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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! This is your incandescently genial host John Derbyshire, broadcasting to you from our island in the Aegean Sea, courtesy of our proprietor Taki Theodoracopolous.
Here in the balmy Mediterranean the sun is shining, the waves are sighing on the shore, the figs are ripening, the goats are getting plump, and the Euros are getting scarce.
The show must go on, though, so here it is: all the week's essential news in half an hour.
02 — Romney fundraiser: The 47 percent. Political news this week was dominated by video of a Mitt Romney fundraiser back in May. The leftist magazine Mother Jones got hold of the video, with the assistance of Jimmy Carter's grandson, and lefties nationwide have been shrieking and swooning over Remarks by Romney that they think are outrageous.
The bar for "outrageous" among the leftoids is now so low that it's outrageous to mention that Barack Obama plays golf, or lived in Chicago, so I wasn't expecting to be knocked off my chair by whatever it was Romney said. Sure enough, it was pretty dull stuff. Let's hear the man.
[Clip: "There are 47 percent of the people …"]
All right, it wasn't very coherent. Romney was speaking unscripted, though — I think he was actually answering a question — and not many of us are very good at that. In the confused way these things come out, he got some key points across: the point, for example, that people who don't pay income tax aren't very responsive to politicians proposing lower levels of taxation. As the kids say: duh.
And yes, the entitlement mentality has metastasized. That's why Sandra Fluke had her 15 minutes of fame, demanding that the government pay for her birth control pills. That kind of thing is rampant, as you know if you get out much.
With time to deconstruct the issue, and the internet at their fingertips to give them numbers, good reporters — notably an un-bylined one at the Associated Press — showed that Romney was conflating three groups of Americans: dedicated Obama voters, people getting federal benefits, and people who pay no income tax. There's a lot of overlap, but they are three distinct groups.
And while there's a lot of overlap, there's a lot of non-overlap, too. Retirees on Social Security, for example, belong in group two — people getting federal benefits — but a majority of them vote Republican. Then again, among people paying no income taxes, there are some who are pretty rich — 4,000 households earning more than a million dollars a year pay no income tax, according to the AP reporter. It's not likely that all of them are Obama voters.
And then of course you can pick nits about whether Social Security and Medicare recipients are really getting freebie benefits from the government, or are just getting the fair return on money they've paid in all their working lives.
When you've picked all the nits, though, there's a core of truth in what Romney said that I think has a lot of Americans nodding along with it. Yes, around half the nation wants the federal government to do more for them, or at any rate not less. And the other half of us think it's already doing way too much. And that's the main issue in this election.
In fact it's two issues: a cultural one, and a fiscal one. The cultural issue is about personal responsibility versus dependency on government. The fiscal issue is about how much money the federal government takes from us, how much it spends, and how the two sides of that equation are distributed among us.
Radio Derb says the proper line between responsibility and dependency is way this side of Uncle Sam buying Sandra Fluke's birth control pills, and considerably to this side of where it currently lies; and we say that the feds take too much from us, spend way too much, and distribute the taking and the spending both in cockeyed ways — ways mostly determined by sharp operators representing special interests with no connection with or concern for the nation at large.
03 — Income tax vs. republican government. On the matter of people not paying income tax, Romney was pretty much on target: the number is 46 percent, not 47 percent. The vast majority of those households just have below average earnings: ninety percent of them have less than $50,000 coming in.
That 46 percent not paying income tax is a record in recent years. In the year 2000 it was just 34 percent, so the non-taxpaying cohort has increased by nearly half since then. In 1969 it was a mere twelve percent. Good grief! When I got my first paid employment in the U.S.A., in 1973, it was a bit higher, around 15 percent.
Going further back, though, the percentage not paying income tax has been way higher. Next February marks the centenary of the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, quote in its entirety, quote: "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration." That was ratified by the necessary number of states on February 3rd, 1913. The first tax collection day was a year and some later: March 1st, 1914.
The first Constitutionally-approved federal income tax touched very few Americans. It only kicked in at an annual income of $3,000, and there were deductions and exemptions right from the start. Lots of them: the income tax act of 1913 was a stupendous 14 pages long …
Since the average American worker only earned $800 a year, most people paid nothing. That "most" was way more than today's 46 percent: much closer to ninety-six percent.
The governor of one of the Southern states, I think it was Georgia, was asked why his state legislature had ratified the Sixteenth. Because, he replied, nobody in his state made $3,000 a year, so it made no difference to anyone. He was surely exaggerating, but not by much.
We've come a long way since then — much too far, in the opinion of those of us with libertarian tendencies. As Robert A. Heinlein said: If taxation is theft, the income tax is grand larceny. It's also a gross intrusion on our personal privacy. The last dispute I had with the IRS concerned a new cesspool I'd had installed under my front lawn. I recall thinking at the time: What the hell business of Uncle Sam is my new cesspool?
Now, with 46 percent of households paying no income tax, the income tax even fails on the argument you hear, usually but not always from leftists, that, quote, "everyone should have some skin in the game." Under other forms of revenue-raising — sales taxes, tariffs — far more people, in fact a hundred percent, have "skin in the game."
The income tax is an atrocity. It should be scrapped, just as Ron Paul says. That's not going to happen, of course — certainly not under a Republican administration. They wouldn't even let Congressman Paul speak at their damn convention. It ought to happen, though; we'd be a better country if it did happen; and those of us who know this have a duty to keep saying so.
04 — Romney fundraiser: Palestinians. The other thing Romney said that had lefties shrieking and swooning concerned the Palestinians. Let's hear the guy.
[Clip: "The Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace …"]
More "duh." Who ever thought the Palestinians, or any other Muslim Arabs, or Muslim anybody, come to think of it, who ever thought they did have any interest in "establishing peace."
Thirty years ago Israel withdrew from the Sinai, dismantling Israeli settlements there as they left: now, thirty years on, Egyptian-Israeli relations are colder than they were then. El Al, Israel's main passenger airline, wants to shut down its flights to Cairo due to, quote, "security concerns," and a shortage of travelers.
After the Oslo Accords of the mid-1990s it really looked as though peace might break out, but Yasser Arafat soon scotched that with his Second Intifada.
Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and all the reward they've had is barrages of incoming missiles.
Meanwhile, Israel, population seven and a half million, is sharing its neighborhood with Egypt, Turkey, and Iran, each with eighty million people, more or less. Egypt I just covered; Turkey has gone from pro-Israel (or at any rate anti-anti-Israel) to anti-Israel; and high officials in the government of Iran regularly make public vows to destroy Israel.
This thing never changes. You can go back to the beginning. The Arabs didn't want the Jews to have even the puny state the United Nations granted them in 1948. You can go back, you can go forward. It hasn't changed, it won't change, and most Israelis now understand this. That's why Israeli liberals are an endangered species.
<Sigh> If only we could get American liberals down to the same condition.
05 — Muslims going wild. Meanwhile, we've got Muslims going nuts all over.
I'm looking at this news story on the Al Jazeera website, headline: Pakistan hit by anti-Islam video protests. It comes with a picture of a young man leaning back to throw something quite large and solid-looking.
Now, Islam-wise, I'm a separationist. No problem with Islam: it's a noble and ancient religion. No problem with law-abiding and civilized Muslims, who of course are legion. I just don't think it's a good idea to permit large-scale settlement of Muslims in Western countries. Since we are under no legal or moral obligation to permit such settlement, we shouldn't. To the degree that we have done so, we are fools.
Having said that, though, I'd plead for a sense of proportion about these riots. I've been reading the newspapers for well over half a century, and I can't recall a time when some people — usually students, as seems to be the case today in Pakistan — when somebody wasn't rioting outside a U.S. Embassy. In my student days we made a joke out of it: "I know a guy who lives in Venezuela — in the capital city, just a stone's throw from the American Embassy!" You could replace Venezuela in the joke by a dozen other countries over the decades, but the joke still works.
Well, here's this guy in the Al Jazeera picture, in Islamabad, just a stone's throw from the American Embassy. This is not new stuff.
And bear in mind that every population contains some portion of loonies. Quote from the Al Jazeera report, quote: "In Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, more than 200 protesters set fire to an effigy of Barack Obama." End quote. Nasty stuff: but the population of Muzaffarabad is 725,000, so those protestors comprised just 0.03 percent of Muzaffarabadians. The overwhelming majority of Muzaffarabadians were going about their daily business.
Islam has some particular problems, which I think we should leave them alone to sort out, while taking care to keep them out of our countries. Those problems arise from an unresolved contradiction between their yearning for Western things and methods while hating the West for its past humiliations of them. The contradiction is illustrated by that other old embassy joke, which I'm pretty sure was not totally a joke, about the students who spent their afternoons lobbing rocks at the U.S. Embassy after spending their mornings patiently lined up at the Visa Section to get their U.S. visa applications processed.
Here's a thing I wrote three days after 9/11, which I think has held up pretty well, longish quote:
A common word for Europeans in the Arabic language is feringji, from "Frank," i.e. crusader. Arabs don't hate us because we support Israel. They hate us because we humiliated them, showed up the gross inferiority of their culture. To them, and similarly humiliated peoples, we are the other, detested and feared in a way we can barely understand. Things got really bad in the 19th century. When European society achieved industrial lift-off, Europeans were suddenly buzzing all over the world like a swarm of bees. They encountered these other cultures, that had been vegetating in a quiet conviction of their own superiority for centuries (or in the case of the Chinese, millennia). When these encounters occurred, the encountered culture collapsed in a cloud of dust. Some of them, like the Turks, managed to reconstitute themselves as more or less modern nations; others, like the Arabs and the Chinese, are still struggling with the trauma of that encounter. Neither the Arabs nor the Chinese, for example, have yet been able to attain rational, constitutional government.
End quote. We should all hope they get there eventually. In the meantime, the wisest course for us is to not interfere in any way, since anything we do will have unforeseen consequences. The neocon belief, which I admit I once briefly shared, that we could direct the development in a way agreeable to us, is now believed by nobody of any consequence outside the pages of the Weekly Standard.
Without any ill-will or prejudice, Islamia should just be fenced off and left to develop as best it can. The less contact we have with them, outside the nakedly commercial, the better both for us and for them. Where we must have points of contact, as is the case with our embassies, we should make it clear we expect the full protection of the host power, with dire consequences when that protection is not forthcoming. That is a rational and sensible policy towards Islam. I offer it to the U.S. government, and waive my consulting fee.
06 — Ructions in the West Pacific. Now, I don't want anyone to get unnecessarily alarmed; and yes, I know, I have written a book titled We Are Doomed, though I meant it in the nicest possible way; but the world at large does seem to be going through a dangerous stage.
I'm not talking about those embassy riots, which I think we can take in our stride, although we'd be much better able to do so if we had sensible immigration policies. Leaving those aside, there is the heating-up over Iran, which gets daily closer to having nuclear weapons. The Israelis are naturally and reasonably worried about this, the more so as the President of their only substantial ally seems to prefer attending election fundraisers in Las Vegas to attending to this very inflammable situation.
Trying to game the thing, Western nations have assumed that if Israel attacks Iran, Iran will retaliate by, at the very least, mining the Straits of Hormuz, through which much of the world's oil supply passes on its way to consumers.
So this week a 25-nation armada of ships is holding an exercise in the Persian Gulf. It's some exercise: three, count 'em, three U.S. carrier groups, plus ballistic missile cruisers, frigates, destroyers, and assault ships carrying thousands of U.S. Marines and Special Forces. The once glorious and invincible Royal Navy of Britain has contributed, er, three minesweepers. Perhaps the Brits are holding back their main naval force to bombard French ports if there are any more insults to Kate Middleton's knockers.
And now on top of all that we have ructions in the west Pacific, where some little scattered group of mostly-uninhabited islands are being squabbled over by, deep breath here, China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and both Koreas. Some of this is straightforward economics: the seabed around these islands is though to hold 200 billion barrels of oil — that's seventy years worth of Saudi production at current rates — and also a quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas, around ten years' worth of Russian production, currently the world's biggest.
Not all of it is economics, though. There are some unresolved issues here, and some mighty grudges. Of the unresolved issues, China-Taiwan is the big one, North-South Korea the lesser one. Of the grudges, by far the biggest is China's against Japan.
You'd think the ChiComs would have forgotten about the Rape of Nanking after all this time, especially since they murdered far more Chinese people than the Japanese managed to. As I have remarked before: If there is a prize awarded in hell for killing Chinese people, the easy winner for the 20th century would be Mao Tse-tung.
Perhaps to direct their people's attention away from this unfortunate fact, the ChiComs work mightily to keep anti-Japanese resentment alive. Here is the opinion of my own Chinese wife, communist-educated, on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, quote: "Why only two?" The Chinese word guizi, which means "ghost," and is an abbreviation for yang guizi — "foreign devil" — has been pretty much shamed out of conversational usage in most contexts: but I have seen it printed in a Chinese high-school textbook referring to Japanese soldiers.
So while our embassies and consulates in the Middle East and West Asia are piling sandbags round the doors, the equivalent Japanese missions in Chinese cities are doing the same.
Will this all end in tears? Who knows? Not me. The ChiComs are feeling their oats, though; and they might feel that a nasty flare-up in the Israel-Iran conflict might give them cover to do a spot of imperializing in the West Pacific. The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported this week that the senior political officer in the ChiCom military, General Xu Caihou, told a unit he was visiting in North China last Friday that military forces should be, quote, "prepared for any possible military combat." Yes, it could be bluster, but senior Chinese military men don't normally talk like that for publication.
Looming fiscal collapse; a critical election; Israel threatening Iran; China, Japan, and their neighbors tussling over South Sea islands; our Libyan ambassador killed, his body dragged through the streets; the Eurozone crumbling … I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help? Why, from the British tabloids, of course!
07 — Boobs, royal and well-spaced. Last week in our closing miscellany, Radio Derb reported on the news concerning King Tut's man boobs.
Just to remind you: His Majesty died aged 18 or 19 around 1323 b.c. His tomb, unusually intact, was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter, and King Tut became a celebrity in that first modern Age of Celebrities, along with Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford, Charles Lindbergh, and Marie of Romania.
The cause of the king's death has been much speculated upon. Now some British researcher has put it down to a neurological condition, one of whose side effects is, yes, man boobs — or gynecomastia, as we doctors say. The condition is most unusual in teenage males, but evident on some of the king's statues.
That was last week's story. Now, continuing with our efforts to keep you abreast of the news, here are two more stories on related themes.
The first story concerns a Chinese beauty contest to find the ten most beautiful college students in Hubei Province, China. The contest has very strict requirements as to applicants' physical dimensions: notably, the nipples must be no further than 20 centimeters apart.
That is of course a segue to the big bristols story of the last few days, the one about Kate Middleton being photographed topless by a paparazzo with a telephoto lens operating half a mile away. (Oh: "bristols," I should explain to those listeners who have not enjoyed the advantages of an English upbringing, "bristols" is Cockney rhyming slang for breasts, there being a famous soccer team over there named Bristol City.)
Kate is more formally the Duchess of Cambridge, a title she acquired after marrying William Windsor, second in line (after his Dad, Prince Charles) to the British throne. Earlier this month the Duchess was relaxing with her Prince at the magnificent Chateau D'Autet in the south of France. An intrepid paparazzo, from half a mile away, took some low-resolution pictures of Her Grace sunbathing topless and sold them to a French magazine. And yes, there's a political angle here, though a perfectly inconsequential one: the magazine is owned by Italian ex-Prime Minister and notorious horn dog Silvio Berlusconi.
When the Windsors found out about the pending publication they were not amused. The Duchess in fact blew her top. They sued in French courts to prevent publication of the pictures. The pictures were published anyway, and you can of course see them on the internet; but on Tuesday this week the court issued an injunction banning further publication under penalty of major fines. The Duchess, through her spokes-lackey, declared it a, quote, "wonderful decision."Having got that off her chest, Kate decided that she and Bill should rack up a few more frequent flier miles with a trip to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, where she was met by a welcoming committee of local girls in traditional Melanesian costume, whose top part consists of only some strings of beads. The embarrassed Duchess either hooted with laughter or tittered, depending on which tabloid you read.
08 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: A special Darwin Award should be given to Abdullah Ismail of Lahore, Pakistan — Rudyard Kipling's old city — who died this week from inflammation of the lungs after inhaling smoke from a burning U.S. flag. I would like to believe that our government is so wily, they steep our embassy flags in some chemical that emits intensely poisonous fumes when burned. I say I would like to believe that, but of course I don't: our rulers are far too timid and unimaginative to think of such a thing. Anyway, requiescat in pace Mr. Ismail, and may your 72 virgins all be wearing flame-retardant knickers.
Item: There are some headlines you just can't resist. Here's one, from the London Daily Mail, September 19th, headline: Japanese man who cooked his genitals and served them to paying guests is charged with indecent exposure. With a headline like that, you fear to read the story, in case it turns out to be an anticlimax. I'll have a go at it, though.
Quote: "Mao Sugiyama, 23, had his penis and testicles surgically removed by a physician in March … they were served up at a banquet in Suginami, a residential area in western Tokyo … He charged guests around $250 per person to eat the meal which was garnished with mushrooms and parsley … In total around 70 people attended the event … While five people tucked into Mao Sugiyama's genitalia, the rest of them ate beef or crocodile." End quote.
Well, that's got to be a new dining experience. I hope it doesn't catch on around here. Can you imagine? You go out for a nice candlelit dinner with your love interest; the waiter bustles over and gives you each a menu, then starts reading off the specials: "We have the quail's eggs with asparagus, the duck a l'orange, and — extra special tonight! — the chef's reproductive organs, garnished with mushrooms and parsley!"
I can't improve on the highest-rated reader comment following the story, quote: "I hope none of the diners was allergic to nuts."
Item: A follow-up to the story about Kate Middleton's little embarrassment, or should I say, little embarrassments plural, you might want to start thinking about drones. Not the great big fellers the military uses, but small, cheap drones that an amateur might send buzzing around your neighborhood, perhaps spying on the Mrs. while she's out on the deck sunbathing.
It's a fast-rising new technology. Head over to the Brookstone's in your local mall: they'll sell you a gadget called the Quadricopter for $299.99. It's a wee drone, with four rotors that will let it hover anywhere and take pictures, all controlled from your iPad or smart phone.
Check out the article on these cheap, private mini-drones in the current issue of Discover magazine, or read Chris Anderson's article in wired.com. From which latter, quote:
DIY Drones — an online community that I founded in 2007 — has 26,000 members, who fly drones that they either assemble themselves or buy premade from dozens of companies that serve the amateur market. All told, there are probably around 1,000 new personal drones that take to the sky every month; that figure rivals the drone sales of the world's top aerospace companies (in units, of course, not dollars). And the personal drone industry is growing much faster.
End quote. The personal drone industry is, in other words, about today where personal computing was 35 years ago. Another couple of generations of the technology, and paparazzi with telephoto lenses will be out of business. Something to think about, and not just for royal duchesses.
Item: Some news from the fine old town of Uttoxeter in Staffordshire, England, population 13,000. As has been the case with many U.S. municipalities, Uttoxeter has been facing a nasty budget crunch. Expenses are soaring, revenues are falling, and the town's investments have flatlined in the current flat financial markets.
The town fathers have done what some of their American counterparts have done: laid off their police force. Those 13,000 townsfolk have, depending on the precise time of week, between zero and three officers to protect them and their property.
Why should you care about this? I can't think of any reason. So why am I telling you about it? Why, in order to give myself an excuse to recite one of my favorite limericks. Ahem.
There once was a girl from Uttoxeter,
09 — Signoff. That's it, folks. I'm off to Nikki's for a goatburger and a splash of ouzo. The girls are nowhere in sight; I guess they're out on the beach sunbathing. Their week's work is done once they've handed me the research transcripts. Out on the beach sunbathing … hmmm … Note to self: check out the airmail shipping rates for Brookstone's products.
OK, here to see us out is some classic Hank Williams. It just came to mind while I was doing the show, I don't know why.
[Music clip: Hank Williams, "Rootie Tootie"]