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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, organ version]
01 — Intro. That was one of Haydn's Derbyshire Marches and this is John Derbyshire, your unflappably genial host, with another edition of Radio Derb.
Things have been pretty quiet here in Derbland the past few days. We had to repel a small border incursion by troops from Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus, and the trade dispute with Phi Beta Cons remains unresolved, but on the whole it's been a peaceful week.
So, what's been happening in the rest of the world? Let's take a look.
02 — Obama overexposed. President Obama gave his 35th press conference and appeared on numerous talk shows. Just a word, Mr. President, if I may: OVEREXPOSURE.
Actually I'm not without sympathy for the guy. If he kept out of sight in the White House, like Jimmy Carter in the Iran hostage crisis, people would grumble that he ought to be out more doing the fireside-chat reassuring business to perk us all up. If he's out on the road all the time doing fireside chats, then people — including some of the same people — will say he's all talk and no action.
If he frowns and gives us dark predictions, he's talking the economy down. If he joshes with Jay Leno and cracks jokes at his press conference, he's being frivolous, fiddling while Rome burns.
This is some balance the President has to strike here, and he's not striking it. Perhaps he can't, perhaps it's just impossible. Let's face it, we're in a sour mood. Why wouldn't we be? We're worrying about our jobs, our savings are dwindling away, and the memory of the stability and prosperity we enjoyed just a few years ago is still sharp enough to make the current gloom less bearable by comparison.
That's our general discontent. For conservatives there is, overlaid on that, the particular extra discontent arising from the facts that (a) plainly much of our trouble is a result of unwise and unwarranted government meddling in the economy, (b) the most egregious meddling was initiated by a Republican President who'd been sold to us as a conservative, (c) this new administration's idea of tackling our problems is to make open war on capitalism, economic liberty, and the law of contracts, and (d) our patriotic instincts are wounded by the sorry spectacle the U.S.A. is currently presenting to the world, being scolded by lying Leninist apparachiks like Hu Jintao.
Nothing much the President can do presentation-wise is going to make us feel any better. If he did a bit more in his office with his advisors, and a bit less on late-night talk shows, though, it might get him nearer to that point of balance.
03 — Economists not much help. Another source of our unease is the fact that very few of us really understand what happened last year, or what we should do to get out of the hole we're in. Economists aren't much help. Each one of them seems to have a different opinion.
I think most educated Americans understand that deflation, such as we had in the 1930s and got cured of by World War Two, deflation is an enemy to be avoided. But then, so is in-flation, such as we had in the 1970s and got cured of by Ronald Reagan, destroying people's savings and fixed pensions.
We also understand the government's impulse to get us all spending again; so they're showering money around — just printing it, basically — to get the economy jump-started.
How much money to shower around depends on what quantity of money is just right to stave off deflation without precipitating in-flation; and that's one of those things the experts all have different opinions about.
And then, hanging over all that, is the question: Why would we want to get back to where we were, if being where we were, got us to where we are? Rather than trying to restart the borrow-and-spend machine, shouldn't we be addressing some systemic problems?
Not much appetite for that, I guess, with a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress. But then, there wasn't much appetite for it under a Republican President with a Republican Congress, was there?
How about we try a conservative President with a conservative Congress? Yeah, dream on. We are doomed, doomed.
04 — Countess divorce. At times like this one goes searching for some light relief. Here it is in Hartford Connecticut, at the divorce trial between George David, bazillionaire CEO of United technologies Corp., and Marie Douglas-David, a beautiful Swedish countess whom he married seven years ago.
The main fun here is trying to figure out who was making the beast with two backs with whom, and when, and where. The couple had something called a post-nuptial agreement, but that could be tossed out if it can be shown that they were intimately intimate after the divorce was filed in 2007. That should be a no-brainer, as the 2007 divorce filing, by George, was his fifth filing in four years.
Then there are third parties: George has a girlfriend, Wendy Touton. When did he begin playing doctors and nurses with her? the court wants to know. George can't remember.
Meanwhile, we learn that way back in 2004, Marie was sharing a dish of meatballs with Swedish fencing champion Alexander Oxenstierna. Tuesday George was alleging that Marie actually forced him to make love to her — basically, that she raped him. Asked George's attorney of George: "There was that time she grabbed you by the arm and pulled you to the bed?" "Yes, frequently," answered George.
George, let it be noted, stands six foot three and weighs 226 pounds, while Marie cleaves to the principle that in America, you can never be too thin or too rich. She weighs about 120 pounds soaking wet.
Anyway, in pursuit of the second half of that principle, she's contesting this post-nuptial agreement on the grounds that the 600,000 shares of United Technologies stock it gives her is worth only a measly 36 million as a result of the economic collapse. How can a girl be expected to live on that? asks Marie, tears welling up in her lovely blue eyes.
She then presented the court with an account of her expenses, which add up to 53 thousand dollars a week. Hey, a girl's go to live.
Marie is also claiming that she was a key part of George's business success, giving him valuable advice across the pillows. George had a sniffy response to that, quote: "I don't remember specific conversations with Marie [about business]. But it's like you go home and talk to the dog." Way to melt a girl's heart there, George.
Well, the fun continues. Radio Derb will keep you up to date on this historic development in the life of our nation.
Ah yes, a little musical interlude there. That was the fine old Civil War song, "Maryland, My Maryland," a great favorite down there in the Old Line State, so I'm told.
Not for much longer, though. See, there's a wee problem with the lyrics. Here's the first stanza, in case you didn't catch the words.
The despot's heel is on thy shore,
Oh, doesn't that stir the blood? Well, actually, if it stirred your blood, then you're guilty of a hate crime. You see, the lyrics were written as a poem by Maryland son James Ryder Randall.
In April 1861, after the engagement at Fort Sumter that opened the Civil War, the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment passed through Baltimore on its way to Washington, D.C. This was not taken well by the citizens of Baltimore. Maryland was a slave state, and southern sympathies were strong. Baltimoreans started throwing things at the Union troops, and an ugly riot broke out. By the time it was over, four soldiers and twelve civilians had been killed. James Ryder Randall was down in Louisiana at the time. When he heard the news from his home state, he dashed off the poem in a spirit of outrage.
So the despot in that first line is Abraham Lincoln — who, by the way, was so alarmed by this display of southern sympathies forty miles north of Washington D.C., he put Maryland under martial law.
Well, "Maryland, My Maryland" is still the official state song. Marylanders, on formal occasions, still urge their state to, this is in the third stanza, quote: "Gird thy beauteous limbs with steel."
Worse yet, if they make it all the way to the ninth stanza, they find themselves asserting, of their lovely state, that, quote:
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb —
Well, of course, it's all too strong for our wussified modern sensibilities. Speaking as a patch of Northern Scum myself, at any rate by naturalization, I think it's a fine rousing song. People with skin as thick as mine, though, are fast becoming extinct, and the delicate little souls being raised in our school and college hothouses today might swoon and break out in hives if they knew that folk down in Maryland were calling them scum.
So Maryland state lawmakers are looking to revise those lyrics. Thomas Miller, President of the State Senate, wants a commission to propose some changes that will, quote, "reflect the state's diversity."
Ah, diversity! … Well, I have taken the liberty of rewriting "Maryland, My Maryland" to make it more compatible with our times. Here we go.
I have several more verses here — would you like to hear them? [Boos.] All right, all right, I'll just mail them direct to the state senate.
I'm sure once they see my lines, Maryland state legislators, assuming they're not too busy girding their beauteous limbs with steel, will declare me an honorary Marylander and vote me a handsome state pension.
Over to you, Maryland, soon to be my Maryland.
06 — Hillary in Mexico. Our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has been abroad. Well, she's been a broad for many years, of course, but this week, she's been, you know, abroad, one word. Mexico, that's where she is right now, in Mexico.
Now, we all knew what a tough, straight-shooting, no-nonsense Secretary of State Hillary was going to be, right? So in Mexico she's going to give them some plain speaking, right? Stop interfering in our domestic business, that's what she's telling the Mexicans, right?
This is what Hillary is telling Mexico's leaders, right? [Laugh.] Yeah, right.
What she actually told them on Wednesday this week was that all their troubles are Uncle Sam's fault. Quote:
Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade … Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers, and civilians.
See, it's all our fault! Listener, what you should do is go out of your house, walk down the street till you see a Mexican — you shouldn't need to go more than a hundred yards — go up to him, get down on your knees, and beg forgiveness for the cruelty and oppression that we evil, racist Nordeamericanos have visited on his noble, long-suffering people.
Go on, do it — I'll here wait till you get back.
07 — Hillary and the Norks. Oh, you're back already? Then I shall proceed.
Mind you, I shouldn't make fun of Hillary. She can be the Iron Lady when she wants to be. Just yesterday, in fact, Hillary girded her beauteous limbs with steel when told that North Korea is preparing to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile. Hillary let the Norks have it with both barrels. Quote:
This provocative action in violation of the U.N. mandate will not go unnoticed and there will be consequences.
Oooh — I bet that's got Kim Jong Il quaking in his boots. "There will be consequences," huh? What consequences? Whaddya gonna do, Madame Secretary? Go over to Pyongyang and apologize to them because it's all our fault they lose a million peasants to starvation every couple of years? No, wait, Madeleine Albright did that already.
All right then, there's nothing for it but really strong measures: a U.N. resolution condemning the missile launch. If that doesn't bring them to their knees, nothing will.
08 — Chris Dodd, an expensive legislator. One beneficial side effect of the financial crisis is, it has shed a little light on the culture of our national legislature.
The poster boy here is Chris Dodd, chair-crook of the Senate Banking Committee. The purpose of the Senate Banking Committee is to work up and improve federal laws related to banking. Now, do you think banks would like to have a thumb on the scales when such matters are being weighed? You bet they would. And do banks have lots and lots of money? Sure — that's why they're called, you know, "banks."
So is being chairman of the Senate Banking Committee one peach of a job for your average sleazy pol? Whaddya think?
Dodd's particular line of sleaze is getting into bed with real-estate developers, jointly purchasing properties with them, then having them sell out their shares to him for next to nothing.
What's in it for them? Well, for Missouri developer William Kessinger, there's been a half a million dollars in federal contract work. For New York speculator Edward Downe, there was a full Presidential pardon from Bill Clinton for some illegal trading he'd done.
Senator Dodd's memory for these events is about as clear as George David's is for Swedish wrestling sessions with Marie. One day Dodd tells CNN he had nothing whatsoever to do with approving the extravagant bonuses at AIG. Next day he came back and said his memory had been playing tricks: Yup, he had approved the bonuses. Heck, it was only 165 million dollars worth — who can remember penny-ante detail stuff like that?
Did I mention that AIG had been a big funder of Senator Dodd's political campaigns? I didn't? Well, perhaps it's not relevant. The contributions have only amounted to 280 thousand dollars — even more contemptibly insignificant than that 165 million in AIG bonuses.
Did I mention also that Senator Dodd's wife, Jackie Dodd, was until 2004 a director of a company based in Bermuda but affiliated with AIG? Does Senator Dodd have anything to tell us about that? He sure does, quote:
To try to connect the AIG bonuses and my wife's service on the board of this company, which ended five years ago, is nothing more than a cheap political attack.
Cheap political attack, huh? If that's the case, it's the only thing within a hundred miles of Senator Dodd that could fairly be described as "cheap." Looks to me like he's a pretty expensive legislator.
09 — Miscellany. Here's a wee miscellany of short items to see us off to bed.
Item: Weasel words of the week came from South African government spokes-weasel Thabo Masebe.
The background here is that South Africa is hosting the soccer World Cup next year. As part of the preliminary events, a conference was supposed to take place this week on the role of soccer in fighting racism.
So far so good. Unfortunately, one of the international worthies invited by the conference organizers was the Dalai Lama. That displeased China, which is now a huge player in southern Africa.
The ChiComs told the South African government to jump, the South Africans asked, "How high?" and the conference is now canceled.
Item: Here's a touching little story. This one really got to me.
Ninety-seven years ago, Englishman Arthur West, with his wife and their two infant daughters, emigrated to the U.S.A. They took second class passage on a new luxury liner, the Titanic.
Well, you know what happened. The ship hit an iceberg and started to go down. Women and children were loaded into lifeboats. After seeing his wife and babies safely into a lifeboat, Arthur West went back to his cabin to get a thermos of hot milk for them. When he got back to the lifeboat station, the boat was being lowered down the ship's side. Arthur shinnied down a rope, gave his wife the flask, then shinnied back up. They never saw him again.
All this came to light among the effects of the younger child, Barbara, who died just last year. Her mother had written it all down in a letter. The letter, and the actual thermos flask, are being auctioned next month in England.
Arthur West, a quiet hero of the Titanic.
Item: At the White House's celebration of Greek Independence Day on Wednesday afternoon, Archbishop Demetrios, who's head of the Greek Orthodox Church here, offered the following prediction for President Obama, quote: "Following the brilliant example of Alexander the Great … you will be able to cut the Gordian knot of these unresolved issues."
Interesting. If I remember my ancient history correctly, there are some respects in which perhaps Obama might not be wise to emulate the great Alexander. Not that there's anything wrong with it, you understand … I'm just saying.
Item: As perhaps Radio Derb listeners may know, the little town of Eufaula, down there in Alabama, is the condom capital of the U.S.A. That's where the Alatech rubber company has a big plant manufacturing condoms.
One of their biggest customers is Uncle Sam. The U.S. Agency for International Development distributes billions of American-made rubbers to countries around the world for purposes of AIDS prevention.
Well, it turns out that the U.S. condom industry is extra sensitive to the economic crisis. Uncle Sam wants cheaper condoms, and he's finding them in China — two cents per rubber, versus five cents for the Alabama article.
Sad story. You'd think there'd be something for the condom industry in the Stimulus Package, wouldn't you? Apparently not.
It occurs to me that one reason the Chinese condoms may be cheaper is that perhaps they're smaller? … but no, let's not go there. There is in fact an old cold war joke on this theme, but let's not go there, either.
Three hundred American jobs are at stake here, this is no time for ribbing.
Item: Little Timmy Geithner, our 14-year-old Treasury Secretary, who forgets to pay his income taxes and can't get anyone to come and work with him — Timmy got his foot stuck in his mouth yet again after the Governor of China's central bank suggested that the dollar should be replaced as the world's reserve currency with small, standard-sized cubes of bean curd.
Timmy said he thought this was a neat idea, and the dollar then fell one and a half percent against the Euro. Realizing his faux pas, our Treasury Secretary quickly said, quote: "I think the dollar remains the world's dominant reserve currency," end quote. The dollar thereupon recovered most of its losses.
That's the way the newspapers told it, anyway. My private suspicion is that Timmy is just having fun. He says this, the dollar goes down. He says that, the dollar goes up. Cool, or what?
Come on, the guy's having fun. Boys will be boys, even the ones who don't pay their income taxes.
Item: As readers of The Corner will know, my attention got snagged by the story of Mr Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who on Tuesday was certified as the first person known to have survived both atom bombs in Japan in 1945.
Ninety-three-year-old Mr Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip when that city got nuked. Having survived the blast with some nasty burns, he headed off to be with his wife and children in Nagasaki, getting there just in time for the second bomb.
It's sort of encouraging, in a way, at least for us constitutional pessimists. I mean, the guy got nuked twice and still he lived to be 93 and counting. So how bad will the coming nuclear war really be?
Item: Romania is considering a law to decriminalize incest. Quote from one Romanian, name of Ionut Breazu, a 27-year-old chauffeur in the city of Cluj, up there in Transylvania. Quote:
If brothers and sisters want to have fun, why should they be imprisoned? It is nobody's business what I do in my bedroom.
That's what Mr. Breazu of Cluj told the Associated Press. Why can't they have fun playing backgammon, like the rest of us?
I've actually been to Cluj, or Klausenberg as it was called back then. Nice little town up there in the mountains, the Carpathian mountains.
Ah, the mountains. The hills. Hills, hillbillies, incest … No, not going there either. What do you think this is, The Colbert Report?
10 — Signoff. That's the Derb-ert Report for this week. Tune in again next week for more fun with Timmy, Hillary, and all the gang at Radio Derb!
[Music clip: More Derbyshire Marches.]