prime Minister. The occasion of his being fired was, that he had entered an essay contest sponsored by a construction billionaire. The set topic for the essay was "The True Outlook for Modern and Contemporary History." The General's outlook was that Japan fought WW2 in self-defense after liberating Asia from Western imperialism, that Pearl Harbor was a dastardly trap laid by the U.S.A., and that it is high time for Japan to, quote, "reclaim her glorious history." These arguments proved so satisfactory to the contest judges, they gave the general first prize. Japan's Asian neighbors were not so pleased, and Prime Minister Taro Aso did what he had to do … probably with mixed feelings, as some controversial past statements of his suggest that Aso shares the General's views. Item. A male Japanese air force major from the Matsushima air base in Miyagi, northern Japan — we don't know his name — was caught naked while shopping for women's underwear. He has been suspended from his duties for 10 days, said a spokeswoman at the base. The major had been on his way home from a late-night farewell party for a colleague when he decided, on an impulse, to take off his clothes behind a convenience store before going in and buying panties and pantyhose. The spokeswoman tells us that, quote, "He had just his wallet and his shoes on him." Interesting. We are not told where on his person his wallet was actually located, but then perhaps we don't want to be. Memo to the Japanese Air Force high command: If you're going to reclaim your nation's glorious history, you might want to tell that major to reclaim his dress uniform from behind that convenience store first. There is no instance known to history of a Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere being established by men wearing pantyhose.
06 — Offended Muslims. Time for one of our occasional encounters with the Religion of Peace. Actually, the way things are shaking down here, Islam is not so much the religion of peace as the religion of taking hair-trigger offense at every conceivable opportunity. Here's the latest case. Follow me closely here. The 2010 soccer World Cup is to be held in South Africa. The merchandising of souvenirs has already begun. One of the souvenirs is a soccer ball with the flags of many countries on it. One of the countries whose flags are represented on the soccer ball is Saudi Arabia. Now, the Saudi Flag includes a verse from the Koran on it — you know, just the way our flag includes a phrase from the Constitution. So that means you've got the word of Allah there on a soccer ball … which someone might kick! [Scream] Quote from South Africa's Council of Muslim Theologians — and I bet you didn't know South Africa had one, did you? Listener, every place has one. Your town has one. Your block has one — quote: "The use of text which Muslims consider sacred has the potential of offending adherents of the Islamic faith," end quote. This little piece of grievance-mongering, in case you haven't been paying attention, is the latest in a long series. For years, agitators in Muslim countries have been claiming that the Coca Cola trade mark is actually an insult to Mohammed if you read it in a mirror. In 2005, Burger King restaurants in Britain withdrew one of their ice cream products because Muslim customers said the label design — a swirl of ice cream — looked like the Arabic script for "Allah" if it was turned sideways. In 2003 a different ice cream company in Britain was forced to scrap its logo of intertwined red and yellow hearts after Muslims said looked like the word "Allah" in Arabic if viewed upside down and backwards. Six years before that, Nike pulled 38,000 pairs of basketball shoes after the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the logo — which this time was the word "air" in swirly script lettering — looked like "Allah" in Arabic, again, when viewed from a certain angle. And way back before that, in the early nineties, a Chinese company exporting shoes to the Middle East got in trouble because the rubber pattern on the soles of the shoes looked like, guess what "Allah" again. In the taking-offense game, I think the Muslims have even opened up a lead on African Americans, which I would not have thought possible. Mind you, we all have our own sensitivities. This bottle of Glenmorangie single malt here on my desk has a wee design on the label that I could swear, if I squint at by the light of a full moon while hanging by my heels from the doorway, looks the spitting image of old Charles Darwin. Hey, I'm offended! You know what, though: I'm going to drink the blessed stuff anyway.
07 — Christian fracas. Mind you, Christians aren't blameless, either. The central event in the religion of my ancestors was the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the place where this occurred, there now stands a Christian church, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The duties of looking after this holiest of all churches are divided between six different Christian sects, under an arrangement going back to 1767, in the days of the Ottoman Empire. Each of the sects has certain territorial rights in the church; each has certain alloted times at which it can perform its rites. No changes can be made, no maintenance work done, unless all six sects agree. Which, of course they never do. The keys to the main entrance of the church have been held by a Muslim family since the 12th century because the Christians don't trust one another. If you look at the front of the church you see two windows above the entrance, set in large alcoves. There is a short ladder in the right-hand alcove, placed there in the 1840s. It hasn't been moved since, because the six custodian sects can't agree on who should remove it. The Egyptian Coptic church keeps a monk stationed on the church roof at all times to maintain their claim to that part of the structure. Well, one hot summer day in 2002, the monk moved his chair from its agreed spot into the shade. The Ethiopian Copts took this as an insult. A fight broke out, and eleven monks ended up in hospital. In another incident at Easter 2004, Eastern Orthodox monks conducting a ceremony noticed that Roman Catholics had left a door open. Another insult, another fist-fight. Well, last Sunday, during celebrations for the Feast of the Holy Cross, there was yet another rumble, this time Eastern Orthodox versus Armenians. Things got so bad, the Israeli police were called in, but the fighting monks turned and attacked them, too. TV news footage showed one monk with a nasty gash on his forehead. I guess he was a little slow turning the other cheek. All right, but what I want to know is this: Doesn't it occur to any of these idiot monks, in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, for crying out loud, that this kind of thing is a really, really bad advertisement for Christianity? At the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples: "This is my commandment, That ye love one another as I have loved you." Perhaps after another two thousand years it might start to sink in.
08 — No more Britain. [Flanders & Swann clip] Yes we are. As an English person in America, one thing I get asked a lot is: "What's the difference between England and Britain and the U.K.." All right, listen carefully and I'll explain. There are two big islands over there and lots of little ones. The Romans called the bigger island Britannia and the smaller Hibernia. So Britain's that big island, and Ireland's the other one. That's geography. Politically, Britain has three parts: England, Wales, and Scotland. "Scot" is the medieval name for an Irishman, so Irishmen moved from Ireland to what was then Pictland, and merged with the Picts to make it Scotland. Meanwhile the English, who were from Denmark, moved in to southern Britain from the East, driving the original British into the mountains of the West, where they became Welsh, that being the Old English word for "foreigner." Much later some of the Scots, who were Protestant by that point, moved back to Ireland, which had stayed Catholic, and settled there, forming the Scots-Irish. Everything clear? Good. All that is preface to a news story from this week. A local authority in Wales has put out a booklet advising its employees not to use the word "British" because, quote, "The idea of 'British' implies a false sense of unity — many Scots, Welsh and Irish resist being called British and the land denoted by the term contains a wide variety of cultures, languages and religions." End quote. Reporters tracked down the author of the booklet. It turned out to be a defrocked member of the British government, Ron Davies. Mr. Davies lost his government position ten years ago after what he himself decribed as "a moment of madness" with a male stranger in a South London park. He went off to a much lesser job in the Welsh Assembly, but then he lost that one, too after allegations he had another "a moment of madness" with another male person in a wood. Mr. Davies has denied these later allegation, claiming he was looking for badgers. Now he's being badgered by reporters over this booklet telling people to stop saying "British." It's all very peculiar; but then, what can you expect from a Welshman? [Flanders & Swann clip]
09 — Miscellany. Just a few odds and ends here.
Item: From the Associated Press, a story that paranoia is on the rise. Quote: "Paranoia, once assumed to afflict only schizophrenics, may be a lot more common than previously thought. According to British psychologist Daniel Freeman, nearly one in four Londoners regularly have paranoid thoughts." There you go, paranoia on the rise. Yeah right, that's what they want you to think!
Item: Er, "Latinos push for cabinet posts," it says here. Cecilia Munoz, Vice President of the National Council of The Race, is demanding two cabinet positions for members of The Race. The United States is about to get its first Quota Cabinet, I fear.
Item: A chap named Spike Lee, who people tell me is something in the movie business, wants us to start dating events as "Before Obama" and "After Obama." I assume this new calendar will begin with Wonder Boy's inauguration, so that we are coming to the end of Year One B.O.
Item: Speaking of B.O., scientists in Philadelphia claim they can identify a human being uniquely by his odorprint, even if he's been eating curry or chillis. I need to introduce these guys to my wife's pickled garlic. That's garlic, pickled. Beats me how we ever managed to have two kids.
Item: A journalist in Britain has trashed the late Queen Mother, who died in 2002 at the age of 101, or possibly in 2001 at 102, I forget. This journalist claims the Queen Mum was a bigot. When he told her he'd just come from a European summit, the lady said: "It will never work, you know … It will never work with all those Huns, wops and dagos." God bless the royal family!
Item: What else? Oh, here's Paul Krugman in the New York Times, quote: "The G.O.P.'s long transformation into the party of the unreasonable right, a haven for racists and reactionaries, seems likely to accelerate as a result of the impending defeat," end quote. Well, from your mouth to God's ear, Paul.
Item: Finally, thieves in a village 200 miles northeast of Moscow have stolen a church. The church had been out of use for a while, but Orthodox officials were thinking of starting up services again. When they went to scope out the place, though, they found it gone. Thieves had stolen it brick by brick. Probably vengeful Armenians from the Holy Sepulcher.
10 — Signoff. Well, there we are, ladies and gents: another week, another bailout. When will it end? As a politician once observed: A trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon you're burying Krugerrands in the back yard. Not to worry, though. I'm sure our new president will soon have things humming again. With his great reserves of worldly experience, and the seasoned wisdom of Joe Biden [Laugh] we'll soon be back on track! So let's look for that silver lining, face the future with a smile, keep our peckers up, and sing a cheery song as we go about our day's work. All together now!
[Music clip: Gracie Fields, Sing As We Go.]