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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, organ version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! This is your pontifically genial host John Derbyshire with highlights from the week's news.
We are still in our makeshift studio at the Derb estates on Long Island, surrounded by unopened packing crates, while we sort out the finances here. Donations please to VDARE.com.
My ever-loyal research assistants are restricted to an adjoining room under round-the-clock video surveillance from Mrs Derbyshire over at the main house.
I worried that they might be getting restive with all the uncertainty about their continuing employment, but Manuel the pool boy has been going in there to play pinochle with them, selflessly sacrificing his own time, to relieve the tension, for which I am grateful. Thank you, Manuel! Mrs Derbyshire, who observes on closed circuit, tells me his pinochle technique is very deft.
OK, what's been going on this week? Politics, of course.
02 — Not yet the Last Trump. Those who are waiting for Donald Trump to self-destruct continue to be disappointed.
After that little bout with Fox News's Megyn Kelly in the August 6th debate, when Kelly tried to nail Trump on having made unkind remarks about Gyno-Americans, Trump doubled down the next day, Friday, in a CNN interview where he talked about that exchange, saying of Kelly, quote, "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her … wherever."
You don't need to have a wildly overheated imagination to read that as a menstruation reference. Whether Trump intended that or not I don't know, and neither do you, and quite possibly neither does he. A Trump campaign spokesperson said that only a deviant would think so, but come on. If I'm a deviant, then all I can say is that deviancy has been defined way down, all the way down to law-abiding old married guys who like opera.
As a Trump supporter, I wish he'd start doing a little work on the gravitas thing. But then, again as a Trump supporter, I'm glad to see that neither the Thursday exchange nor the Friday follow-up remark seems to have dented his support. Polls at midweek showed Trump ahead of the rest of the GOP field both among likely GOP primary votes nationally and among likely Iowa caucus-goers.
So the archangel Gabriel has not yet sounded the Last Trump. The Donald marches on. We're already hearing him called the Teflon Don. That's the tag that used to be attached to late Mafioso John Gotti because of the feds' inability to make charges against him stick. At last they did make something stick, and Gotti died in jail.
So teflon works until it doesn't. That's just by way of a caution to Trump and his handlers.
Meanwhile, however things come out at last, Trump is doing the Lord's work shaking up the GOP side of the 2016 campaign. There were the professional pols in the August 6th debate, reading the focus-group-tested answers from their shirt cuffs; and there was Trump breaking the rules of genteel politics, rattling the GOP teacups and refusing the cucumber sandwiches.
The reason we Trump supporters like the guy so much is precisely that following the rules has gotten us — us patriotic conservatives — nowhere. Following the rules got us eight years of George W. Bush, who gave us open borders, missionary wars, and "When somebody hurts, Government has got to move." Then it got us eight years of Barack Obama, who gave us open borders, amnesty for foreign scofflaws, radical-left Supreme Court justices, and eighteen trillion dollars of debt.
Maybe if we knock over a few teacups and throw the cucumber sandwiches around, we'll get some conservative policies at last. Hey, it's worth a try.
03 — If Trump is Cecil, who's Walt Palmer? So right now Donald Trump is king of the GOP jungle. That raises the question: If Trump is Cecil the lion, who's going to play the part of Dr Walt Palmer?
First in the audition line is the GOP establishment. Bigfoot establishment commentator George Will and former George W. Bush staffer Michael Gerson this week called for the party to purge Trump. National Review has been running anti-Trump diatribes for a month now. Make no mistake: What my VDARE colleague Peter Brimelow calls "Conservatism, Inc." hate the guy and want him out of the race.
However, there are two problems with that: mutually exclusive problems, but problems none the less.
If Trump is scrubbed from the GOP roster, then he will either run as an independent, or else he won't.
If he runs as an independent, his supporters, who really like him, and who would otherwise mostly be GOP voters, will vote for him anyway, handing the Presidency to the Democrats 1992-style.
If Trump is tossed out of the GOP and decides not to run as an independent, leaving the GOP ticket to some lackluster Chambers of Commerce sock puppet, disgruntled Trump fans will tune out and stay home on election day, as they did when Romney ran in 2012, again delivering the Presidency to the party of amnesty, public-sector unions, and Al Sharpton.
So minus Trump in the GOP field, the betting is on a rerun of either 1992 or 2012. Pat Buchanan, in a brilliant column this Thursday, referred to the 1992 scenario as "the Samson Option."
Quote from Pat, which I know he won't mind, quote:
Trump should tell the GOP that if it disrespects him and his followers, then he is prepared to do as did the biblical hero Samson, when, blinded and mocked by the Philistines, he pushed the pillars apart and brought the temple down upon the heads of them all.
With respect to Pat, I'm not sure they will. This is, after all, the Stupid Party we're talking about.
One more quote from Pat: he's very quotable, as always. Quote:
Thursday, the Census Bureau revealed that a record 42.1 million immigrants, here legally and illegally, are in the U.S., a population explosion being driven by Mexicans still flooding across the border.
The establishment GOP answers to Pat's questions are: Yes, it's xenophobic, and yes, it's outrageous. Now shut up and vote.
We may be at the end of the era when attitudes like that win elections for the GOP.
04 — The fox and the lion. Next in the audition line for the part of Walt Palmer is Fox News. So at any rate a lot of my Trumpophile friends seem to believe.
Is it true? Is Fox News trying to bring down Trump? Is that what last week's Trump-Kelly contretemps was all about?
It wouldn't be astonishing if that were the case. It's not much of a secret that Rupert Murdoch is not a Trump fan. Heck, he's tweeted about it. Fox News is top-loaded with neocon commentators like Charles Krauthammer and Karl Rove. Their "fair and balanced" roster includes foam-flecked open-borders fanatics like Geraldo Rivera. It is by no means a stretch to see Fox News as anti-Trump.
On the other side, those high poll numbers for Trump surely include a lot of Fox News viewers. A great many Republicans are fed up with their party's establishment and glad to see the teacups getting rattled.
So there have to be some serious debates going on among senior suits at Fox News. One faction will be saying: "We can't afford to lose Trump supporters. That's a big chunk of our viewer base." Than another faction will reply: "Nah, where else are they going to go? MSNBC? And the guy's bound to self-destruct sooner or later. We may as well hasten the day."
Fox News is in other words in the same bind as the establishment GOP. They can shut the door on Trump, and I'm sure would like to; but doing so would cost them. They could end up with their tie caught in the shut door.
I don't know how all this is going to play out, and nor does anyone else. I'm glad Trump's in the race, and I'm glad he's doing what he's doing. It needs doing.
Assuming the Donald is going to press on forward, here's this week's suggestion for Trump from Radio Derb.
Sir: You've opened up the immigration issue, which was badly in need of opening up. Now go for some focus. Pick a particular aspect of the immigration issue and hammer on it. My suggestion: a moratorium. Just get the word in circulation: a moratorium. You can spin it positive: "We've taken in a lot of people this past fifty years, let's take a breather so they can assimilate, as happened 1924-65 …" Something like that.
A moratorium on immigration: Come on Donald, get the m-word in play.
05 — Here comes the anti-Trump. If Trump's the candidate for people who hate machine politics, who's the anti-Donald — the candidate for people who don't mind machine politics a bit?
I'd say the lead contender for that title, and the perfect reassurance for people who find Trump's anti-establishment approach disturbing and disorienting, is … Joe Biden.
Is Joe going to run? That's a very interesting question. The answer depends mostly on how Hillary Clinton looks a few weeks from now.
Hillary's not to be underestimated. Her poll numbers are good and she has a solid base of support. The other day I was in conversation with a person who works closely with one of the big labor unions. He said his members all lo-o-o-ove Hillary. No, I don't get it either — what in heaven's name do they love about her? — but this guy knows his business.
Like Donald Trump, though, Hillary inspires strong emotions. There is a solid bloc of Hillary-haters out there, by no means all of them Republicans. Some of the Bernie Sanders movement is just anti-establishment, the mirror image of the Trump movement in the GOP; but some other of it is anti-Hillary.
And the fuss over Hillary's cavalier use of government email services rumbles on. This week she responded to an FBI request by handing over her email server at last — professionally scrubbed clean of all data. It's not likely our politicized, Obamafied Justice Department minds that, but a lot of citizens and their congressmen do, and a special prosecutor is not out of the question.
Having the top name on your 2016 ticket breaking off from campaigning to give depositions to a special prosecutor is not optimal, even in today's Democratic Party.
A poll released Wednesday this week turned up a majority of voters, 52 percent, agreeing that Hillary's emails should be subject to a criminal investigation for the potential release of classified material. A majority of independents thought so, 54 percent. It may be that not even Obama can protect Hillary at last … and that's assuming he'd want to.
If what we are annoyingly, but inevitably, calling "emailgate" goes seriously south for Hillary, there'll be a big hole in the Democratic candidate field.
Could Joe Biden fill that hole? He surely could. For one thing, he has the tremendous advantage of being able to say: "I will continue on the Obama path that the country voted for twice."
Isn't Biden kind of a joke figure, though? Kinda goofy looking with those fake teeth, prone to meandering insomnia-cure speeches and dumb off-the-cuff remarks? Oh, and plagiarism?
Well, maybe; but whatever you think of Biden's abilities, they've kept him in politics his entire adult life, aside from a couple of years' perfunctory lawyering after college. That's more than forty years. He knows the business. He knows when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. He's a pro, an establishment pro — as I said, the anti-Trump.
The only real downside to Biden is his age. He'd be 74 at inauguration in 2016. I don't think that's a killer, though. Nineteen million Americans are older than that, and every darn one of them votes. Add in the labor union votes, the gentry liberals, all the blacks, most of the Hispanics and Asians … hey.
A Trump-Biden election would be really interesting: the quintessential outsider versus the quintessential insider. A lot of stuff would have to happen to bring that about, but none of it's unthinkable.
06 — United States of Hysteria. My defense of big game trophy hunter Walt Palmer — most recently my suggestion that he would make an excellent Secretary of the Interior in the Trump administration — has been generating some comment, including some negative comment from fellow conservatives.
That's fine, and I'm not unsympathetic to some of the points of view expressed. There are a few further things to be said, though.
On the matter of cruelty to animals, very few of us are really consistent. Any normal person would be horrified to see someone torturing a dog or a cat. Shooting an arrow into a charging tiger or grizzly bear is another matter, even if the arrow wound proves nonfatal.
And then, for anyone not a vegetarian, there are the slaughterhouses. Every day millions of large animals are killed for food. If you have any empathy for animals, you can imagine the terror they feel as they are led into the slaughter pens amid the smell of blood and the cries of their fellow-creatures and the strange, ominous clanking of machinery.
The British historian Paul Johnson, in one of his columns for the London Spectator, mentioned the public, public tortures, disembowellings, castrations, and decapitations of criminals in past times, even in civilized nations. He wondered aloud what aspect of the present age will be as horrifying to our desendants as those cruelties are to us. His top guess was the mass industrial slaughter of animals for food.
All this I know. I was even in a slaughterhouse once. I saw pigs being killed for their meat; and yes, they were terrified. It didn't put me off meat-eating, though. I still enjoy a good steak or chop or a nice crisp rasher of bacon.
And then, big game hunting — a man matching himself off against a dangerous wild beast — doesn't strike me as an ignoble sport. Sure, the advantage is all with the man. Things can go wrong, though, and big game hunters have been killed by their prey.
Big game hunting has the authority of tradition, too, which should not be nothing to a conservative. Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway hunted big game. The sport inspired some fine literature.
When I was growing up in England in the middle of the last century, a sizeable proportion of older adults had served in India when Britain ruled the place. A sizeable proportion of them had brought back to England a tiger-skin rug, memento of a trophy hunt by some man of the family. Your tiger-skin rug came complete with head, teeth, and glass replacement eyeballs. Let me tell you, when you're five years old and down close to that sucker, it leaves a lasting impression.
So yes, while I'm against wanton cruelty to animals, I don't mind them being killed for food, or for sport under reasonably sporting conditions. Whether Dr Palmer's killing of Cecil falls under the definition of "reasonably sporting" strikes me as a matter for lawyers and nitpickers, in which I can't summon up much interest. As I said originally, this happened in Zimbabwe, a barbarous place where the very concept of law leaks like a sieve.
What mainly bothers me about the Cecil incident is what it shows us about our society, present-day America.
Let me backtrack a few years. One of the scariest books I have ever read, which left almost as deep an impression on me as those tiger-skin rugs of my childhood, was Dorothy Rabinowitz's No Crueler Tyrannies. Published in 2003, the book tells the stories of the child-abuse hysteria that swept our country in the 1980s and 1990s. Scores of innocent people were hounded and persecuted for crimes which not only never happened, but which in many cases could not possibly have happened. Ambitious public prosecutors — including Janet Reno, who went on to become U.S. Attorney General — gullible juries, and "expert" witnesses who were experts in nothing but their own crackpot theories, conspired to commit monstrous injustices; and the horrors went on for years, actually for decades. It's a terrifying story of public hysteria. If you haven't read No Crueler Tyrannies, I urge you to do so.
That's the aspect that interests me in the Cecil story, and in the previous hysteria about the Confederate flag. Some small background feature of the world — a flag, a sport — has been whispering away quietly for ever without anyone much noticing; then suddenly it's dragged to the front of the public stage, and we're all bused in to perform a Two Minutes' Hate against someone who, two weeks earlier, could have run for mayor without anyone minding.
It's irrational. It's unreason let loose. The particular subject — a flag, a sport — is not intrinsically important, not to me anyway. To be blunt, I couldn't care less whether or not South Carolina's state capitol flies the Confederate flag, or whether or not big game hunting continues to be a sport.
I care very much, though, that I live in a country in which sudden waves of mass hysteria sweep through the populace, destroying people's lives and property — in the case of the child-abuse witch-hunts, getting harmless people locked up for decades. To me these are signs of pathology, of a really serious, actually quite scary, kind of instability, of a seriously disordered society.
What will the next Two Minutes Hate be about? Who will be its target? You? Me? Someone you know? Some opinion, some hitherto lawful practice, some group?
I believe there is a pathology here, a social sickness. It worries me; and yes, it scares me. Read Dorothy Rabinowitz's book, if you haven't already.
That's the aspect that interests me: mass hysteria in America, not the fate of some damn lion in Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe!
07 — Ferguson transformed by Social Justice Warriors. Mention of mass social hysteria naturally brings to mind the numerous incidents of recent years in which black lowlifes were killed while committing aggressions or resisting arrest.
These incidents were advertised to the public as cases of snarling white racists exercising their privilege to do as they please with innocent, baby-faced "black bodies." At least, they were thus advertised until the truth of the matter came out. Then the narrative collapsed, the hysteria subsided, and all was quiet for a while.
These race panics have more legs than one-off affairs like Cecil the lion or the Confederate flag because they plug directly into the sockets of WASP guilt and Jewish anti-WASP resentment. Even when the mass public hysteria fades, they live on in the background.
Probably not coincidentally in a commercial republic, they also generate a lot of revenue. Ta-Nehisi Coates' latest book, comprehensively reviewed here on Radio Derb last week, is making its author a very nice pile. Sure, the book itself is a pile of … different stuff; but I'm telling you, it's making a lot of money and being spoken deferentially of by mainstream panjandrums like David Brooks. The Black Lives Matter movement is thriving, thanks to major support from billionaire George Soros. At this point, Black Lives Matter is probably a major component of our Gross National Product.
Under these circumstances it wasn't very surprising to see the first anniversary of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri celebrated in appropriate style.
Yes: George Soros summoned the legions, Al Sharpton cleared his throat, Asian storekeepers boarded up their windows, mainstream media reporters polished up their black-victim clichés, and festivities commenced. St Louis County declared a state of emergency last weekend, and county police took over law enforcement in Ferguson, whose local force knows by now to stay securely in their patrol cars unless they want to have their careers destroyed and their houses trashed by the Soros-Sharpton battalions.
As things turned out it was all a bit of a frost. A beauty store was looted on Sunday night by, yes, "youths." (A beauty store? Were the youths hoping to cop some free beauty? Or did they mis-read the sign to say "booty"? Our investigations continue.) A bookstore was also looted … Nah, just screwing with ya.
Also on Sunday night, a youth, name of Tyrone Harris, 18 years old, was shot by police. Latest news I have is that little Tyrone — or Tyroney-poo, as we should now refer to him in proper infantilizing style — Tyroney-poo is in critical condition at the local hospital. Cops have charged him with four counts of assault on law enforcement, five counts of armed criminal action, and one count of shooting at a vehicle. Bond has been set at $250,000.
Accounts of the shooting of course differ. The police have published a surveillance video showing Harris brandishing a pistol at them. They have also released St Louis city court records according to which Harris was free on bail awaiting trial on charges of stealing a motor vehicle, theft of a firearm and resisting arrest.
Activists say that's all manufactured by the white privilege power structure determined to take down another black body. Harris, they say, was just walking quietly along the street solving partial differential equations on his pocket calculator while on his way to a chamber music concert.
No doubt the truth of the matter will come out when the Justice Department has conducted a full investigation.
Last weekend's disturbances in fact hardly registered as unusual for the Ferguson community in the months since Soros, Sharpton, and Obama rescued the place last year from rampaging mobs of hooded klansmen hunting down black bodies.
For example, the St Louis Post-Dispatch reported in April a disturbance in which a gas station was looted, 100 rounds were fired, trashcans were set on fire, police vehicles were vandalized, and three people were shot. That followed a bank robbery in March, and a drive-by shooting later in March in which a six-year-old boy was killed in a lengthy exchange of gunfire.
All that happened on just one street, mind: West Florissant Avenue, the same street where the beauty parlor was looted last weekend.
So really, Ferguson-wise, it's been just another week in the ghetto. All the fault of the white devils, of course.
The real tragedy here is that Ferguson didn't used to be seriously ghetto. The entire effect of all the protesting and demonstrating, the entire fruit of Soros's spending and Sharpton's blathering, has been to ghettoize the place.
A report from the real-estate service MARIS, also in March, says that prior to last year's ructions the average home in Ferguson sold for $67 thousand. At the time of the report in March this year the average home sale was for $23 thousand, a 66 percent drop.
These homeowners are not currency-speculator billionaires like Soros, or media darlings like Sharpton, or senior editors at plush publications like Ta-Nehisi Coates. They are working-class people who scraped together enough to buy a house in a not-bad suburb. A lot of them are black. Now the value of their homes has been wiped out, years of working, saving, and hoping all turned to dust.
But hey, who cares about them? We stuck it to The Man, didn't we? All together now: Hands up, don't shoot! Black lives matter!
No, no, don't unplug your earphones. I know this global-finance stuff is a snoozer, but it's important. Eat your greens!
Here's the Radio Derb primer on currency devaluation.
Say you're in charge of a nation with a currency, let's call it the Derb. Let's suppose that for official purposes, e.g. if you go to an authorized bank with some Derb bills and want to exchange them, the rate is ten Derb to the dollar. Black markets and secondary markets — futures and options — are complicating factors, but let's keep this simple.
So you own a manufacturing business in-country, local suppliers and local employees. You've produced goods at a total cost of a million Derbs. You sell those goods to Americans for 100 thousand dollars. You repatriate your 100 thousand dollars, it's a million Derbs. Congratulations! — you broke even.
Now suppose the Derb is devalued to twelve to the dollar. Nothing changed in-country; your costs are still a million Derbs. You ship out your goods and sell them at Walmart for 100 thousand dollars as before. You repatriate your 100 thousand dollars. Hey, it's 1.2 million Derbs! Two hundred thousand Derbs profit!
You can now do all sorts of things you couldn't do before. You could give your employees a raise, putting money in their pockets for them to spend. You could reduce the stateside price of your product, making it more competitive. You could invest in expanding your business, build a new factory. Or you could just buy yourself a yacht, domestically built one hopes, providing work and revenues for the yacht-building sector. For your country, it's all good. It's a stimulus. And you didn't do anything! The devaluation did it all for you! Like magic!
This being the case, you might wonder why countries don't devalue all the time. The answer is, there are downsides — many, many. To name just the most obvious: If you import raw materials, which most countries do, and which China does big-time — that's why Australia's been doing so well — currency devaluation makes those materials more expensive in Derbs, and that ripples through manufacturing and consumer pricing.
But as a one-off stimulus when you feel your economy's flagging, devaluation's a neat deal if you can pull it off. To be able to pull it off, you need to have tight control of your currency, otherwise international currency markets will undo what you just did. That's not so much of an issue for China, which does control its currency tightly.
Bottom line here: The control freaks in Peking are worried about their economy — worried enough to go for a quick stimulus regardless of the downsides.
Their worries are political, understand, much more urgently so than they would be in a free society. The reason the Communist Party is still in charge in China is, the population gives them credit for allowing the economy to boom this past 25 years. If the boom stops, or even slows down too much, the Party loses legitimacy. Gotta keep the bicycle moving.
It hasn't helped that there's widespread belief the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next month. Recall the golden rule of bond trading: Interest rates rise, bond prices fall. What's the use of a four percent bond to me when I can get six percent in a bank savings account? Peking holds boocoo U.S. Treasury bonds. See how it all hangs together?
The big unknown here is how bad a shape the Chinese economy is in. Nobody really knows, quite likely not even the Party bosses. It's China, the land of make-believe, of pretense and cooked books and "face" — a hall of mirrors.
In his book about the Mao famines of 1959-62, Jasper Becker tells us about a reporter in China in the 1920s whose editor asked him for, quote, "the bottom facts." The reporter replied: "There is no bottom in China, and no facts." If you know China, you know what he meant.
In the meantime, if you want any Chinese yuan, they're going at 6.39 to the dollar, up from 6.14 a year ago. I know, this stuff's not exciting. It's important, though. Empires rise and fall on those decimal places.
09 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: We're so used to hearing leftist lunacy from the mouths of show-business airheads, it's refreshing to know that there are those willing to give a word of praise, or at least semi-praise, to Donald Trump even among the glitterati. Or perhaps it's not surprising; you could make a case, I suppose, that Trump himself is a glitterato … glitteratus, whatever.
There's something so refreshing about shaking up that world that is all about being handled and here comes this loose cannon who has terrible ideas and would be a horrible President, but there's something great about his "I-don't-give-a-shit" attitude that really kind of keeps others honest. I think it's a surprise benefit to the country, actually.
That was Bryan Cranston, a/k/a/ Walter White of the TV show Breaking Bad. Yeah, it's a back-handed compliment — "terrible ideas"? what, like enforcing the people's laws on immigration and settlement? "horrible President"? compared to whom? Barack Obama? — but Cranston has grasped something that's eluded George Will and National Review: a whole lot of citizens have had it with the timid, mealy-mouthed, don't-offend-anyone mumblings of our bought-and-sold professional pols.
And now I have another analogy to go with my previous one of Trump as Cecil the lion and the GOP suits as Walt Palmer. Now I have the Donald as Walter White and the GOP as Hank the brother-in-law … except the Stupid Party is even slower on the uptake than Hank was.
Item: The drama being played out in Europe is the Camp of the Saints, vast flotillas of Muslims and black Africans swarming across the Mediterranean, the native Europeans paralyzed by ethnomasochism, Marxist universalism, and post-colonial guilt.
Not many of the invaders want to settle in the Balkan and south-European countries, with their feeble economies, stingy welfare, "your-papers-please" laws on personal i.d., and loosely-supervised police forces. It's the free, generous, law-abiding, guilt-addled, northwest-European countries that are the real lure, Britain especially.
Latest news from this week is that an invader from the Sudan has made it to Britain by walking there.
The invader, who claims to be named Abdul Rahman Haroun, and who further claims to be 40 years old, both probably lies, walked thirty miles through the Channel Tunnel from Calais, France, to Folkestone, England, dodging the trains that use the tunnel.
The New York Times gushed over Mr Haroun's courage and enterprise, quote: "his story of determination had reduced the sprawling migration crisis to a human scale," end quote. He's been charged under an arcane 1861 law about obstructing railroad traffic, and British taxpayers are supplying him with a lawyer.
The Times assures us there is no chance Mr Haroun will be given asylum. That's about as credible as Mr Haroun's i.d. Human-rights lawyers can drag out a case like his for years, during which time Mr Haroun will get married and have kids, making him un-deportable. Can't break up a family, you know. Heck, after being in the papers like this, he'll probably get his own TV show.
When we're through fawning over Mr Haroun for his "determination," we might want to urge the Europeans to summon up some determination of their own. If they don't, then three thousand years of civilization and liberty will disappear under the anti-intellectual fanaticism of Islam and the Mugabe-style Big Man despotism of black Africa.
Item: I confess I've always had a soft spot for Warren Harding, the last U.S. President who chewed tobacco. Sure, the guy was a mediocrity; but unlike several other Presidents — no names, no pack drill — Harding knew he was a mediocrity. He comported himself in office accordingly, appointing strong-willed clever men to his cabinet, while doing as little as possible himself, in the sure conviction that if he tried to do anything, he would screw it up.
One of my favorite political quotes is from William McAdoo, Woodrow Wilson's Treasury Secretary, in reference to Harding's oratorical gifts, quote:
His speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea. Sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought and bear it triumphantly, a prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and overwork.
They don't make insults like that any more.
Harding lived in terror of his wife Florence, whom he called "the Duchess." This was one tough bird, in the old pioneer mode. She was a single mother for a while before marrying Harding, a damn tough thing to be in the pre-welfare 1880s; she supported herself and her child by giving piano lessons. When she got a proposal of marriage out of Harding, she announced the event to a friend with the words, quote: "I have got snaffle and bit on him." Oh, those great American gals!
Harding took refuge from the Duchess in sex affairs, at least one of them reportedly consummated in a storage closet in the West Wing of the White House. Thence to this week's news.
Harding's best-known dalliance was with a young secretary named Nan Britton, 31 years his junior. After Harding's sudden death in 1923, Britton wrote a book about the affair, and claimed to have borne Harding's love child. Harding's family denied it and vilified her, with the assistance of the media, at that time strongly Republican, believe it or not.
Well, Ancestry.com has done some DNA analysis on descendants of Harding and Britton's daughter, and yes, Ol' Warren was indeed the baby daddy. In further news from the DNA results, Harding did not, as was commonly rumored at the time, have a touch of the tar-brush: there was no African in his genome. Now perhaps Pat Buchanan will stop referring to Harding as "our first black President."
Harding's descendants are still in denial about that love child, though. Richard Harding, the President's grand-nephew, told The New York Times that he still didn't believe it, but wished the Britton descendants well. Here's a quote from him, words that would have brought a knowing smile to the face of William McAdoo, quote:
I hope they'll find their new place in history is meaningful and productive for them.
Ah, the spirit of Harding lives on!
10 — Signoff. That's all I have for this week, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for listening; and I hope you are enjoying these late summer days as much as I am here on Long Island.
I write a lot about immigration issues, and obviously — you can tell by the accent — I'm an immigrant myself.
Here's a thing that immigrants know but non-immigrants mostly don't: Assimilation is really difficult. Take me, for instance. I've been here close to 34 years, more than half my adult life. I come from England, a cousin nation with a shared language. You'd think my assimilation by now would be absolutely total.
Nope, I still screw up. Over lunch with some native American friends the other day I made reference to the fine city of St Louis; except, I forgot to pronounce the final "s." I called the place "St Louie," and my American friends all laughed.
I have an explanation. No, not an excuse, an explanation.
Foreigners of my generation first heard of that noble city from jazz. Sure, we listened to pop music; but if you figured yourself an intellectual fifty-odd years ago, you felt an obligation to be knowledgeable about jazz. It had been around longer than pop; it had a smoky, erotic sophistication to it; and it was black, which young whites fifty years ago thought was cool and interesting. No, I'm not kidding; we thought blacks were cool and interesting. Really. Hey, when you're seventeen you believe weird things.
So that was how we first heard about St Louis, from jazz singers singing the "St Louis Blues" … except that they dropped the final "s," every single one of them that I heard.
It makes sense. Consonants are a nuisance when you're singing, which is why Italian opera is easier on the ear than German opera.
That's my explanation. Not an excuse, an explanation. Absolutely no offense to the fine people of St Louis, whose city I shall probably go on mispronouncing until they wheel me out.
Here to sing me out is Velma Middleton. And yes, the horn player on this recording is that great jazz musician, Louis [pronounce "Lewis"] Armstrong.
More from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Louis Armstrong with Velma Middleton, "St Louis Blues."]