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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 stoically genial host John Derbyshire.
Apologies for the absence of a podcast last week, and heartfelt thanks to listeners who emailed in with expressions of concern. No: To the best of my understanding I do not have the China virus — no fever, no difficulty breathing — but I have been afflicted with an exceptionally nasty upper respiratory infection, whether influenza or a cold I don't know.
These are the minor trials of life. We must put up with them as best we can, always in awareness of others with far heavier burdens to bear, and soldier on. Ill health is far less common today than it was even just a few decades ago, thanks to the advances of modern medicine. Let's be grateful we live when we do.
So, to the news. First up: the end of an era in our literary culture.
02 — End of the Playboy era. One casualty of the coronavirus disruption has been Playboy magazine. Or perhaps not really: The CEO of Playboy enterprises tells us they have been trembling on the edge of stopping print publication for a while; coronavirus just pushed them over the edge.
Yes, yes, I do understand that for any American much below the age of sixty Playboy is a historical artefact, if not an archeological one. Founded in 1953 by, of course, the late Hugh Hefner, Playboy peaked in the sixties, was still occasionally worth a glance in the seventies, then faded from the cultural furniture of anyone not incurably nostalgic. The print edition went from being a monthly to a quarterly last year; it will survive now in some digital format.
I only actually bought one issue of Playboy in my entire life, in honor of Hugh Hefner's 80th birthday in 2006. I got a good long column for National Review out of that, which I am still quite pleased with. Longish quote from that column:
Stasis … is the main characteristic of Playboy, as of its founder's own lifestyle. The whole thing is frozen in time, like some image of the Garden of Eden. The main impulse to my buying the May 2006 Playboy was indirect: not to peruse the ads for ideas about how to spend my pitiful quantity of disposable income, nor to read the interview with Ozzie Guillen (of whom I had never heard), nor even to cast a lustful eye on the naked girls (honestly!) I was mainly just curious as to where the thing had gone to since the last time I looked into it — which was, I think, around 1977. And the short answer is: nowhere. I suppose there have been tremendous advances in printing technology since 1977, and three or four revolutions in magazine layout, ad design, and so on. Content-wise, though, Playboy is one of those curious, and oddly reassuring, instances of stasis in human affairs, like Pez dispensers, the standard big-house opera repertory, or Fidel Castro's speeches.
Now the print magazine has followed its creator to the grave (Hefner died in 2017). I am older than I once was, and the world has changed in ways some of which I don't like. So the wheel turns. Goodbye, Playboy.
03 — Europeans: Invade us, please! Civilizationally consequential at a much higher level has been the fighting along Greece's border with Turkey and the related floods of Muslim and black African invaders across the Ionian Sea to what were once quiet, pretty Greek islands and have now been transformed by the invaders into bedlams of filth, crime, disease, and violence.
Now, as the weather starts to warm, we are starting to see a replay of 2015, with boats full of invaders setting out from Libya in hopes of making it to Europe.
I just got through reading a very strange news story about this. The story appeared in the far-left London Guardian newspaper, March 12th. Headline: Revealed: the great European refugee scandal.
The scandal in that headline concerns Operation Sophia, a project of the EU, the European Union. Sophia was a joint sea-and-air patrol system covering the south-central Mediterranean. It was set up during the great crisis of 2015. Remember those aerial pictures of boats crammed with invaders? Right.
Now, quote from the Guardian story:
After participating in thousands of rescues in its first four years, Sophia withdrew its sea vessels from March 2019, leaving only aircraft in the rescue zone. It came to be known as the naval mission without any ships.
So what do the aircraft do? They spot boats full of invaders, alert the Libyan coastguard, and direct them to the boats to be towed back to Libya. It's plain from the Guardian story that the EU, and perhaps Italy separately, have cut some kind of quiet deal with Libya to make sure the invaders don't get across to Europe.
That is the "scandal" in the Guardian writers' headline. They are in a state of high indignation about it. The deal, they sputter, violates international laws on so-called "asylum seekers" and so-called "refugees." It probably does: Those laws all favor the rights of the invaders over Europeans who cherish their national sovereignty.
There is the strangeness, as it appears to me. Millions of people — potentially tens, eventually hundreds of millions of people — most of them tough-looking young men, from dysfunctional poop-hole countries in black Africa and the Muslim world, are desperate to gate-crash Europe.
And here are earnest, literate Europeans keen to help them and indignant at an effort to stop them; and here is a respectable broadsheet newspaper glad to give over its pages to letting those Europeans vent their indignation at 3,000-word length.
This could be an interesting summer in the Mediterranean.
04 — Justice for Justinian! Yeah, yeah, I've just been screwin' with you here. I know you're all on tenterhooks waiting to hear what Radio Derb, the civilized world's most authoritative source of news and opinion, has to say about the current flu pandemic.
What I have actually been doing there is practicing the oldest trick in the narrative writer's book. The Victorian author Charles Reade — of whom George Orwell was a great fan — Charles Reade was once asked what was the trick of writing a successful novel. Replied Reade: "Make 'em laugh; make 'em cry; make 'em wait." But I shouldn't be giving away trade secrets here.
So, the virus. There's no avoiding the durn thing, although after two weeks of frenzied reporting, it's hard for the poor commentator to come up with anything original to say.
I shall begin by nailing down some nomenclature. What do we call the thing?
That's been exciting some public controversy all by itself. Wednesday our President was tackled by a distraught snowflake reporterette at his news conference.
Hard to argue with that; hard, but not impossible. You could argue, for example, that while indeed the virus originated in China, its becoming a world-wide concern has been due mainly to the reflexive lying and thuggery of China's rulers, the Chinese Communist Party. So it would be a bit fairer to the great mass of Chinese people, who don't want the filthy thing any more than you or I do, it would be fairer to call it "the ChiCom virus."
In fact, since the communists still revere the guy whose portrait looks down across Tiananmen Square, and hold him up to their people as a paragon of wisdom and patriotism, we could be even snappier and just call the virus "Mao." The objection to that would be, that the virus is unlikely to kill as many people as Mao did — estimates start at forty-five million — so that to call the virus "Mao" would be unfair to the virus.
People are arguing, though. There is a considerable movement afoot, led by the World Health Organization, to stop naming diseases and pathogens after places, and to re-name those that have customarily been so named. The guardians of our culture are hard at work on this. Neocon Never Trumper David Frum will rap you across the knuckles with a ruler if you refer to the 1918-19 pandemic as "the Spanish Flu."
This is petty, low-grade stuff — evidence that the horrid plague of Political Correctness has done far more damage to our minds than this current virus will to our lungs. We've been naming diseases after the places we thought they came from forever: German measles, West Nile virus, Lyme disease, … Hel-lo?
Sean Hannity pointed out the other evening that Ebola virus is named after a river in West Africa. Thanks, Sean: Now will you please stop saying "Wuhan Province"? Wuhan is not a province. Saying "Wuhan Province" is not politically incorrect; it's actually, factually incorrect. Don't you have people to look this stuff up for you?
Back in the 19th century bronchitis was known on the European continent as "the English disease." England is cold and damp, and was the first country to get an industrial revolution, with all the air pollution that brought. Not hard to figure. Or possibly, in the case of France at any rate, it was revenge for English people having named syphilis "the French pox," a usage that started up in the 16th century.
It's been going on for ever, and whining about it is silly. The Babylon Bee caught the absurdity of it all with their suggestion that we start referring to the Black Death as the Death of Color. They didn't offer an alternative for Yellow Fever, and perhaps that's just as well.
And speaking of plagues in times long past, why don't the Thought Police get to work renaming the Plague of Justinian back in the sixth century? That one was as bad as the Black Death, possibly worse. It wasn't the Emperor Justinian's fault, though. He seems to have been a pretty good egg. In fact he was struck by the plague himself, but recovered. Why is this excellent ruler mainly remembered for having his name attached to a horrid pandemic? It is so unfair! Where are the snowflakes?
OK, OK, so what are we going to call it? The specialists of course have their own precise jargon. The virus causing all the trouble is named SARS-CoV-2, one of a family of related critters known as coronaviruses, with six or seven other members in the family. The condition it causes in those afflicted is named COVID-19.
I don't see much sign that "COVID-19" is catching on in ordinary talk, much less "SARS-CoV-2." People mainly seem to just say "coronavirus." That's a bit loose, as the villain here is just one member of the coronavirus family, but it's what people say, so I'll say it too.
Nomenclature out of the way, how are we doing with this coronavirus outbreak?
05 — Putting healthcare to the test. The answer to that last question is, it's hard to tell. The reason it's hard to tell is, we're working with a poor and debatable quality of data, from which all kinds of contradictory things can be deduced.
There don't seem to be any international standards for data reporting, either. Germany's reporting a mortality rate of 0.3 percent. Italy's reporting 7.9 percent. Wha?
So I open my Friday New York Post and it tells me there are 5,645 cases of coronavirus in New York State. My state has a population of 19½ million, so that would be point zero two eight percent and change — something like one in thirty-five hundred. That doesn't seem too bad at all … except that the number is meaningless without context.
Hoo-kay: 5,645 people were tested and found positive. Out of how many tested altogether? If all 19½ million of us were to be tested, what would the number be then? And what, by the way, is the rate of false positives?
The whole area of testing for the virus is an embarrassment. The CDC and the FDA, given the task of creating and distributing tests, went at it with all the efficiency and finesse of the proverbial monkey trying to get intimate with a football. South Korea tests ten to twenty thousand people a day; the U.S.A. tests two thousand on a good day.
The testing fiasco has generated a small genre of op-ed columns by people describing their efforts to get tested, usually without success. Journalist Tim Herrera had a good one in the New York Times Wednesday. Herrera was one of the lucky ones, being in New York City with half a dozen first-rank hospitals nearby. Still it took him hours working the phone, getting bounced from one healthcare drone to another.
The previous Wednesday Herrera had woken with symptoms — cough, fever. He called his doctor's office. They gave him the number of a clinic doing tests. He called the clinic. No, they weren't doing tests. Could they refer him to someone that was? No, they couldn't.
He called New York City hospital system and was put on hold. Meanwhile his girlfriend called the CDC. They got back first, took his details, and said someone would call to check later. Nobody ever did. Then the hospital system called back. They took his details all over again, told him to quarantine for two weeks, and hung up … but later they called back with a test date for the next day.
Herrera got his test at last; but the results were posted online, which they shouldn't have been, and late.
Recognize our healthcare system? It sure sounds familiar to me. In my February Diary I narrated the time-wasting fandango I had to go through just to get the right co-pay on a routine medication.
This is where I pose my usual challenge to listeners: Name one country anywhere in the world, under any system of government, that has a lobby of any size agitating for an American-style healthcare system.
We'll get a handle on the thing eventually, I'm sure. Winston Churchill said that America always does the right thing at last, after trying everything else first. We're still on the trying-everything-else phase yet.
06 — The evidence fiasco. We all quickly got used to the jargon. "Social distancing" was the order of the day. We had to "flatten the curve." That's the curve you get if you plot number of infections day by day. Do nothing and that curve soars upwards, overwhelming your medical facilities. By social distancing — minimizing our contacts with other people — we get a much gentler upward curve, allowing medical facilities time to catch up.
That's what we've settled on: social distancing to flatten the curve. Was it inevitable that we should? Might we have taken some other course of action?
Certainly we might. One of the interesting features of public conversation this past couple of weeks has been the healthy skepticism expressed by many commentators. We reproduced an example here at the VDARE.com website: Heather Mac Donald's March 13th piece at the New Criterion. Sample quote. Here Heather is scoffing at the fuss about rates of infection being exponential. Quote:
Even if my odds of dying from coronavirus should suddenly jump ten-thousand-fold, from the current rate of .000012 percent across the U.S. population all the way up to .12 percent, I'd happily take those odds over the destruction being wrought on the U.S. and global economy from this unbridled panic.
In the same spirit, also on March 13th, was Dennis Saffran at the American Greatness website. In a good thoughtful piece about the public appetite for risk and the quality of our scientific leadership, Dennis retails a quote from New York State Senator Vincent Graber, in a debate on related issues, quote:
We could really reduce the death rate if we lowered the speed limit to 21 and raised the drinking age to 55.
It hasn't been just journalists, either. Constitutional Law Professor Richard Epstein did a good quantitative analysis of the data, such as it is, on March 16th at the Hoover Institution website. Sample quote:
Even though self-help measures like avoiding crowded spaces make abundant sense, the massive public controls do not. In light of the available raw data, public officials have gone overboard.
What's that you say? None of these people are credentialed epidemiologists? OK, here was John Ioannidis, professor of medicine, of epidemiology and population health, of biomedical data science, and of statistics at Stanford University, posting at the medical website statnews.com, March 17th. Sample quote, edited:
The data collected so far on how many people are infected and how the epidemic is evolving are utterly unreliable … Three months after the outbreak emerged, most countries, including the U.S., lack the ability to test a large number of people and no countries have reliable data on the prevalence of the virus in a representative random sample of the general population.
Professor Ioannidis' piece got a polite, collegial rebuttal from Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard — I quoted some previous comments of his in my February 28th podcast. Prof. Lipsitch, responding to Prof. Ioannidis on March 18th, sample quote.
There are two options for Covid-19 at the moment: long-term social distancing or overwhelmed health care systems.
So … we have a leaky, dubious mass of data and a wide range of opinions from thoughtful analysts, including specialists. What are we supposed to do with that?
07 — Geezers on gurneys. What you and I do with it is of course up to us as individual citizens. I'm very lucky here. I live in a spacious outer suburb of New York with my wife and son, never have to get close to anyone else at all. My wife works from home three days a week, and that's just been extended to four. My son's a college student; but classes are suspended. He fills his time quite happily working out at the home gym, playing computer games, and chatting on the phone with friends.
So the Derbs are well-nigh self-quarantining. I wash my hands a lot and avoid touching my mucous membranes. For trips to the drugstore I wear a mask — I bought a big supply back when the whole thing started. I eat sensibly and exercise: Basil gets a 45-minute walk every day, on the vague superstition that viruses don't like fresh air. We pass other dog-walkers at ten feet distance, waving in a neighborly way.
I've cut back on consumption of ardent spirits in accordance with Kipling's advice to the young British soldier:
[Recites] When the cholera comes — as it will past a doubt —
Sorry, I always get carried away with Kipling.
As I said, I'm lucky, well-situated to ride the thing out. Other people seem to be coping sensibly in the face of massive dislocation and inconvenience — worst of course in the cases of people laid off from their jobs. This category may include our own daughter; we're waiting to hear.
So there's the answer to what we citizens are doing with that leaky, dubious mass of data and that wide range of opinions from thoughtful analysts. What are our politicians, legislators, and administrators doing with it?
What they're doing is, following the social distancing / flattening the curve paradigm. It looked for a while as though the British government might take a different tack, just letting the virus burn through the population fast, creating a big mass of people gifted with immunity by having had a mild case. Then, March 16th, a report by a panel of experts came out modeling the consequences of that nine ways to Sunday. The consequences were all terrible. The Brits turned on a dime and are now social distancing and flattening the curve with the rest of us.
The degree of social distancing we're doing is pretty dramatic, with any kind of big gathering now shut down. The economic consequences will be dire. That was the choice our leaders faced, though: Drive the economy off a cliff, or … what?
My answer to that "what?" is: geezers on gurneys. The best advice our leaders could get was: Either do a full-court press on social distancing, or face scenes of hospital parking lots filled with hundreds of geezers on gurneys, coughing their lives away because we don't have the staff or equipment to deal with them.
Given the likelihood of that appalling spectacle, on the best advice they could get, you can't blame our leaders for what they are doing. Will it prove in the end to have been unnecessary? Shall we have crashed the economy for nothing? Possibly; the underlying data here is, as I've said, iffy.
Among all the unknowns here, the scariest, it seems to me, are long-term. What happens in the Fall?
If we can get a handle on things these few weeks, then the warmer weather causes the virus to quiesce, with maybe just a mild resurgence in the Fall, we'll be able to ride out the economic consequences and get the economy back on track in a year or two, as we did twelve years ago. On the other hand, if the virus comes roaring back in the Fall, perhaps in some variant form, then it'll be: Katy bar the door.
09 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: It's amazing how we trundle along from year to year in blithe ignorance of important things. Tucker Carlson's been drumming in the fact that 97 percent of our pharmaceuticals are made in China. Did you know that? I didn't, and I flatter myself I'm a decently well-informed person.
Thursday night this week Tucker had as a guest on his show one Rosemary Gibson, author of a book titled China RX: Exposing the Risks of America's Dependence on China for Medicine. Ms Gibson's book came out in April 2018, two years ago. I'm ashamed to say I never heard of it until Thursday night.
How many other unwelcome little facts are lurking away there in the woodwork, waiting for some accidental coronavirus moment to bring them to the fore?
There's always a silver lining. The silver lining to this current crisis is, that we're going to be thinking a whole lot harder about globalization, and being a whole lot less carefree about what critical industries we export.
Item: Or are we? Perhaps we're too far gone in multicultural stupidity.
It's been an oft-repeated remark here on Radio Derb that:
The most amazing, astounding, astonishing statistic of the 21st century is that the annual rate of Muslim immigration into the U.S.A. increased after 9/11.
We may soon have a companion fact to set alongside that one, a fact just as amazing, astounding, and astonishing. Politico reports this week that the Trump administration is planning a massive expansion of the EB-5 investor-visa program, half of whose recipients come from communist China. The EB-5 visa program, as well as being addled with fraud, increases Chinese influence here and jacks up property prices.
The moving spirit here seems to be First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner, although of course plenty of congressroaches will be on board once they hear that clink of donor cash. Senator Lindsey Graham's already got his fat fingers all over it.
I guess the maxim "Never let a crisis go to waste" works just as well for globalist nation-wreckers as for our domestic radicals.
Item: It's not just pharmaceuticals. A week or two ago, just after I'd first heard Tucker Carlson put forward that statistic about 97 percent of our pharmaceuticals being made in China, I happened to be in church listening to a sermon. My attention wandered, as it often does in long sermons, and I flipped idly through the Bible on my lap.
It was a standard newish Bible belonging to the church, which is a Baptist confession. There in the front matter, along with date of publication and so on, I spotted the words Printed in China.
So it's not just our medicines we're getting from China, it's our spiritual nourishment too. Good grief!
This is a welcome step forward in the elimination of hate from Western society. We have a way to go yet, though. It is still lawful for a Briton to describe someone as boring, annoying, stupid, or mean.
When, oh when, shall hate in all its manifestations be outlawed at last? How long, O Lord, how long?
Item: And then: Slothgate.
The arena here is a mall in New Jersey named Woodbridge Center. The mall includes a combination petting zoo and aquarium that has been much criticized by animal-rights activists. Their latest beef — "beef"? … whatever — their latest issue is that a sloth named Flash was brought into the petting zoo in December in poor shape, and quickly died. Flash was, the activists claim, secretly replaced by a lookalike sloth and given the same name.
That's what's happening in New Jersey. Slothgate.
The money quote here is from activist Whitney Malin, who has started an online petition to shut down the petting zoo. Quote from him:
Animals do not belong in a mall.
You think I'm going to comment on that? I'm not. Absolutely not. No way, never.
09 — Signoff. That's it. ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for listening; and should you happen to catch the coronavirus, may it be only a mild case, as the majority of them are.
Today, March 20th, is the birthday of Dame Vera Lynn, the Forces' Sweetheart of WW2. The lady is 103 years old, bless her stout English heart. It's been a Radio Derb tradition, at least since her hundredth birthday three years ago, to play out the show with one of her songs. Here's a favorite from my childhood: "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles." May you be blowing bubbles for many more years yet, Ma'am!
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Dame Vera Lynn, "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles."]