01m54s The decline of our political culture. (Comedy, tragedy.)
09m52s 2021: a first look. (Two things that will certainly happen.)
14m57s Race denialists dig in. (The point they've arrived at.)
20m48s Ending law enforcement. (Mug 'em again!)
29m21s Ending academic testing. ("Holistic" = completely subjective.)
34m00s Chuck Yeager, RIP. (A great West Virginian.)
36m13s Alone in the cosmos? (Seems like a waste.)
40m30s Miss BumBum lives! (At Cambridge University.)
42m48s Signoff. (With a gifted violinist.)
And yes, I know I should pronounce it "shivaREE." The problem here is, I picked the word up in childhood, from reading not from listening. I liked to read the British weekly humor magazine Punch every chance I got, and Punch promoted itself as, quote, "the London charivari."
Bookish kids learn a lot of words they don't know how to pronounce right; and when you've spent your early formative years saying a word to yourself one way, it's hard to switch to saying it another way. The sci-fi author Theodore Sturgeon created a character, also a bookish kid, who first saw the word "misled" in an advertisement somewhere and pronounced it to his infant self as "mizzled."
Sorry, I'm rambling here. Let's get to the 天 下 大 事, the great matters under Heaven.
02 — The decline of our political culture. A wise man once observed that this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel. Well, we can all think and we can all feel. We can even do both things simultaneously. Hence the expression "I don't know whether to laugh or cry."
That's the mood I'm in with regard to our political culture today. The thinking Derb looks at the transparently bogus ways our ruling class rigged this recent election and can't help but laugh. Do they really think we're taken in by it? It's like watching a really incompetent stage magician.
You know the ways, but let me just list some of the most transparent.
And so on. There are other items you can add to the charge sheet. I'm just making the point that the stage magicians here aren't even bothering to practice real sleight of hand. This is Tommy Cooper, not David Copperfield. They know they can pull off their stunts without much art because nobody of importance will call them out. All the people of importance are anti-Trump.
So, yes, you can't help but smile at their artlessness. It's so blatant, so obvious. That's the comedy.
Then there's the tragedy: A great and beautiful country brought down into the dirt — into the soft totalitarianism of a corrupt Third World petty despotism — by a venal, ruthless, and cynical elite class.
U.S. politics has never been spotless, of course, although it's generally been cleaner the higher up you go — big-city mayoral campaigns dirtier than Presidential ones. And even at those highest levels the ruling elite, with their media allies, has often leaned strongly for or against one particular candidate.
I remember how they leaned against Richard Nixon, and indeed managed eventually to destroy him. In the 1968 and 1972 campaigns, however, which I followed attentively from foreign parts, Nixon got a mostly fair hearing — way fairer than Trump has gotten. Nixon's opponents in those campaigns, Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern, were smart, capable, and articulate politicians of substance, not mumbling zombies.
There's been a falling-off in our political culture, just as there has been in our popular and high culture. If you find yourself humming a tune, odds are it was composed more than forty years ago. If someone quotes a line of poetry to you, it's not likely the poet is anyone later than Robert Frost, who was born in 1874. If your wife wants to hang a picture to give some color to the dining-room, whose work does she pick? Not likely anyone younger than Andrew Wyeth, born 1917.
A real falling-off: From clever, capable, worldly politicians jousting for the voters' favor to a tawdry media mock-up. There's the tragedy.
It's hard to call the future, of course, but here are two things that undoubtedly will happen in 2021, one domestic and one foreign.
So there are two certainties for 2021: state trials for the Minnesota cops, and the ChiCom centenary. One or both might pass without incident, but there is potential for big trouble in both.
04 — Race denialists dig in. The core ideology of our ruling class, which citizens contradict at peril of losing their livelihood, is race denialism. Statistical differences in outcome by race cannot possibly be biological in origin. The only reasons for those differences you may discuss in public are social: poverty, oppression, lack of self-esteem. And in fact all of those reasons have a single root cause: systemic racism on the part of whites towards other races.
There are at least two problems with this race denialism. Problem One: Half a century of efforts, including massive favoritism towards blacks, expenditures of trillions, and the election of a black President, have made only a slight dent in the differences of outcome. Problem Two: East and South Asians, who are now richer and more successful on average than whites.
You might therefore think that the evidence against race denialism is now so glaringly obvious as to force denialists to some reconsideration, some doubts as to the soundness of their theory.
That, however, would be to underestimate the fanaticism of the race denialists. Once a big idea has a real grip on believers, mere logic has no power to dislodge it. Think of those religious cults that proclaim the Second Coming on a certain date. The faithful assemble on a mountain-top the day before to await the blessed event. Nothing happens. Do they realise the folly of their belief? Not at all. The cult leader just revises his calculations and announces a new date. When the new date arrives, there are the faithful, waiting on the mountain-top again.
There are two social zones in which differences in outcome by race are most plain and have proven most intractable: law enforcement and academic achievement. Decade after decade, social program after social program, administration after administration, black Americans end up in jail at rates stupendously higher than whites and Asians, and black Americans perform academically at rates dismally lower than whites and Asians.
Nothing works, nothing changes; the statistics stay stubbornly the same. What's a race denialist to do? Well, he could abandon his faith and become a race realist; but as I've already noted, that's asking the psychologically impossible. So what to do?
Here's what the race denialists have come up with at last: Stop generating the statistics! Too many blacks getting arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed? Stop arresting them! Blacks' academic test scores are way lower than whites' and Asians'? Stop testing!
This is actually the point race denialism has arrived at. I'll take the two topics, law enforcement and academic testing, in turn in two separate segments.
Before I launch the first of those segments, though, let me just alert you to a new book from very occasional VDARE.com contributor Ed Dutton, a/k/a The Jolly Heretic. The book is called Making Sense of Race and it came out from Washington Summit Publishers the week before last. It's a good, long, solidly-researched debunking of race denialist dogma. Incredibly, it seems to me, it's available at Amazon.com. I'm wondering how much longer that will be the case, once the Thought Police get wind of it.
OK, let's look at those two zones, law enforcement and academic testing, where the race denialists are digging in. First, law enforcement.
05 — Race denialism gone wild: (1) Law enforcement. Monday this week the city of Los Angeles, California, home to our country's largest prosecutor's office and biggest nonfederal jail system, got itself a new District Attorney: 66-year-old Cuban immigrant and ex-cop George Gascón.</p
At his swearing-in ceremony on Monday, Mr Gascón promised a sweeping, top-to-bottom relaxation of law enforcement for the city. No more cash bail; no more prosecutions of most first-time, nonviolent offenders; no more enhanced prison sentences for accused gang members; a review of thousands of old cases to reduce sentences or overturn convictions altogether.
A whole slew of misdemeanors will no longer be prosecuted by DA Gascón's office. They have essentially been de-criminalized.
Driving without a license, or with a suspended license? No prosecution. Public intoxication? No prosecution. Open soliciting for sex? No prosecution. Vagrancy? No prosecution. You're a small-business owner and customers can't get into your store because of bums sleeping in the street outside — or, when not sleeping, shooting up with drugs, picking fights with passers-by, or crapping? Don't bother calling the cops, they won't respond.
Most incredibly, DA Gascón will no longer prosecute for resisting arrest. How will that work?
If anyone in authority sincerely wanted to reduce the shooting of suspects by police, there would be no better strategy than to mount a massive long-term publicity campaign to tell people not to resist arrest. Conversely, if some lunatic wanted to increase the shooting of perps by cops, the best way to do that would be to encourage people to resist arrest — by decriminalizing it, for instance. Apparently DA Gascón is that lunatic.
As Heather Mac Donald wrote in a Wednesday op-ed at the New York Post, quote:
The vast majority of police shootings … could be eliminated tomorrow, if all suspects complied with officers' commands. Resisting arrest is the biggest predictor of officer use of force.
And I must say, for such a powerful official of the law, DA Gascón's grasp of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence seems not very firm. Quote from him at Monday's swearing-in ceremony, as reported by the New York Times, quote:
There's no question that the murder of George Floyd shook the conscience of this country in many corners where people were not concerned about this work before.
So the Los Angeles DA pronounces a murder verdict on the Minneapolis police officers three months before their trial is scheduled to open. Is this really a guy Los Angelenos want supervising their city's law enforcement?
Apparently it is. They elected him: In fact he prevailed in a runoff election against Jackie Lacey, who (a) is female, (b) is black, and (c) had the support of every big political player in Southern California, including the Mayor of L.A.
It's not just Los Angeles, either. The New York Times — which, by the way, in their "news" story about DA Gascón's swearing-in, also mentions, quote, "the killing of Mr. Floyd," although no killing has yet been proved — the New York Times tells us that the decriminalization of crime is a nationwide trend. Quote:
The dynamics that propelled Mr Gascón to victory played out in similar fashion in Austin, Texas, where a candidate vowing to end prosecutions of some drug sales won, and in Orlando, Fla., where voters elected Monique Worrell, whose background includes investigating claims of wrongful convictions.
End quote, followed by approving mentions of similar cases in Georgia, Michigan, Colorado and Ohio.
Those of us with long memories have been here before. My favorite example, which I have pulled out from my own long memory at least once before, features "Turn 'em Loose Bruce." Longish Quote from self:
Back in the late 1980s, there was a judge in New York City named Bruce Wright, known to all as "Turn 'Em Loose Bruce" for his lenience towards the criminals who came up before him. This was one of those liberal judges who had an excuse for every felon, even for those too stupid or obstreperous to have prepared an excuse for themselves.
Well, one day Judge Wright got mugged in the street near his home. He was off work for a few days. It was a big story in the tabloid newspapers, and a lot of people were making jokes about it.
When Judge Wright returned to the bench, he made a point of starting off that day's session with an announcement: "As I'm sure you all know, I was the victim of a criminal assault the other day. I want to make it clear that this experience will in no way change my sentencing policies on this bench!"
As he paused to let this sink in, someone called out from the back of the courtroom: "Mug him again!"
To judge from the results of these DA elections, a substantial part of our country is now infected with what I hereby christen "Turn 'Em Loose Bruce Syndrome."
Mug 'em again!
06 — Race denialism gone wild: (2) Academic test scores. The second zone in which outcomes differ widely between blacks and nonblacks, and in which the gaps have proved intractable across several decades of effort to close them, is academic testing.
The race denialists are on this case, too. Here they've gotten a big assist from the coronavirus panic. Resistant as I am to conspiracy theories, I'm starting to wonder if perhaps this virus was sent to us by Satan in order to destroy civilization.
Use of the SAT and ACT standardized tests is fading fast. Here's a typical announcement from the UCLA system. Quote:
UCLA will not consider SAT or ACT scores for admission or scholarship purposes through fall 2024.
It's like that all over. The University of Texas, quote:
High school students who apply to The University of Texas at Austin for fall 2021 undergraduate admission will not be required to submit an ACT or SAT test score as part of their application.
The Ivies, too. Yale University, quote:
Applicants who are unable to complete an exam or who choose not to report exam scores will not be disadvantaged.
The official explanation for all this dropping of SAT/ACT requirements is that a lot of the test centers have closed, so that students who want to take the tests, can't. The InsideHigherEd website claims that more than half of the students who registered to take the SAT on September 26th, couldn't.
I don't see any reason to doubt that official explanation, but it plays right into the hands of the race deniers, who've been agitating to kill standardized tests since way before the coronavirus showed up. The University of California was being sued in state court last year by activists seeking to get rid of SAT and ACT requirements. (The chancellor of the Berkeley campus naturally sided with the activists.)
So how should colleges select the most promising students from among their applicant pools? Holistically. The word "holistic" shows up time and again in college statements about their admissions processes.
What does it mean in practice? Nine years ago at the Claremont Review of Books I reviewed Andrew Ferguson's book titled Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kids Into College. Quote from my review:
Ferguson closes a long paragraph on "holistic" admissions with the observation: [Inner quote.] "A more practical and accurate term for holistic admissions is 'completely subjective.'" [End inner quote.] Which I think we all kind of knew.
Monday this week we lost a great West Virginian: legendary fighter pilot and test pilot Chuck Yeager, the first person in history, so far as is known, to break the sound barrier in controlled level flight. That was in 1947.
Yeager was an American original, who left behind not only a glowing memory but also an apocrypha of stories, some of them gathered in Tom Wolfe's 1979 book The Right Stuff. In among the obituaries I learned a new Yeagerism, one I hadn't heard before but which I like a lot.
This came from one of Steve Sailer's commenters. A relative of the commenter's was at flight school when Yeager came to talk to the class. Sharing a drink with Yeager at the bar afterwards, the relative asked Yeager what he was thinking as he approached the sound barrier. Yeager replied, please excuse my attempt at a West Virginia accent, quote: "I was skeered."
And I must say, from a drily actuarial point of view, it's encouraging to know that you can have a career as spectacularly, repeatedly, consistently dangerous as Chuck Yeager's and yet live to be a few weeks short of 98 years old. Good to know.
Item: Isaac Asimov used to write about the repeated dethroning of humanity. We used to think that our world was the center of the universe, and our species the only one gifted with a soul. Then it turned out that our planet was only one of several orbiting the Sun; then that the Sun itself was an average sort of star in a galaxy with a hundred billion or so much like it; then that even this great galaxy was only one of a trillion or more similar in the universe we can observe, which is probably just a wee corner of the whole show.
Then of course Chuck Darwin came along and told us that we evolve and change across millions of years, just like other critters. Studies of ancient human DNA confirm he was right.
A logical deduction from all this dethroning would be that since we are nothing special on our planet, and our planet is nothing special in our Solar System, which is nothing special in our galaxy, which is nothing special in the universe; then there are likely other intelligent beings out there with working civilizations — cities, schools, libraries, hospitals, movies, wars, … the whole civilizational deal. Cue a million science-fiction stories.
A nagging problem with that logical deduction is that we haven't been able to detect any such civilizations among the stars. All sorts of hypotheses have been put forward to explain that. One of the least popular of them, first aired so far as I know by astrophysicist Michael Hart 45 years ago, is that the sequence of events required to get from lifeless rocks, liquids, and gases to something as complex as a human being is really, really unlikely, so that life in the universe is very rare, and intelligent life double rare. As inconceivably vast as the universe is, we may even be totally alone in it.
Now a group of scientists at Oxford University, working with advanced statistical techniques and information from astronomy and biology not available 45 years ago, has come to the same conclusion Dr Hart came to back in 1975.
The study isn't dispositive. In the nature of things, this is an area where it's hard to be dispositive. It's entirely possible, to quote Asimov again, that the slave-traders from Alpha Centauri will arrive next week. The Oxford study is very thoroughly done, though, with the best knowledge we currently have, and I'm willing to take the conclusion seriously.
Seriously, sure; but I'm not willing to like it. Trillions of trillions of stars in trillions of galaxies, and we're the only beings with any awareness of it all? It seems like a ridiculous waste of matter.
Well, I did actually report on last year's event, after the pageant moved from Brazil to Mexico. So far as I know, however, there is nothing scheduled for this year, I suppose because of the damn coronavirus.
Or perhaps not quite nothing. Scanning the news wires, I picked up this from across the pond.
Some media outlet called The Tab, not otherwise known to me, has sponsored a Best Bum competition for students at the University of Cambridge. A history student named Athena has been declared the winner. From the Daily Mail Online website, December 7th, quote:
Her winning entry was taken during the "golden hour" when the sunset shone on her bottom as she leaned against a pillar outside the prestigious Fitzwilliam museum in the city.
All very classical, I'm sure. "Athena," yeah. Leaning against a pillar, right. Maxfield Parrish, call your agent.
I also note that, confirming Americans' worst suspicions about the Brits, men were also allowed to participate in the contest alongside (or alongbottom, whatever) the ladies. They were allowed to take a crack at it, if you like.
I'd better stop right here; the jokes come way too easily.
Last week I played you out with some fiddle music from West Virginia. I'm going to sign out this week's podcast with the same noble instrument, but in a different mode, just to show the world I know there are different modes.
Here's a favorite violinist of mine: Jenny O'Connor, playing some of the theme music from the 1992 Michael Mann movie The Last of the Mohicans.
That was a fun movie, if my opinion counts; so I hope Mr Mann (and Daniel Day-Lewis, and Madeleine Stowe) won't mind me saying that it's one of those movies, like The Third Man [Clip: from theme tune for The Third Man] … Stop! Stop! Make it stop! … one of those movies whose music long outlives the screen performances. And if this proves not to be the case, it surely won't be through any fault of Jenny O'Connor's.
I should apologize for the background noise here. This was the Texas Renaissance Festival five years ago. Texans, with all their many fine qualities, are not best known for sitting quietly while listening to music.
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Jenny O'Connor, "The Gael" from The Last of the Mohicans]