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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, organ version]
[Background restaurant noise.]
Radio Derb, ladies and gents, coming to you from the noble city of Moscow, in the heart of old Russia. Yes, this is your Slavophilically genial host John Derbyshire on his travels once again, spreading the gospel of true conservatism to the Muzhiks of Muscovy.
Our last broadcast, you may recall, was from the sunny Caribbean two weeks ago, when I was on the National Review cruise with my research assistants Mandy, Candy, and Brandy. It was a splendid cruise, with a fine cast of conservative stars, and several hundred of the most discerning and politically astute citizens to keep us on our toes.
With many interesting pastimes, too, in between the panel discussions. One of my discoveries on that cruise was the system of oriental relaxation exercises known at Tai Chi, taught by a lissom young lady employee of the cruise line. Tai Chi is a most excellent form of exercise, just the thing to loosen you up first thing in the morning. Once I had mastered the basics, I undertook to teach my assistants. So there I was, outside on the stateroom veranda every morning before breakfast, drilling the girls. They enjoyed it very much. Now Tai Chi is part of the corporate exercise regimen at Buckley Towers, though we've been meeting some resistance from Jonah.
Then this week, off to Moscow for some negotiations about a possible Radio Derb franchise here in Mother Russia. We settled in with a couple of days' private time, doing the basic touristy things one does in Moscow — you know, going to the GUM department store to buy some concrete, that sort of thing.
I should explain that I am here with my dear wife. My research assistants were unfortunately unable to accompany me on this trip. Strange to say, they all three came down with food poisoning right after our family Thanksgiving barbecue, to which Mrs Derbyshire had graciously invited them. Fortunately no-one else was affected.
After settling in, we had some sessions with our negotiating partners, who seem all to be gentlemen with thick necks, close-cropped hair, and shiny suits. They are very affable though, and I'm sure a deal satisfactory to all parties will result.
I am actually speaking to you at this moment from a rather pleasant little bistro right in the heart of the city, within view of the Kremlin in fact. It's an out-of-the-way place someone told me about. I've been coming here for dinner every night with Mrs Derbyshire.
So, having thus established the mise en scène for you, I shall proceed with just a couple of very brief comments on the week's events. Yes, I'm afraid it's short measure on Radio Derb this week. Things will be back to normal, I assure you, once negotiations here are complete and my research staff have fully recovered from their unexpected health issues.
Which reminds me that a shout-out to my assistants is appropriate, as I am sure they are listening from their hospital beds. Get well soon, girls, over there in Columbia Presbyterian!
02 — Russian elections. I am sure you are looking to Radio Derb for guidance on the Russian elections this weekend. We are glad to oblige. Here is in-depth analysis, gleaned by careful enquiry among taxi drivers, waiters, persons encountered in bars, and the charming young lady who cleans our room.
These elections are not presidential. They are for the State Duma, Russia's equivalent of our own revered House of Representatives. The presidential election is next March, and Russia's equivalent of the Senate is locally appointed, not elected, just as ours was prior to the 17th Amendment.
There are really four parties in play here: Vladimir Putin's authoritarian, America-hating United Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's authoritarian, America-hating Liberal Democrats, the Communist Party we all know from long acquaintance, and a leftist outfit called Spravedlivaya Rossiya, "Fair Russia," widely suspected of having been created undercover by Mr Putin to draw away votes from the Communist Party.
Of these, the Communist Party retains some independence of spirit, but the others, I am told, are mere cats-paws of Mr Putin. They rarely vote against him in the House on anything important.
So why bother to vote? The answer I generally get from Russian acquaintances is: "To avoid losing your job." If you work for a company of any size, or for a government office, your employer depends on the patronage of United Russia. He doesn't want to lose that patronage, and Mr Putin wants a good show at the polls; the result follows.
All of that notwithstanding, Mr Putin may not get things all his own way this year. The system he has created, and which his party dominates, is increasingly unpopular. Putin was actually booed at a recent event. Once people show they are not afraid to boo the Great Leader at a public ceremony, you are in a different political landscape, as Mr Ceausescu of Romania and his wife could tell you, if they were still among us. People are predicting a big protest vote for the Communist Party this weekend.
That is as much as anyone's predicting at this point, though. United Russia, Putin's party, still controls of all the organs of official power, including major media outlets, and they are adept at the arts of ballot stuffing and getting the population of the cemeteries out to vote. It was a Russian, remember, or at least a Ukrainian claimed by Russia, who wrote the book Dead Souls.
The chances are good that Putin will survive the present discontent and that his party will still dominate the House, though perhaps with a reduced majority.
As for the presidential election next year, Putin is elegible to run for another, non-consecutive, term, and he is doing so. The chances are likewise good that he will be the next president of Russia.
Russia has improved considerably in material standards and openness since the days of Brezhnev. Politically, however, she remains the backward country cousin of Western Civilization. Indeed, the Liberal Democrat leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky denies that Russia belongs to Western Civ. at all.
For five hundred years Russia has been asking itself: "Are we Asian, or European?" Russia still can't make up her mind.
03 — Iran loots British embassy. In another case of history repeating itself, a rabble of young thugs sacked the British embassy in Teheran.
This reminds us that while Western Civ. may have its problems with backward country cousins, beyond the zone of Western Civ., even the most elementary rules of civilized behavior are not reliably observed. Tribes of head-hunters in Brazil's Matto Grosso understand that ambassadors exchanged between tribes must be treated with respect, or else no kinds of inter-tribal dealings can be accomplished.
The government of Iran seems not to understand this. From the nature of the attack on Britain's embassy, it's plain that the event was sanctioned and co-ordinated by some faction in the Iranian government.
Britain has withdrawn diplomatic representation in protest, and several other European countries have recalled their ambassadors for consultation, also by way of protest. Events from now on are unpredictable, but let there be no doubt what body of knowledge should guide those events from the Western side. It will be the body of knowledge, accumulated over centuries, concerning the handling of barbarous nations by civilized ones.
04 — The U.S. campaign trail. Consumed as we have been here with large issues of international geopolitics, Radio Derb has had little time to focus on campaign events back in the home country. Casting a quick glance, what do we see?
The scattered remains of the Herman Cain campaign are burning away quietly in a field in Kentucky somewhere. Cain seems to have been caught out doing what Bill Clinton was doing twenty years ago: paying off a mistress. Clinton got away with it, thanks to skillful campaign management and a press corps determined to help him get elected. Herb, alas, has neither of those things going for him. Sad: He's a nice guy, and an American original.
Newt Gingrich was flavor of the week last time I addressed the nation; now that flavor too seems to be going a little sour. The sheer scope of Newt's self-enrichment schemes seems to be sinking in to an increasingly disgusted electorate, and some pointed campaign ads by the Ron Paul people are highlighting Newt's innumerable changes of position on the issues.
I came in for some rude emails for having called Newt Gingrich, quote, "a bag of wind." I stand by that opinion, though, and I can't say I'm sorry to see the bag beginning to deflate.
It's just five weeks to the Iowa caucuses. Rick Perry's floundering around in single poll digits, Michele Bachmann can't seem to get her momentum back, and Ron-Ron's maxed out his support. Nobody else is anywhere much, except …
Well: At this point I would say that the 2012 Republican nomination is going to be about as much of a surprise as the Russian presidential election.
05 — Signoff. I'm afraid that's all that the Russian bandwidth will bear, ladies and gentlemen, and all that I have had time to assemble in the press of business negotiations, and deprived as I am of the invaluable services of my research assistants.
From our cozy little bistro in the shadow of the Kremlin walls, I shall therefore sign off for this week.
Before I do so, the bistro itself is worth a brief word of tribute. As I said, we've been coming here every night. The food is superb and the service excellent. Only problem is, they have this truly awful lounge singer who comes on around nine thirty. This guy, believe me, couldn't carry a tune in a sack. I don't know why they employ him. Some of the restaurant patrons have been getting restive the last couple of nights.
Oh, here he comes. Oh Lord, this is going to be awful. Just concentrate on your food, honey, and try not to think about the singer. Heads down.
[Music clip: Vladimir Putin singing "Blueberry Hill"][Boos and hisses from audience … Sound of gunshots …]