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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, fife'n'drum version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Greetings, listeners, from your disarmingly genial host John Derbyshire, here to bring you my weekly summary of the news, with malice toward many, with charity for few.
China's been in the news this week; and I still have China on my mind following last month's jaunt there, so let me address some China issues to begin with.
02 — The NBA ticks off the ChiComs. First, the flap involving the NBA, the National Basketball Association.
You probably know what happened. The general manager of a basketball team called the Houston Rockets tweeted his support for people in Hong Kong protesting the ChiCom government. Basketball is big in China; the NBA pulls in millions of dollars from Chinese fans. Following the manager's tweet the ChiComs have cut all ties with the Rockets, and the state-run media have canceled coverage of games.
The Rockets manager who tweeted, a chap named Daryl Morey, has issued grovelling apologies, but they don't seem to have improved the situation. The NBA is looking at major revenue losses.
I'm handicapped in reporting on this because I am a sports black hole. I know very little about professional sports, and even less than that about basketball.
I'm not a snob about this; if pro sports are your thing, jolly good luck to you. "One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other," said Jane Austen, and she was right. Tolerance and open-mindedness are the proper approaches to other people's incomprehensible pleasures, so long as the pleasures do no harm. Following pro sports is a harmless pastime; so again, good luck to sports fans everywhere.
That said, pro sports are business enterprises. The first duty of everyone on the payroll, managers and employees, is to their shareholders. They should not do things that cause major revenue loss.
It follows that if you are a pro sports player, coach, or manager you should keep your political opinions to yourself. You're in the public eye; you're going to be taken as a representative of your team; your opinions will alienate some big portion of the fan base. If that is intolerably irksome to you, find another line of work.
I hate this politicization of everything. We used to be able to enjoy sports and show business without having to hear the political opinions of players, actors, and pop singers.
I haven't always been a total sports black hole. Living here in the seventies and fascinated by American culture, I became a fan of the New York Yankees. I learned the rules of baseball, went to games, got to know the players. Here's the point: I can't remember ever hearing anything about the political preferences of Thurman Munson, Goose Gossage, or Billy Martin. Why would anybody care? It was baseball.
It's the same with showbiz. "If you've got a message, call Western Union," said Sam Goldwyn. Nowadays every Hollywood bubblehead has a message, and they can't wait to deliver it to us.
What were Johnny Carson's politics? I have no idea, and I watched his show for years. Today you don't get ninety seconds into a late-night talk show before the political jokes start.
What makes it double annoying is that it's always the same message, in sports or showbiz: a message of virtuous compliance with progressive orthodoxy.
Pro basketball illustrates this. In 2016 the NBA pulled their All-Star game from North Carolina because that state's legislature had passed a bill that ticked off transgender lobbies. The following year the NBA championship winners turned down an invitation to the White House because their players didn't like Trump.
The hypocrisy is hard to miss. The message from pro basketball here seems to be that elected legislators in North Carolina and an elected President in the White House are beyond the pale, but an unelected dictatorship in Peking is tickety-boo. (That's British for "hunky-dory.")
I feel sorry for pro sports fans today. The great majority of them, I'm sure, just want to engage with their sport, follow their team, admire the athletic skills on display, mull over the statistics, and cheer on the champions. They don't care what players and managers think about Hong Kong, or transgender bathrooms, or Donald Trump.
I sure hope they don't, anyway. I want to believe that I am not the only person with a hunger for some zone of our public life out there to be free of politics: some sport, some movie, some talk show that we can enjoy just for its own sake.
If my belief is wrong, we are in a bad, sad place.
03 — A Sputnik Moment with China? That knee in the groin that the ChiComs delivered to the NBA is a reminder that China is a big player now, politically and commercially.
Big, and getting bigger really fast. China's economy is roughly the same size as ours now; her population is four times ours. The ChiCom leadership operates on a long-term strategic plan to lead the world in key technologies and dominate global markets. The plan seems to be working just fine.
Things might go wrong, of course. China has systemic problems: massive public corruption, cratering demographics, environmental issues. Chinese politics remains primitive, with no democratic audit, no independent judiciary, and no institutional corrections if things go awry. For all we can tell, some ambitious army general might destabilize the system next week, throwing China back to warlordism and fragmentation.
That's not the way to bet, though. The way to bet is, that ten years from now China will be eating our lunch. The ruling party is in firm control, Chinese people in the generality are happy with the way things are going, and the gloomy prognostications of twenty years ago, like Gordon Chang's 2001 book The Coming Collapse of China, have been confounded.
It helps that the ChiComs have avoided the major stupidities of American and European governments this past twenty years. They have not squandered trillions of dollars and thousands of lives on futile wars in places of no importance. They have not opened China's borders to tens of millions of foreigners selected on no rational principle, swamping the nation's ethnic core, generating resentment and rancor.
They have in fact leveraged our own stupidities against us. Our good-natured naïvety about international trade has made it easy for them to steal our intellectual capital; and the greed of our universities for foreign students paying full tuition, unrestrained by any limits on student visas, has greatly boosted their expertise in high tech.
Here's a quote:
Eighty percent of U.S. doctoral candidates in computer science and electrical engineering are foreign students, of whom Chinese are the largest contingent. Most return to China. The result is that the best U.S. universities have trained an excellent faculty for Chinese universities.
I took that quote from David Goldman's Russell Kirk Lecture, delivered at the Heritage Foundation in May this year.
David notes that foreign applications to study STEM subjects at American universities fell off in 2017, partly because Chinese students can now get their education in China, from professors we educated ten or twenty years ago.
Another quote from David:
China fears nothing but America's technological edge, and that edge is eroding at an alarming pace … China devotes vast state resources to critical technologies, including, for example, fifth-generation broadband and its applications, quantum computing, quantum communications, Artificial Intelligence, and gene sequencing.
These things creep up on us. I'm thinking of Sputnik Moments.
When the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, in 1957, it stirred American policy-makers to action. Three months later DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, was created; it eventually gave us the Internet. A few months after that came NASA, which put Americans on the Moon. Science and technology were hot, engineers were heroes.
Shall we have another Sputnik Moment? Will China perhaps, for example, crack the problems of quantum computing, suddenly making most of the world's internet encryption systems obsolete? Or give us cheap fusion power, ending the reign of fossil fuels for electricity generation?
If they do, shall we rise to the occasion as we did sixty years ago? Or shall we be too busy bickering about transgender bathrooms, healthcare for illegal aliens, and Presidential impeachments over picayune transgressions?
In retrospect, the U.S.S.R. of 1957 was not actually that formidable a competitor. Her civilian economy barely functioned. No American had anything in his house that said Made in the U.S.S.R. … well, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders. The population was 200 million, only ten percent bigger than ours.
A Sputnik Moment with China sometime early in the coming decade will be a whole lot more challenging — way, way more challenging. China's civilian economy is already strong enough to call the shots on American firms, as the NBA found out last week. China's population is four times ours, and not tormented by endless ethnic squabbles.
Not to worry though. We should be OK. Look: we have way more Gender Studies graduates than they do, and way more lawyers!
Razib starts, as I did, with the NBA fiasco. From there he proceeds to some ruminations about, quote, "the reign of feelings over facts." Quote:
In American society, the facts at hand matter less and less, than who the people are who have their own reaction, perception, and subjective experience, of the facts.
If that's right, and I think it is, we are converging with the state of affairs in China. Last year, reviewing Paul Midler's book What's Wrong with China, I noted his comments on what he calls "the collective narcissism" of the Chinese. Quote from me:
The most wince-inducing aspect of this national trait is the frequent announcements out of Peking that some action by some foreign government — holding a meeting with the Dalai Lama, for example — has "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people." Poor things!
Chinese people at least have the excuse that they are, and always have been, in their schools, colleges, and media, fed a doctored version of their country's history, with all the unpleasant bits blamed on foreigners; or, where something can't be blamed on foreigners, it's just left out.
I gave an example in my September Diary, writing about my visit to a museum dedicated to the 20th-century writer Lao She. In rooms full of exhibits and placards with long descriptions of the man's life and works, there was no mention of the fact that Lao She committed suicide after being persecuted by Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution. That's true but inconvenient to the ChiComs, and it can't be blamed on foreigners; so … leave it out.
Likewise with the Opium Wars of the middle 19th century. Razib quotes a Chinese writer, Joe Tsai, owner of the Brooklyn Nets and co-founder of Alibaba, saying that those wars were fought by Britain and France to force opium on China.
That's a gross over-simplification. The main aim of the British and French was to open China to normal trade; both governments frowned on the opium business. Opium had anyway been cultivated in China for centuries; most of the opium ever smoked in China was home-grown.
Those are facts, though. When an authoritarian government has monopoly control of education and the media, it can shape the facts to direct people's feelings in desired directions. As Razib says, killer quote:
From a commercial perspective, the "objective truth" doesn't matter. The "customer" is always right. Whether the Chinese have legitimate grounds for their beliefs is less important than what their beliefs are, because there are so many of them …
As a footnote to that I'll just mention this BBC News report from October 5th, headline: China and Taiwan clash over Wikipedia edits. Yep, the ChiComs are manipulating Wikipedia. The BBC investigators found almost 1,600 tendentious edits across 22 politically sensitive articles relating to China.
So, out with facts and reality, in with feelings, wo wo wo feelings … feelings shaped by power.
05 — Political update. That's enough China news. What's going on in our domestic politics?
Well, there is the never-ending effort by our Deep State establishment to reverse the result of the 2016 Presidential election. Now it's focused in some way I can't be bothered to engage with on phone calls between our President and Ukraine's. I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it.
There are seasoned and thoughtful commentators, though, who think that impeachment by the House of Representatives might actually happen. The consolation for the President and his supporters is that if it did, the Senate would not convict.
I wonder if that's right. For conviction, assuming all 47 Democrats and "Independents" [laugh] voted aye, twenty of the 53 Republican senators would have to join them. Are there that many weasels among our GOP senators?
I don't know, but it doesn't seem impossible. It seems even less impossible this week than it did last week, since Trump pulled our troops out of northeast Syria. Neocons and establishment Republicans are furious. Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Chris Van Hollen have all been squawking their outrage. Graham and Van Hollen are moving legislation for sanctions against Turkey. That would be Turkey as in "our partner in that extremely important — in fact indispensable — alliance called NATO."
Say what you like about the ChiComs; at least their foreign policy makes some kind of sense.
And then of course the coming election. News there is that Elizabeth Warren seems to have decisively edged out Joe Biden at the top of the polling on Democratic candidates, with Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris some way behind them.
Eh, it could be worse. If we're going to have a Democratic victory next November, which I suspect we are, Warren is down at the less-crazy end of the field. She's likely pursuing the Nixon strategy: Pander to the base for all you're worth through the primaries, then run as hard as you can back to the center for the general. She could pull it off.
And what about the possibility I raised last week, of a dark horse candidate stepping in to replace Biden before the primaries? I mentioned Michael Bloomberg as a possible name there.
(And I should say, in response to several listener complaints, that the complainers are right: I was too nice about Bloomie. He is not only an open-borders fanatic, he's also a gun-grabber. He would still be far preferable to Andrew Cuomo, though.)
The only new name in the dark horse area this week has been — Heaven help us! — Hillary Clinton. It looked for a couple of days there as though the Pants-Suit Princess was contemplating a run for the nomination. By midweek the Hillary talk had faded, though, and I've heard nothing since. So perhaps there is a loving God after all.
06 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: While Hillary Clinton's candidacy looks like a false alarm, we may still not be altogether spared the Curse of the Clintons.
Nita Lowey, who has represented New York's 17th congressional district since the Upper Paleolithic era, has announced that she won't seek re-election next year.
Here's the thing. New York's 17th includes the town of Chappaqua, median house or condo value in 2016: $540,630, black population 1.9 percent. A nice prosperous little whitopia; and if the name Chappaqua rings a bell, that's because Bill and Hillary Clinton have their home there.
So what? Surely I'm not suggesting that Hillary might run for a congressional seat? Of course not. That would be far beneath her dignity. Her daughter Chelsea might, though; and with the Chappaqua connection, even though Chelsea doesn't actually live there herself, she could pass as a local girl.
I called this one w-a-a-a-y back in 2001, to much gasping and sputtering from the lefty commentariat.
And see, I was right: We shall never be rid of this loathsome tribe of cynical grifters — or, as a Clinton would say, "dedicated public servants."
Hallelujah! Someone was actually arested, tried, and convicted for employing an illegal alien! I didn't think that happened.
Well, it has happened to Hector Valdez-Loera, owner of Madison Concrete. Mr Valdez-Loera was charged with two counts of harboring an illegal alien for commercial advantage and private financial gain. He pleaded guilty in May and was sentenced last Friday.
So apparently our immigration laws are very occasionally enforced. That's good to know. Let's see more of these prosecutions.
Item: It's Columbus Day on Monday. What Christopher Columbus was to the Americas, Captain Cook was to New Zealand. Well, approximately: The Dutch navigator Abel Tasman was the first European to catch sight of the islands, 127 years before Cook showed up, but Tasman didn't land. Cook did, on October 8th, 1769, and claimed New Zealand for Britain.
So Tuesday this week was the 250th anniversary of Cook's landing. There were appropriate celebrations. A replica of Cook's ship sailed into the very bay where he dropped anchor. Local members of parliament went aboard to greet the crew.
But of course there were protests and demonstrations on behalf of the Maoris, New Zealand's original inhabitants.
New Zealand's Social Justice Warrior Prime Ministrix Jacinda Ardern, in a speech last Saturday kicking off the commemorations, tried to square the circle, calling on her fellow Kiwis to have, yes, a "conversation" about their history, and, quote, "imagine what it would be like to hear a story be retold, knowing that, actually, you lost an ancestor directly because of those encounters." End quote. That's a reference to the fact that nine Maoris were killed in the first encounters with Cook's landing parties.
The Maoris themselves were of course whining at full throttle. Quote:
Protesters … say their Maori ancestors were treated unfairly during the colonial era and that today, Maori communities face disproportionate levels of poverty, crime and discrimination as a result.
Yeah, yeah, get over it. Captain Cook himself was killed, roasted, and eaten by the natives of Hawaii ten years later. Since Hawaiians are ethnic kin of the Maoris, I would have thought the debt's been paid; but I guess whiners gotta whine.
Item: Here's one for the Disparate Impact witch-hunters.
The U.S. Army is rolling out a new test of physical fitness for troops. The new test has been tried out in some selected training units since October last year. It's supposed to be implemented service-wide in October next year.
Guess what: Pass rates for the test are dramatically different for men and women. Only 30 percent of men failed the test, but 84 percent of women failed.
Since there is no such thing as biological sex, those differences can only be due to discrimination: toxic masculinity, or at the very least, unconscious bias.
We are looking at a really ugly case of Disparate Impact here. I fully expect to see this end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Item: In the same general zone, the Los Angeles Times reports that only half of the Golden State's public-school students performed at grade level in English, while fewer than that — only forty percent — did so in math.
Black students are the furthest behind, with about 20.55 percent meeting math standards and 33 percent meeting English throughout California.
Those damn biased tests! Those racist educators! When, oh when, shall we close those pesky gaps? No justice, no peace!
I can actually remember the event. I had just recently moved back from Liverpool to London to embark on my career as a computer programmer. I was visiting for the weekend with a friend in Reading, just west of London. My friend was much better informed on media issues than I was. He told me that there was a new comedy series starting up that Sunday evening, rumored to be, quote, "extremely silly." That naturally piqued my interest, so I stayed to watch the first episode with him.
Watching it again just now on YouTube, it really was silly.
Humor doesn't age well. If anyone still laughs at the jokes in Shakespeare's comedies, it's out of respect to the Bard. Never mind Shakespeare, in fact; it seems astonishing now that anyone ever found Charlie Chaplin funny.
In the grand scale of things, I think Monty Python's Flying Circus has weathered the years better than the average comedy. There were some real flashes of genius there.
And, returning to the theme of my segment about the NBA flap, Monty Python was blessedly free of any snarky references to insufficiently progressive politicians. Such innocent times!
07 — Signoff. That's all, ladies and gents. Thank you for listening, and I hope you enjoy your Columbus Day as much as I intend to enjoy mine. What a great man Columbus was! Let's offer thanks that he brought civilization to the brutish cannibals of the New World.
For signoff music, how about some Purcell "to cleanse the palate," as the friend who recommended this clip says, after those references to cannibalism? I see my friend's point; this piece is kind of … palate-cleansing. And we haven't had any Purcell signoff for, let me see … nearly ten years. Reasons enough.
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Jordi Savall playing Purcell's "Fantasia Upon One Note."]