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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, organ version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Greetings, listeners, from your inaugurally genial host John Derbyshire, fresh from watching the swearing-in of President Trump on the telly.
The great news this week was of course the inauguration. Let me go directly to it.
02 — Dawn of the Trumpening. I'm just going to hand you off for a moment to a person who is much smarter than I am: Professor Robert LaFleur, speaking here in lecture 16 of the Great Courses lectures on the Analects of Confucius.
First, a short preamble.
Professor LaFleur has just gotten through describing the abuse of a sacred ritual. There is a mountain in eastern China named Mount Tai, which in ancient times was held to be holy. According to traditional ritual, the holy sacrifices could only be offered to Mount Tai by the Emperor or by the prince of the state where the mountain was situated. Well, the head of a powerful, arrogant family decided that he would make the sacrifice, contrary to ritual. Confucius was very scathing about this. Now I'll hand you off to Professor LaFleur, who in turn will hand you off to Confucius.
[Clip: How should ritual work when everything goes beautifully? I have found that a passage coming right after Confucius' exasperated statement sums up the sage's most positive feelings about rituals.
So if you thought the idea of the two teams lining up to shake hands after a football game originated in the Victorian sporting ethos, or the manners of 19th-century WASP elites, you couldn't be more wrong. It was going strong twenty-five centuries ago in China; and according to Confucius, the proper observance of rituals like this is the mark of the exemplary person, the 君子.
Thus, when watching the courteous handoff of power at the west front of the U.S. Capitol this morning, we were engaging with the deepest, most fundamental structures of civilized social life. If, like me, you found yourself moved, you were responding as humans have been responding for millennia to collective ritual properly performed for the larger good.
If Confucius was correct — if the proper observance of rituals like this is the mark of the exemplary person — there were some exemplary people out there at the Capitol. Everyone behaved themselves perfectly.
Away from the actual scene of the ceremony, Confucian rectitude was less abundant. When Mrs Clinton appeared, some voices in the crowd called out: "Lock her up!" And a few blocks away, anti-Trump protestors broke windows and screamed abuse at police. The veneer of civilization is thin indeed.
Civilization was in full display out there on the Capitol steps, though. Let's be thankful for it.
The content of the ceremony was straightforward and direct in the good American manner, with a minimum of unnecessary wordage. The ceremonial deism was perhaps a little over the top for the quarter of us who are now unbelievers; but the new President seems sincere in his faith, and it was his show, so we shouldn't complain. Besides, we got a smile out of it. The quick-witted Rev. Franklin Graham noted that it started to rain just as Donald Trump stepped to the podium. "In the Bible," said Rev. Graham, "rain is the sign of God's blessing." That was very nicely done, whatever your metaphysics may be.
Trump's speech was not too long, and was very Trumpish, very rumbustious. It sounded, in fact, like the kinds of things he said in the campaign. One of the Fox News commentators said it wasn't poetic, and it wasn't. Personally I'm fine with that. Trump is a businessman. I'd be surprised to learn that he has read any poetry since high school. In any case, after eight years of Barack Obama's lame attempts at soaring oratory, I favor a moratorium on politicians' attempts at poetry.
One of the blessings of this particular inauguration ceremony, in fact, was the absence of a poet. Five previous inaugural ceremonies — for incoming Democrats in every case — have featured a poet. Robert Frost in 1961 and Miller Williams in 1997 were at least real poets, though their inaugural poems were far from their best. The other three, which included both of Barack Obama's, were all affirmative action mediocrities reciting meaningless drivel — meaningless and also, of course, meter-less and rhyme-less. My heartfelt personal thanks to the new President for not inviting any poets.
Back to the speech: Dana Perino, also at Fox News, said it was, quote, "very muscular." I know what she means, and I agree. The speech sure wasn't flabby or bony. It was mesomorphic. The best bits were the plain calls to nationalism. "A nation exists to serve its citizens." When was the last time you heard a politician say that? "It is the right of all nations to put their own interests first." Of course it is! Why did that even need saying? But it did, and I was thrilled to hear my President saying it.
Some other commentators thought the speech too dark. Is the U.S.A. really a wasteland of shuttered factories and devastated inner cities? Are things really that bad? If they are, can Trump — or anyone — fix them?
I'll make allowances; that was the kind of talk that got Trump elected, and I'm very happy he was elected. Those passages got to my own uneasiness about the speech, though: It was a bit too promissory.
Is he really going to be able to break all those "iron rice bowls" that keep the counties around Washington, D.C. the wealthiest in the nation? Ronald Reagan wanted to do that, too, and Reagan failed. Well, Trump is more energetic than Reagan, and I believe more canny and ruthless; perhaps he'll pull it off.
I'm not even sure that the evils Trump identified, what he called the "carnage" of rusting factories and derelict inner cities, are today's issues. The way automation is progressing, all those factories that were shipped abroad will be repatriated to the U.S.A. just in time for their workers to be totally replaced by robots. Likewise, those inner cities are being gentrified and spruced up by yuppies, while their populations are shunted out to Section Eight housing in suburbs like Ferguson, Missouri.
Four years from now, never mind eight, angst about unemployed factory workers and decaying inner cities may sound as quaint as deploring public executions or the conditions in debtors' prisons.
At the risk of having a mob with pitchforks and flaming brands showing up in my driveway, I have to say I think Jackie Evancho was a mistake for the national anthem. She was plainly nervous. Her voice came across as unsteady and rather small, the enunciation not very good. On the plus side though, I will thank her for sparing us the the awful melismas we too often get — a single syllable stretched across many notes. She sang it straight and plain, as it should be sung.
Yes, yes, I know: There was a shortage of celebrities willing to perform at the ceremony. Confucius' concept of the exemplary person does not have much of a market share among showbiz elites. Still, there are trained opera singers in America waiting tables — I actually know one.
I'm picking nits, of course — that's my job. We are lucky, after 24 years of unrelieved liberalism, we are lucky to have a man in the White House who doesn't think that America's main problem is a shortage of public restrooms for people confused about their sex, or an insufficiently confrontational attitude towards Russia, or a public debt that's too small, or a historic deficit of mulatto Attorneys General.
Welcome to the Trumpening!
03 — White guys in charge. The New York Times, January 13th, grumbled that, headline: Trump's Cabinet So Far Is More White and Male Than Any First Cabinet Since Reagan's.
Well, duh. Trump is the first President since Reagan who does not either subscribe whole-heartedly to the Diversity ideology or, like the Bushes, from a mistaken notion of noblesse oblige, yield easily to those who do. His career shows no evidence of prejudice (unless you think the theory of Disparate Impact is sound, which I don't). I've no doubt he'll hire in capable blacks or females when any such show up. Pickings are slim, though, for reasons to do with biology in both cases.
Whined the New York Times, whine:
If Mr Trump's nominees are confirmed, women and nonwhites will hold five of 21 cabinet or cabinet-level positions. He has not yet named nominees for two additional positions.
I looked up Prof. Light on the NYU faculty web page, to save you the trouble. He's a white guy.
Of those two nominees not yet named at the time of the report, one now has been: Sonny Perdue, another white guy, nominated as Secretary of Agriculture. The other one, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, has still not been named as I go to tape here.
One of the other names Trump considered for Agriculture Secretary before settling on Sonny Perdue was Abel Maldonado, Lieutenant Governor of California. If he'd been the pick, that would have put one Latino in among Trump's cabinet choices. As it is, the number of Latinos is zero.
The fact that he'd at least interviewed Maldonado tells us Trump didn't purposely leave Latinos off his lists. I guess he just didn't find any he was sufficiently impressed by. That's no consolation to the ethnic activists, though, or to white ethnomasochists like Prof. Light who support them. Said Thursday's headline on CultMarx website Huffington Post, headline: Spokesman Defends Donald Trump's Decision To Exclude Latinos From Cabinet.
The spokesman referred to there was Trump's incoming press secretary Sean Spicer. Just look at the wording of that headline, though: "Trump's Decision To Exclude Latinos." He excluded them. He ruled them out. Where is the evidence for that? He didn't rule out Maldonado as a possible; he gave over time to considering him, which he wouldn't have done if he was excluding.
Perhaps we at last have a Chief Executive who doesn't give a fig for the ethnic bean-counting too many of our institutions have been obsessed with for too long. Perhaps he just works down lists of names and picks what seem to him to be the best, without regard to race or sex. What a revolutionary concept!
04 — Diversity commutations. So much for the incoming; what about the outgoing?
Well, Barack Obama issued a slew of commutations Tuesday, meaning that 273 convicted criminals will be released. The two newsiest commutations were of Chelsea Manning, the Army intelligence officer who passed hundreds of thousands of diplomatic and military documents to Wikileaks, and Puerto Rican terrorist Oscar López Rivera, instrumental in various atrocities, most notably the 1975 Fraunces Tavern bombing in New York that killed four people.
Chelsea Manning, a transsexual who was formerly Bradley Manning, was sentenced to 35 years for espionage in 2013. That was after three years in the brig. She'll have served seven years when released this coming May.
López Rivera was arrested in 1981 and sentenced to 55 years that same year. He's a communist and a Puerto Rican nationalist. At his trial he declared defiantly that, quote, "Puerto Rico will be a free and socialist country." Bill Clinton actually offered him clemency in 1999 if he would renounce terrorism, but López Rivera refused.
As an enthusiastic supporter of Puerto Rican independence, may I please remind the incoming administration of the modest proposal I put forward a year and a half ago, quote:
If I were running the CIA … I'd stage a Castro-style coup in Puerto Rico and install a fiercely anti-American dictator, to give us the excuse to sever ties and blockade the place for fifty years.
Well, it looks to me like this is just the guy we need. Once he's out of jail we just have to get him to the island and supply him with a decent arsenal. There must be enough people there who'll rally to his cause, if suitably bribed. It'd work out a lot cheaper than what the place currently costs us.
My response on reading about these commutations was mild disgust — directed at Obama, I mean. One guy — sorry, gal — committed gross espionage, resulting in who knows how many deaths; not from ideological convictions or plain cash, but apparently out of hurt feelings at having been bullied by fellow soldiers for his effeminate demeanor when she was a he. The other guy participated in the killing and attempted killing of innocent New York civilians and police officers. Why commute these particular persons?
Well, the first is transsexual and the second is Latino. These were Diversity commutations. You know it; you know that's the way Obama's mind works; you know that if either had been a cisgendered white guy, there would have been no commutations.
Once again, let's give thanks that for a few years at least, we'll have a Chief Executive to whom that kind of thinking is alien.
Yeah, yeah: back in 2008 I called him, quote, "an arrogant, none-too-bright, out-of-touch stuffed shirt who's been snoozing away in the U.S. Senate for 36 years" and, quote, "a walking advertisement for the term limits movement." And then in 2012 I called him a, quote, "flabby gasbag and foot-chomper." And then, in 2013, I said, quote, "I don't believe Biden is as stupid as he appears. I just don't see how any functioning human being could be that stupid." That's all pretty gentle by Radio Derb standards, though.
There are a number of causes for my comparative gentleness. For one thing, although Biden's gone along with Obama and all the CultMarx flapdoodle of the past few years, I don't think he really believes any of it, not the way the younger Social Justice Warriors do. The guy's 74 years old, which is way too old for the college radical gibberish of the 1980s and 1990s to have any purchase on his mind, much less today's lunacies about microaggressions and White Privilege. He's a lefty, but at heart he's an old-style lefty. Old-style lefties were wrong and often stupid; but they were not batpoop crazy like this newer crop.
And then, while I deplore a system in which a person can spend his entire working life in public office, it's hard to blame a guy for doing that if the system lets him, once he finds he's got a talent for it.
The talent itself is not totally contemptible, either. It can't of course be compared with a real talent for something socially useful — inventing new vaccines, playing the piano, writing novels, putting up buildings. Even trivial talents can be kind of impressive, though: playing pinochle, balancing a broomstick on your chin, or factorizing four-digit numbers in your head. Joe Biden's really, really good at getting elected Senator.
Which raises the question: Why didn't he run for President in 2016? Hillary Clinton was known to be a weak candidate, with lots of negatives. Obama would probably have supported him. So why didn't he run?
What you hear is that Joe lost his political zest after his eldest son died of brain cancer in mid-2015. It sounds plausible; though it's also plausible that even without that tragedy, Joe was feeling his age and feared he wasn't up to the rigors of a national election. There was some talk that he might run in 2020, but Biden scotched that last month.
So there goes Joe, riding off into the retirement sunset. He's in my category of people I would never vote for even under pain of torture, yet whom I could never get around to disliking much.
Goodbye, Joe. Now, can we get that conversation about term limits re-started?
06 — The Great Disappointment, 21st-century version. Joel Pollack had a neat essay over at Breitbart.com on Thursday, title: Barack Obama: The God That Failed. Democrats, he writes, are not just a defeated political party, but also a failed religion.
For them, Obama's win in 2008 was no ordinary election victory, but a kind of millenarian, messianic moment, beyond which future elections would never again be in doubt, or even necessary.
The Democrats were, he argues, like those African political parties in Zimbabwe and South Africa, who got power after struggling against whites, and since then expect to just keep power for ever.
I think he's on to something, and it chimes with the larger theme of progressivism as an ersatz religion, a theme I've worked over here on Radio Derb, but which of course is not original with me.
In fact all the hysteria on the left this past few weeks yields to a religious, or pseudo-religious explanation. Clearly some of the same kinds of passions are involved that you find in committed religious believers.
Consider, however, the fact that religions very rarely fail. They just adapt.
Recall the Millerite sect that flourished in the 1840s. William Miller, who founded the sect, predicted the Second Coming of Christ at a certain date. Thousands of followers sold all their belongings and waited joyfully for the day. When nothing happened, Miller just reworked his calculations and set another day … then another.
You'd think a disappointment like that — it was actually called the Great Disappointment — you'd think it would kill a religion stone dead. Not at all. Here's a historian writing about the Millerites, quote:
Following such a catastrophic failure, one might expect that the Millerite movement would fade away entirely. But that is not what happened. Although the fragmented Millerites languished for some time, and though many did abandon the movement, several of the competing splinter groups would ultimately gain new life. Hiram Edson's [Millerite] sect … developed into a denomination that still exists — the Seventh-Day Adventists, who today number as many as 15 million members worldwide.
For truly committed believers, a religious or pseudo-religious passion like that can't be put aside. It doesn't fail, it only needs adjusting.
Joel Pollack again, quote:
Obama convinced Democrats they would govern for 40 years — and that if they were displaced, it would be by a new party, not today's GOP. As his policies collapsed, and he lost Congress, he hovered above it all — "sort of God," a Newsweek editor said.
No, sorry Joel, Gods don't fail. We see through a glass darkly, that's all. We mis-interpret the signs. Progressives won't give up on their religion; they'll just recalculate a date for the Second Coming.
What are we going to do with this guy? He keeps saying things that are perfectly obvious, but that respectable people just don't say. I can totally relate to that.
Of course NATO is obsolete. It became obsolete the day after the Warsaw Pact disbanded. That would have been February 26th 1991 — 26 years ago next month. The main function of NATO since then has been to annoy the hell out of Russia, and make normal relations with that country impossible.
NATO illustrates the problem of getting rid of an organization that has outlived its purpose. It's a modern-day equivalent of the Hanseatic League, a 13th-century alliance of German and Baltic cities to protect their traders against piracy in the northern seas. Four hundred years later, long after the piracy problem had been solved by the development of national navies, the League was still in business, but with nothing to do.
I doubt NATO will linger on for 400 years, but it may survive the Trump Presidency. General James Mattis, in his confirmation hearings last week, declared that, quote:
If we didn't have NATO today, we'd need to create it. NATO is vital to our interests.
Plainly there are some differences to be sorted out there. I hope they get sorted out the President's way. If the Europeans, with all their industrial and financial muscle, can't put up a credible defense against cash-strapped Russia, its rusting military and its ageing population, I can't see that they're worth fighting for — worth us fighting for, that is.
Proponents of NATO argue that the U.S. military has, since WW2, been instrumental in maintaining a stable world order through alliances like NATO, and that to dissolve any of those alliances would be a step towards disorder.
I'd reply that the stability supplied by U.S. forces worldwide is not worth the antagonism it generates in other big powers, notably Russia and China; and that the best hope for stability in these next few decades is a balance of power, where each nation is assumed entitled to precedence — not wanton aggression, but precedence — in its sphere of interest.
All the big powers have pressing economic worries about automation and public entitlements in ageing, declining populations. Nobody's looking for lebensraum; nobody's plotting world conquest. Nobody's got the manpower.
The greatest threat to international stability is the mass movements of peoples from failed states in Africa and the Middle East into the civilized zone. To that, NATO is irrelevant. What is the point of stationing our armies along Europe's borders with Russia, if the nations behind them allow themselves to fill up with unassimilable Muslims and Africans?
Again, I hope the President goes with his instincts here. There's always a danger that the civilian Commander-in-Chief will be overawed by the uniforms and the ribbons of his military advisors, and yield to them. That was Dwight Eisenhower's great advantage. When you've been Supreme Allied Commander, you're not overawed by mere Generals.
Stick to your guns, Mr President … if you'll pardon the military turn of phrase. Our armed forces are for the defense of our homeland and our shipping lanes. NATO is obsolete, and has been for 26 years. It's not an aid to international stability, it's an irritant.
08 — How civilizations end. If you've been around in the world for a few decades, you have a mental photograph album of places that have some emotional coloring for you.
One of the places in my own mental file is the library at SOAS in west-central London. SOAS stands for The School of Oriental and African Studies, one of the numerous institutions gathered under the heading "University of London." In the academic year 1979-80 I was studying Chinese at a different London college, with the idea to write a book about China. My instructor got me a reader's card for SOAS library.
I spent many happy hours browsing there — a marvelous place, a temple of scholarship and quiet academic inquiry. The Chinese section had for example all 24 dynastic histories — shelves and shelves of them, stretching away into the remote past. No, I didn't read them, life's too short; I only admired them. My reading was mostly memoirs of Western travelers and missionaries in China, from Marco Polo down to the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Well, with that picture in my mental album I naturally pricked up my ears, or whatever the internet-browsing equivalent is, at this story in the British press.
The students' union at SOAS has put out a lengthy report, nearly four thousand words, with the title "Degrees of Racism: Attainment Gap Report Summary." What's it about? Well, the key words there are "attainment gap." Actual quote from the report, quote:
There has been a gap between the degree attainment of white and BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) undergraduates at SOAS, with a greater proportion of white students attaining either [an upper-second] or first class degree.
What, in the opinion of the students' union, is the reason for the gap? What do you think? Racism!
To spare you any further quotes from the report, here's a summary: Blackety-blackety-blackety black. Black black black blackety-black. Blackblackblackblackblackblackblackblackblackblack.
The SOAS students have been demanding that dead white males like Socrates, Descartes, and Kant be dropped from the syllabus and replaced by African and Asian philosophers.
Some academics are on board with this. A mulatto chap named Kehinde Andrews, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Birmingham City University, told a British TV audience on January 9th that the Enlightenment was racist. Listen:
[Clip: Of course the Enlightenment was racist. It's built on the idea that there is a special knowledge from Europe. We think about someone like Immanuel Kant, who is still revered, comes up with the idea of the taxonomy of the races, which is so important to how we understand that I wasn't deemed to be a person by Immanuel Kant when he was writing. If that's not racism, I don't know what it is.]
To people like me — bookish, thoughtful types who respect and admire real scholarship — the most tragic aspect of our civilization's decline is the ongoing degradation of higher education: the infiltration of the student bodies by whining ignoramuses like the authors of the SOAS report, and the appointment to academic positions of illiterate clowns like Professor Andrews.
What, I wonder, has happened to that beautiful library at SOAS since I last browsed in the stacks there 35 years ago? Probably it's been turned into a crack den, or a gay bath-house. Or perhaps the students have just burned it down. Nothing would surprise me; nothing about the academy does any more.
09 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: Trump derangement syndrome still stalks the nation at epidemic proportions. Showbiz is particularly badly affected. I know, it's absurd to care about this. Ninety-five percent of showbiz celebrities are imbeciles; if you're bothered by what they think, you are seriously short of things to be bothered about.
They get themselves and their feather-brained opinions in the news, though, and the hapless commentator has to comment.
Latest up: Barbra Streisand. The pop singer wrote a vituperative column for Huffington Post calling The Donald, quote, "dangerous and unfit for office," et cetera, et cetera.
As I said, hardly worth bothering with. I am certainly not bothered; but my attention was snagged by Ms Streisand's philippic following so closely on movie actress Meryl Streep's anti-Trump blast at some showbiz ceremony January 8th.
Two things snagged my attention. The first was that these ladies, Streisand and Streep, are performers I like. It's a treat to watch Meryl Streep act; it's a treat to hear Barbra Streisand sing — or at any rate it was, when she was in her prime.
Just to make sure on that second one, I pulled down a YouTube clip of Streisand singing "The Way We Were" … and got myself an earworm that's going to last a week, I can tell. That is one of the the top twenty pop performances of the past half century.
Moral of the story: The quality of the art and the personality of the artist are orthogonal. Insufferable jerks can create very beautiful things. Anyone acquainted with cultural history knows this, of course; but as Dr Johnson told us, we more often need to be reminded than instructed.
The second thing that snagged my attention was that curious concinnity of names: Streep, Streisand. I mean, they both begin with "Stre-." The odds on that are pretty damn long. My local White Pages has over 100,000 listings. Only 23 begin with "Stre-"; and only five of those are personal names — not business listings, I mean.
Was there some cosmic principle at work there? Or is that a stretch?
Item: Martin Luther King Day fell on Monday this week. Celebrations got somewhat out of hand in Liberty City, Florida, when eight people were shot at a gathering to commemorate the apostle of nonviolence. A stampede ensued, in which several more people were trampled, though none fatally.
Here are the Christian names of the gunshot victims: Shawnteria, Jerome, Lajada, Nakya-Senat, Alfanesha, Michael, Ciara, Keionna. Only Jerome was in critical condition at the time of the Miami Herald report.
An interesting feature of that report, rather common in stories like this, is what one blogger has called "Victimization Whack-a-Mole." Quote from the Miami Herald report:
An emotional Shante Kelsey, whose 18-year-old daughter Shawnteria Wilson was shot, was critical of police response on a day when thousands of people flooded Liberty City's streets. She said the two got separated before she learned of the shootings.
I venture to speculate that if there had been a strong police presence to deter violence, the emotional Ms Kelsey would have been grumbling to the Herald about racist cops stereotyping black teens.
Victimization Whack-a-Mole: They demand X, you give them X, then suddenly X is a racist outrage. With Shante, Shawnteria. Lajada and Alfanesha, you can never win.
Item: I used the word "clown" there in a pejorative sense. My apologies to actual clowns, who have been bringing harmless pleasure to millions for several hundred years.
And many of whom will soon be out of work. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus have announced that they will cease operating, with their final show coming probably in May this year. In May of last year they retired their elephants after much harassment from the animal-rights Nazis, and ticket sales have been declining ever since.
More nostalgia from me here. In my home town in England we used to get the circus once a year. They'd pitch the Big Top on the Race Course, a big open space a mile from the town center. We kids used to go watch them setting up. I especially liked to watch the men hammering in the huge tent pegs, a gang of three or four swinging great big mallets in perfect synchrony.
In the show itself, I liked the trapeze artists best. My favorite movie for a while was Trapeze, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida. Ah, the circus!
That said, I was mildly surprised to know that the circus is still with us. The very word "circus" has an antique quality to it, in an age when kids divide their time between computer games and whining about microaggressions. The circus, like the three-martini lunch and pocket handkerchiefs, was a sitting duck just waiting to be swept away by the zeitgeist. So I'm sad, but not surprised.
Our language will be a little poorer, though. I just recently, for the very first time, heard the idiom "Not my circus, not my monkeys" — the translation of a Polish idiom meaning "None of my business." It's cute. I've been looking out for an opportunity to deploy it in conversation. Now, by the time the opportunity shows up, everyone will have forgotten what a circus is. Damn the zeitgeist!
10 — Signoff. There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for listening, and I hope you're looking forward to the next eight years as much as I am.
What else could I possibly play to see us out other than "Hail to the Chief"? Here's the U.S. Army band, bless them all. And bless you all; and bless our lovely country, and our new President.
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: U.S. Army band: "Hail to the Chief."]