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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, piano version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Greetings, listeners, from your energetically genial host John Derbyshire, here with your weekly roundup of news and views.
This week's podcast carries forward some themes from last week's, beginning with … Yes, the showbiz cannibal.
02 — Playing both sides. In last week's podcast I exulted over a story I'd read in my breakfast New York Post about movie actor Armie Hammer and his cannibalistic fantasies. The cause of my exultation was, I told you, seeing so much newsprint — the newspaper's whole front cover and two full inside pages — given over to a story that had nothing to do with politics. I then vented about how thoroughly sick of politics I was.
I still am. However, several listeners emailed in to point out that the Armie Hammer story was not as free from politics as I'd thought. Hammer, they told me, is the great-grandson of tycoon Armand Hammer, one of the most curious figures in 20th-century American capitalism.
The principal curiosity was that Hammer, a very successful capitalist, was closely involved with communism from childhood on — a real red-diaper baby. His father Julius, a Russian-Jewish immigrant to the U.S.A. who had himself attained modest success in business, was a founder member of the American Communist Labor Party and a dedicated supporter of Lenin. He named his son Armand so that the lad's entire name would recall the logo of the Socialist Labor Party, an arm holding a hammer.
Armand Hammer went on to become seriously rich by, among other ventures, dealing with the Soviet Union and Communist China. He had personal meetings with Lenin, Leonid Brezhnev, and Deng Xiaoping. Brezhnev gave him a luxury apartment in Moscow.
He played both political sides domestically as well as internationally. Quote from a New York Times story about him back in 1981 when he was still alive, quote:
Although Hammer is a Democrat, he pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence for providing secret and illegal campaign funds to then-President Richard M. Nixon in l972.
He even played both sides of the Arab-Jewish divide. In spite of being Jewish himself, he negotiated major favors from Libya's Colonel Gaddafy for his main business enterprise, Occidental Petroleum. Occidental became the main customer for Libyan oil.
Does money talk, or what?
Armand Hammer was some piece of work. He died in 1990 at age 92. If you want to read about him, there are at least six biographies and two — count 'em, two — autobiographies.
Well, I had a lot of fun there looking up Armand Hammer, who until this week was only a name on the outskirts of my awareness, a name that occasionally shows up in accounts of the early U.S.S.R.
What about this great-grandson Armie Hammer, though? I first encountered his name in that New York Post story last week. Is there any further news of him?
Matter of fact there is. The tabloids have been busy tracking down and interviewing his ex-wife and girlfriends. Here's one of the girlfriends, 22-year-old Paige Lorenze, who dated Armie for a few weeks last year. Quote from her:
He said he wanted to find a doctor that would remove my ribs. He was telling me you can remove the bottom ribs so he could smoke them, cook them and eat them. He kept saying "You don't need them."
Well, that's right, you don't. That's why they're called spare ribs, see? God had that figured out in Genesis 2:xxi.
The tabloid sleuths have also dug out pictures of Ms Lorenze at the time, scantily clad, in which she seems to be covered in bruises. Oh, and she told a reporter that Armie had carved the letter "A" into her skin using a knife. This was, she said, "extremely painful."
Now that's what I call news! Say what you like about Armie Hammer and the way he treats his women — and the way he'd like to treat them — but at least, unlike his great-grandad, he has the good taste to stay out of politics.
03 — The World of Null-T. All right, politics. There's no avoiding it.
Back in the Golden Age of science fiction seventy-something years ago there was a novel everyone read, title The World of Null-A. It was about a future planet Earth that had moved on from simple Aristotelean logic to something more subtle. So the "A" there stood for Aristotle.
The author was actually promoting a trendy philosophical system called General Semantics. This was one of those pseudoscientific fads that were popular in the mid-20th century, like William Sheldon's body-typing, Wilhelm Reich's theory of orgone energy, Immanuel Velikovsky's colliding planets, or J.B. Rhine's parapsychology.
I'm a bit surprised to see that General Semantics is still around seventy years later. A bit surprised, but only a bit; these fads never disappear completely. In New York City you can still find people practicing Freudian psychoanalysis. I bet there's a Velikovsky discussion group active on the Upper West Side somewhere.
Well, I shall leave you to look up General Semantics in your own time. You might also read The World of Null-A, which can still be found in the sci-fi shelves of municipal libraries. I don't actually recommend you do either thing; but hey, it's your time.
Much more relevant to current concerns would be a novel titled The World of Null-T, the "T" of course standing for Trump. We've not yet given up on Aristotle's logic, but we have, for better or worse, moved on from Trump's Presidency.
What's the verdict on that Presidency? It has to be failure.
It's not that Trump did nothing in those four years. He accomplished a great deal. The evangelist group Liberty Counsel has published a list covering fourteen pages. It's naturally tilted towards evangelistic concerns, and is too heavy on neoconnery for my taste — "Restoring American Leadership Abroad," etc. — but there are some real useful actions in there. On immigration, for example, quote:
Removals of convicted criminal aliens increased by 14 percent from FY 2017.
Also on federal regulations, quote:
President Trump has followed through on and exceeded his promise to roll back two regulations for every new one created.
The problem is, none of it has any permanence. Removals of convicted criminal aliens? Starting yesterday, Thursday, Biden's DHS has suspended all deportations.
In the matter of enforcing federal law, Congress proposes but the Executive disposes. If DHS, under the President's instructions, don't want to enforce the people's laws on immigration, they don't have to. It's plain they don't want to. ICE agents will quickly get the message and head for the donut shop.
Similarly with Trump's rule on federal regulations. It's a sensible rule. If you want to add a regulation to the seventy thousand pages of the Federal Register, you first have to annul two existing rules.
Well, forget about that. One of Biden's first actions — on Wednesday, right after the inauguration — was to rescind that rule. If you want to saddle the U.S. economy with a vast labyrinth of mostly pointless regulations, mostly implemented as special favors to some rent-seeking lobby or other — and that of course is what the new administration does want — seventy thousand pages is not enough! We need more!
It's the same with cultural issues. Biden — again on Wednesday, so this is high-priority for him — signed an executive order revoking Trump's ban on federal agencies and federal contractors imposing critical race theory training on employees. So now, if you work for the feds or one of their contractors, you have to submit to being lectured by black grifters and white lunatics about the evils of whiteness.
The problem with those fourteen pages of Trump's accomplishments is that hardly any of them had permanence. All the ones you'd stand up and cheer for were executive orders, that can be — and are being — revoked with a sweep of the pen by the new Chief Executive.
Biden, of course, has the advantage here that nothing he does will be contested by the kritarchs of our woke federal judiciary. Trump had only to pick up his pen in the Oval Office for some swivel-eyed federal judge in Hawaii or somewhere to pick up his pen and declare Trump's action unconstitutional just by virtue of its being … Trump's.
That doesn't let Trump altogether off the hook, though. To make changes you need laws, supplemented by the firm exercise of lawful federal powers. In those areas Trump was hopeless. His party controlled Congress for two years, but the only law anyone remembers getting passed was a mild tax cut.
The firm exercise of lawful federal powers? Was it really the case last year, when anarchist mobs were burning and looting our cities — including Washington, D.C. — for months on end, was it really the case that the Executive had no authority to restrain them? Of course it was not the case, as Senator Tom Cotton pointed out in a now-famous New York Times op-ed last June. Still nothing was done.
In fact — and as a Trump voter it pains me to say it — in fact the feebleness, sloth, and incompetence of the Trump administration makes a sorry contrast with the vigor and resolution of this new one, the Biden administration.
Joe Biden promised he would do this, that, and the other "on Day One" of his administration. Sure enough, there he was on Wednesday afternoon doing them.
Didn't Trump, on the campaign trail in 2016, also promise there were things he would do on his Day One? Yes he did. How many of them did he do? Basically none.
He promised, for example, that on Day One he would rescind the DACA boondoggle that gives work permits to illegal aliens. Day One arrived, and … nothing. Trump's administration did propose a phase-out of DACA in September 2017, which would have been about Day Two Hundred and Fifty, but Trump didn't pursue it with much energy.
And again, on the firm exercise of lawful federal powers, look at how the new administration filled the streets of Washington, D.C. with troops for the inauguration.
I personally loathe and despise our managerial state with all its corruption, its lies and its arrogant pretenses. I have to admit, though, that once it's got its hands firmly on all the levers of power, it gets things done. William Butler Yeats nailed it:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Energy in the executive, even when the Executive is in the hands of people you dislike, is a more impressive sight than lethargy in the Executive.
And which, I wonder, shall I mind the more: Having the guy I voted for in power but being constantly disappointed by him; or having the other party in power and being constantly enraged by them? I guess I shall find out.
As well as just not getting much done in any permanent way, Trump failed to tackle the Swamp in any way that seriously inconvenienced them.
If we are ever again to have Trumpism in the White House, it will need a cadre of Trumpists who know their way around, who are adept at the necessary political games. The last four years were an ideal opportunity to train up that cadre: to bring Trumpists in to the federal government at high levels so they could develop their skills.
Trump didn't attempt anything like that. The people he brought in were Swamp critters like Kirstjen Nielsen and — God help us! — John Bolton. He supplemented their advice with soft murmurings from his daughter and son-in-law and their friends, metropolitan liberals all.
There were smart, politically savvy people Trump might have brought in; but not only did he not do so, he worked actively to destroy their political careers. You could ask Kris Kobach about it, or Jeff Sessions, or Steve King.
It may be that Trumpists have been infiltrated at lower levels of the bureaucracy. Politico.com reported on Tuesday that, quote:
A higher-than-usual number of Trump administration political appointees — some with highly partisan backgrounds — are currently "burrowing" into career positions throughout the federal government, moving from appointed positions into powerful career civil service roles, which come with job protections that will make it difficult for Biden to fire them.
Yeah, maybe. Some Trumpists at the very highest levels would have been better, though.
And even assuming these moles do burrow in, and don't go native in those "career civil service roles," given the aforementioned vigor and resolution of the managerial state, our new masters will spare no effort to root them out, up to and including truth serum in the White House coffee machines.
Meanwhile the borders and the jails are being thrown open, dissidence on the internet is being crushed, the DACA illegals are still working, and we still have 26,000 troops in South Korea, although no-one can tell me why.
So, a failure. Trump's few small accomplishments are being swept away contemptuously by a vigorous new administration that is confident in the full support of our country's ruling class: the federal bureaucracy, the big corporations, the media, the academy, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the kritarchy.
Trumpism is evaporating like the morning mist in a valley. It may take a while, but by noontime, when the sun of Woke Triumphalism reaches its zenith, nothing of Trumpism will remain; all will be forgotten. Donald who?
Welcome to the world of null-T.
04 — The Swamp restoration. If you try to look at the change of administrations from the point of view of the Swamp critters, you have to think they see it as a Restoration — like the Bourbons coming back to France after Napoleon's abdication, or the Stuarts after Cromwell.
You can almost hear the sighs of relief rolling around the imperial capital. "Ah!" the Swamp critters are sighing, "Now dignity and virtue are back on the throne! Now all will be as it was before!"
Well, I wouldn't be too sure about that, guys. What always comes to my mind in this context are some lines from Orwell.
It's June of 1943, deep in WW2. Orwell is engaged in a literary spat with the poet and novelist Alex Comfort, who was a pacifist. Once again, this was the middle of WW2; Orwell and Comfort both lived in England, whose cities were being bombed and whose ships were being sunk by Germany, so this was an odd time and place to be a pacifist.
Orwell was a patriot and emphatically not a pacifist. Comfort had gotten him steamed up by writing that a German victory would bring about a literary renaissance.
Orwell responded with a long poem: fifteen stanzas of ten lines each, all in iambic pentameters, rhyming abab-cdcd-ee. Orwell was not that good a poet, but he could do the business competently enough when he set his mind to it.
What comes to my mind is the last couplet in stanza nine. Orwell is mocking Comfort's position that if only the Brits would stop fighting, everything would reset to just as it was before the war. Quote: "You almost might get back to 'thirty-nine," end quote.
Then comes the couplet I like. You need to remember that Orwell considered himself a man of the left, hostile to British imperialism. OK, the couplet, quote:
Back to the dear old game of scratch-my-neighbour
I've been trying to think of an equivalent couplet that would apply to the Swamp. Comfort, according to Orwell, fantasized that if Britain surrendered to Hitler, everything would go back to 1939. Our Swamp critters believe that now Trump has left the scene, everything will go back to 2016.
They may of course be right, but their belief needs mocking anyway. I've had trouble putting a couplet together, though. The first line might go something like:
Back to the dear old game of feed-my-donors …
… but I just can't come up with a rhyme for "donors."
Donors … donors … OK, I think I'll just close this segment here.
05 — Ceremonial woo. Poetry, yes. We got some poetry at the inauguration on Wednesday. At any rate, we were told we'd gotten some.
This was after Joe Biden's swearing-in. A young black lady stepped up and read us a poem of her own composition.
I knew where I was here. I covered the topic in Chapter Four of my 2009 spacetime-bending classic We Are Doomed. That was in reference to a different black lady poet, Elizabeth Alexander, who read one of her creations at Barack Obama's first inauguration. Quote from myself:
Pretty much all current "establishment" poetry — the kind of poetry that will get you picked to read at a presidential inauguration — traipses round and round a narrow track of victimization, racism, sexism, and the rest of the dreary catalog of modern grievance culture …
This week's poetess was 22-year-old Amanda Gorman of Los Angeles, who basks in the title "National Youth Poet Laureate." True to my remarks in We Are Doomed, her poem was not a poem, not by the standard I apply.
That standard, the condition for my being willing to call a composition a poem, is the two-out-of-three rule. Here are the three:
If at least two of those three conditions pertains, it's a poem; if not, not. Paradise Lost scans and makes sense but doesn't rhyme: It's a poem. Jabberwocky rhymes and scans but doesn't make sense: It's a poem.
If I hadn't had that third glass of wine I bet I could come up with something that rhymes and makes sense but doesn't scan. As it is I shall, as math textbooks say, leave it as an exercise for the listener.
[Added when archiving: This may qualify.]
Ms Gorman's inaugural effort scores zero, so it's not a poem. It doesn't rhyme, except accidentally here or there; it doesn't scan, except ditto; and it doesn't make sense, except ditto again.
If you want to judge for yourself, American Renaissance on Thursday posted the poem with annotations by one of their readers, who leaves himself anonymous. Hey, the guy doesn't want to lose his job, his credit cards, his Facebook page and his Twitter and Amazon accounts. Once again, that was posted at AmRen on January 21 under the heading: "In Case You Missed the 'Inaugural Poem'."
After all that negativity I should say that Ms Gorman's composition was not as whiny as one might have expected from her Wikipedia page. There we read that, quote:
Gorman's art and activism focus on issues of oppression, feminism, race, and marginalization, as well as the African diaspora.
In fact, the bits of Ms Gorman's poem that make sense are not that whiny. Here and there it's quite upbeat … I think. There is only one little flash of solipsism:
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
Enough with the slavery already, though. We're all descended from slaves at some remove.
If I had to assign Ms Gorman's poem to any rhetorical genre it would in fact be the one I think of as Ceremonial Woo. Let me explain that.
I start from the phrase "ceremonial deism," coined sixty years ago by a dean of Yale Law School. Ceremonial deism is the religious references that crop up in the rhetoric of politicians, as when the President closes out a speech by saying, "God bless America!" It also embraces some customary governmental practices like opening a legislative session with a prayer.
Not everybody is happy about ceremonial deism. Dogmatic atheists, most obviously, are not happy with it, and from time to time try to get it stamped out on the grounds that it violates the separation of church and state. I imagine that Hindus don't like it much, either, as it is always monotheistic, while Hinduism is polytheistic.
Ceremonial deism persists, though, from sheer custom. We're stuck with it until the day, probably less than ten years away now, when Ibram X. Kendi or one of his disciples manages to prove conclusively that ceremonial deism is emblematic of systemic racism and white privilege.
Well, that's where I get the word "ceremonial" from. "Woo" I get from "woo-woo," defined at the Urban Dictionary as, edited quote:
descriptive of an event or person espousing New Age theories such as energy work, crystal magic, Reiki, bizarrely restrictive diets, or supernatural/paranormal/psychic occurrences … practices an Eastern-influenced yet severely watered-down and Westernized pseudo-mysticism
That's woo-woo. My usage of "woo" indicates something less loopy that that, just half as loopy, in fact: rhetoric that tries to be lofty, sublime, and inspirational but that just comes across as pretentious and silly. Woo.
Ceremonial woo is what we get from politicians when they're trying to sound uplifting. Joe Biden in his inaugural speech, for example, Quote:
Together we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness.
That's ceremonial woo. It doesn't make any sense, but Joe's hoping it sounds good.
Sure, at any given moment I'd rather be hoping something than fearing something. The emotion of fear serves a very useful purpose, though, and should be respected. Face to face with a Bengal tiger baring its fangs at me, I feel fear, and I should. Contemplating the prospect of losing my job because lax immigration rules let my employer replace me with a cheaper foreign worker, likewise.
As for unity, which turned up a dozen times in Joe's speech: Politics in a free country isn't about striving for unity, except in the tautological sense that we are one country under one government; it's about the civilized management of dis-unity, of disagreement.
I honestly worry — I fear, in fact — that a great many of the people now in power over us do not understand this. I fear they think that "unity" means everyone holding the same opinions about key social issues, with those who hold different opinions being shunned and excluded. That does seem to be the direction we're headed in.
So: What we got from Ms Gorman was, according to me, ceremonial woo.
Going back for a moment to Ms Gorman's Wikipedia page, we learn there that she was educated at a tony private school in Santa Monica, annual tuition currently $42,180, followed by Harvard University. Wikipedia doesn't make clear at which of these institutions it was she suffered oppression and marginalization; both of them, perhaps. Systemic racism is everywhere …
To be fair to Ms Gorman yet again I should add that education-wise, that at least makes her a tad more oppressed and marginalized than Elizabeth Alexander, Barack Obama's inaugural poetess.
Ms Alexander, whose father was Secretary of the Army, attended Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., and then Yale University. Current fees at Sidwell Friends are $46,160. On a straightforward arithmetical calculation that makes Ms Gorman 8.6 percent more oppressed and marginalized than Ms Alexander.
So much oppression and marginalization in the world! So much suffering under the cruel yoke of white privilege! You may want to take a break between this segment and the next to just weep quietly into your hankie for a moment or two.
06 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: I had a segment last week about the prosecution of police officer Derek Chauvin, famously photographed last May kneeling on the neck of George Floyd. Officer Chauvin, you'll recall, was one of four cops — now ex-cops — to be tried for causing Floyd's death.
I reported that Minneapolis Judge Peter Cahill had ruled in November that all four cops should be tried together, saying this would allow the jury to have "all of the evidence and the complete picture of Floyd's death." That was last November. Judge Cahill had changed his mind, though. The new plan, as of last week, was to try Officer Chauvin by himself in March, then the other three defendants in August.
Now it seems the prosecutors — that's the Minnesota state prosecutors working for white-hating black Muslim communist Attorney General Keith Ellison — the prosecutors want to cancel that revised plan and put all four defendants on trial together, but not until summer. A trial in March would present a public health danger, they're saying.
I don't know what's going on here, but I have the creepy feeling that something's going on.
Suppose, I'm asking myself, suppose Comrade Ellison's guys have concluded that a guilty verdict on Officer Chauvin isn't likely. An acquittal would not only be a major embarrassment for Ellison, it would also trigger major disorder, like the acquittal of the Los Angeles cops in the Rodney King case.
So, a real problem for Ellison. At that point the name Jeffrey Epstein floats into my mind, I don't know why …
Item: Last week I introduced listeners to the acronym ADOS, A-D-O-S, standing for "American Descendant of Slavery." The point of ADOS is to differentiate blacks descended from black slaves in the U.S.A. from blacks of foreign black ancestry.
Well, Lady Ann spotted ADOS too, I have no idea where, and she took exception to it. Tweet from her, tweet:
I prefer "Descendants Of American Slaves." We don't owe anything to descendants of, e.g., Kenyan slaves.
I take Lady Ann's point, but she may get into difficulties there. "Descendants Of American Slaves" initializes down to D-O-A-S, so people are going to be saying "DOAs." Unfortunately DOA already has a widely-understood meaning: Think wailing ambulance sirens and hospital emergency entrances.
In Snowflake America it would be only a matter of time before DOAS was declared hurtful. So I'm afraid I have to declare Lady Ann's suggestion DOA.
Item: Animal corner here. Last week it was sloths; this week, hippos. Not just hippos, in fact: cocaine hippos.
New York Post, January 17th, headline: Colombia's "cocaine hippos" must be stopped, scientists warn. From the story, quote:
Pablo Escobar's hippos are taking over the marshlands of Colombia — and need to face the same fate as their late owner before they become impossible to control, scientists have warned.
So there's another thing to worry about from Latin America: caravans of hungry cocaine hippopotami surging up through Mexico to assault our Southern border claiming asylum. I hope our new DHS secretary is making appropriate preparations.
Hang on there, you're asking yourselves. Is Derb telling us this dumb story just so he can play the Flanders & Swann "Hippo Song" for signoff music?
Of course I am! As I said last week, any excuse is good enough.
07 — Signoff. That's it, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your time and attention. Having given away the signoff music, I shall proceed to it without further ado, or ADOS.
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Flanders & Swann, "The Hippopotamus Song."]