01:32 Non-interpenetrating opposites. (Problems with the Dialectic.)
06:04 Cancer cure delayed by wokesters. (Better red than expert, #1.)
11:53 No data, please, we're a news service. (Better red than expert, #2.)
17:29 Princeton justice. (Better red than expert, #3.)
22:49 Tesla loses a rating. (Better red than expert, #3½.)
25:26 Scorn not the sonnet. (The Wall Street Journal might take it.)
32:04 Silly definitions. (My contribution.)
33:40 Another Floyd cop goes to jail. (Yet still no Timpa cops.)
35:27 Filipinos get a new president. (Bongbong the drum!)
36:24 Signoff. (With a memento mori.)
01—Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! That was a blues guitar interpretation of Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, and this is your transparently genial host John Derbyshire singin' the blues about … the news.
My commentary this week is mostly cultural rather than political.
That's "cultural" as in "Cultural Revolution." Yes, that's what we're going through. If you doubt it, I have case studies. First, though, some historico-philosophical background.
Fields like medicine, for example. Lenin nursed a deep distrust of Bolshevik doctors. In a letter to the writer Maxim Gorky, who had TB, Lenin wrote, quote:
The news that you are being given a new kind of treatment by "a Bolshevik," even if a former one, has really worried me. The saints preserve us from comrade-doctors in general, and Bolshevik-doctors in particular! …In 99 cases out of 100 the comrade-doctors are "asses," as a good doctor once said to me. I assure you that you should consult … only first-class men. It is terrible to try out on yourself the inventions of a Bolshevik!
So at least where medicine is concerned you can put Lenin on the side of the experts against the ideologues. He didn't care how Bolshevik his doctors were; in fact he preferred them not Bolshevik at all. He just wanted them to be good at doctoring.
Stalin not so much. The late Boris Zeldovich, son of the great Soviet physicist Yakov Zeldovich, told me that Lavrenty Beria, the head of Stalin's secret-police, saved many lives among Zeldovich's fellow physicists working on the early Soviet nuclear program.
Stalin, said Boris, would have anyone shot on suspicion of political "unreliability," but Beria knew that some personnel had knowledge and skills critical to the nation's progress, so he protected them even when they strayed from the Party line.
In Mao Tse-tung's China this dichotomy between people who were politically pure and people who actually knew useful things was expressed as "red" versus "expert." In his writings Mao tried to fudge the issue by appealing to the Interpenetration of Opposites, one of the principles of Dialectical Materialism.
Mao wasn't much of a philosopher, though. The much-advertised Mao Tse-tung Thought was just a cheap Chinese knock-off of Marxist-Leninism. Mao kept losing the thread of his argument and coming down on the side of the "reds" against the "experts."
Ideology and politics are the commanders, the soul. A slight relaxation in our ideological and political work will lead our economic and technological work astray.
In our own cultural revolution in the West today that same divide between "red" and "expert" is plain to see, and we don't even have the philosophical mumbo-jumbo of Dialectical Materialism to tell us about interpenetrating opposites. When "red" and "expert" are in conflict, the "red" must win and the "expert" be crushed, expelled, canceled.
I offer you three and a half case studies from just the past few days. I'll give a segment to each.
Four years ago Sabatini was a tenured professor at MIT. For twenty years he'd been running a big lab at the nearby Whitehead Institute for biomedical research, supervising a team of 39 researchers.
Sabatini is a real expert—a genius, according to colleagues. He made a key discovery in cancer research while he was still at medical school. Back in 2018 he was a good bet for a Nobel Prize.
So what's the latest news on David Sabatini? I'll let Suzy Weiss tell you. Quote from her May 19th article:
Today, Sabatini is unemployed and unemployable. No one wants to be associated with him. Those who do risk losing their jobs, publishing opportunities, friends, visas, and huge federal grants.
What precipitated such a downfall? The key here is in those lines penned by William Congreve three and a quarter centuries ago, quote:
Heav'n has no rage like love to hatred turn'd,
Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn'd.
In April of 2018 Sabatini, separated from his wife and in divorce proceedings, started an affair with Kristin Knouse, a researcher at the Whitehead who was twenty years his junior—thirty to his fifty. The affair chugged along for two years, although you get the impression from Suzy Weiss's account—and she spoke to everyone that was willing to meet her—that Sabatini was losing interest.
You can guess the rest. Knouse told the director of the Whitehead Institute, a woman named Ruth Lehmann, that Sabatini had harassed and abused her. Ms Lehmann hired in a big law firm to do an investigation. They did one, and in August last year delivered their findings in a 250-page report.
What did the report say? It said Sabatini had failed to disclose his consensual relationship with Knouse as per company policy. Also that, quote, "his behavior created a sexualized undercurrent in the lab," end quote. Also that, notwithstanding Sabatini didn't work with Knouse or supervise her and had no power to fire her, he had undue "influence" over her.
Those of Sabatini's colleagues willing to speak to Suzy Weiss said the report was all hogwash, although one went further and called it, quote, "deeply insane."
There is of course a money angle here. Labs like the Whitehead and research institutes like those at MIT live off multi-million-dollar grants from the National Institutes of Health (a federal government outfit) and big corporations and foundations, all of them locked in to regime ideology and terrified of the Thought Police.
For a full account I urge you to read Suzy Weiss's long May 19th article at the Substack site of her sister Bari Weiss.
So a brilliant cancer researcher, whose discoveries might have saved innumerable lives, has been canceled. Sure, he was an expert—a first-class expert in his field, the best of the best. And sure, there is no clear evidence he did anything that a sane person would consider deplorable nor even just unpleasant.
Ah, but there was that "bro culture" that he was alleged to have tolerated in his lab. "Bro culture"! [Scream.]
There is nothing "red" about "bro culture"; and in the Western world today, if you're not "red" enough, it doesn't matter how much of an expert you are. Off with his head!
04—No data, please, we're a news service. Case Study Two: You know what Reuters is, right? It's that venerable news agency established in London 170 years ago by a German-Jewish entrepreneur with an exceptionally fine set of whiskers.
You may also have heard of Roy Thomson, the Canadian press baron who scandalized the British establishment in my college years by buying up—for cash!—the infinitely respectable Times newspaper of London, the very voice of the British establishment. It was as if some sleazy billionaire night-club owner had purchased Buckingham Palace. I mean, really: a colonial upstart owning the Times …
Well, Roy Thomson went to his reward in 1976. Over the following decades his business holdings metastasized into a world-wide media conglomerate. In 2008 it acquired Reuters.
Today Thomson Reuters makes most of its money from financial and legal news and consulting, like Bloomberg. Reuters is today just the somewhat-newsier arm of Thomson Reuters.
So an outfit like that needs data experts, right? I mean, it needs people highly skilled at extracting useful information from great masses of data.
Meet 44-year-old Zac Kriegman of Massachusetts. Quote from a Harvard University website last year:
Zac Kriegman is a Director of Data Science in Thomson Reuters Labs where he heads the Deep Learning Team that is building neural networks to understand, analyze, and generate legal language by training on Thomson Reuters' vast repositories of legal, tax and news data. Before heading the Deep Learning Team, Zac co-created Thomson Reuters' Singapore Lab focused on developing novel financial applications with international banking customers …
End quote, although there's much more. This guy has a heck of a résumé. A real expert.
So you can see where this is going. After the death of lowlife junkie George Floyd in 2020, when we were all being told by the news media—including Reuters—that black Americans are disproportionally killed by police, Kriegman got to wondering if that is really so.
He turned his exceptional, world-class data-analytical expertise on the crime statistics, and concluded that it wasn't so. Black Americans are not disproportionally killed by police. He shared his findings with colleagues on Thomson Reuters' internal social media platform.
Once again: Kriegman was Director of Data Science at Thomson Reuters. That's a very high-level position in the data biz, paying $350,000 a year. His fellow employees on that internal social media platform included a lot of much lower-level cube jockeys, midwit coders and administrators deeply invested in the cult of wokeness.
The company itself, Thomson Reuters, was fully on board with the "diversity and inclusion" racket. There had been many lectures and workshops to spread the anti-white gospel among the company's workforce.
Kriegman saw that all that indoctrination was corrupting Reuters' news coverage. In May last year he posted a long analytical critique of the company's reporting bias, which favored for example the Black Lives Matter money scam. Human Resources called him in and told him to correct his thinking. He wouldn't, so in June they fired him.
So once again: expertise came up against redness, and redness won.
This combines elements of both the previous two case studies, sexual misdemeanors and Bad Thoughts about black activists.
The sexual misdemeanor here occurred sixteen years ago when Prof. Katz had a consensual relationship with one of his students. This is a zone in which I myself am … not totally disinterested, so I won't get into the rights and wrongs of teacher-student love affairs.
The main point here is that such affairs are against Princeton's code of conduct for teaching staff. When, a decade later, Princeton found out about Prof. Katz's liaison, they suspended him without pay for a year as punishment. That was 2017-2018.
Prof. Katz's Bad Thoughts about black activists were revealed in July 2020, at the height of the George Floyd hysteria. On the Fourth of that month—Independence Day—a big group of Princeton radicals had published an open letter to the college president calling for a complete overhaul of the college administration along woke lines.
Quite specifically along anti-white lines. The letter opened thus, quote:
Anti-Blackness is foundational to America.
Prof. Katz punched back with an open letter of his own, dissecting the claims and demands of the activists. He took particular exception to their demand that the university apologize to the Black Justice League. Quote from Prof. Katz's open letter:
The Black Justice League, which was active on campus from 2014 until 2016, was a small local terrorist organization that made life miserable for the many (including the many black students) who did not agree with its members' demands.
Those remarks from July 2020 stirred Princeton's administrators to action. The university's president, a typical academic-administration invertebrate, folded immediately, telling the campus newspaper that he objected, quote, "personally and strongly to [Katz's] false description," end quote, of the Black Justice League as a terrorist organization.
Prof. Katz has a tenured position at Princeton, so it's not easy to fire him; but where there's a will, there's a way.
What's the way? Sexual misconduct with an undergraduate! Wait, didn't that happen fifteen years ago? And wasn't Prof. Katz disciplined for it five years ago? Wasn't he suspended for a year without pay? Have there been any accusations of sexual misconduct since?
No there haven't. That undergraduate from fifteen years ago, however, has somehow been persuaded to renew and refurbish her complaint, and there has been a whole new investigation.
Doesn't that constitute double jeopardy? And isn't the timing of this new investigation, coming up after Prof. Katz's open letter revealing his heretical opinions about the George Floyd panic, kind of … suggestive?
Yes and yes. But Prof. Katz is merely an expert, you see. He really is, too; he is the only person I have ever met who can read Hittite. The Princeton authorities, however, want the world to know how "red" they are.
So once again it's "red" against "expert," and the result is a foregone conclusion.
"ESG" stands for Environmental, Social and Governance. The ESG Index is a tool of Standard & Poor's, a financial ratings agency.
If someone tells you that such-and-such a security is "triple-A rated," he's telling you that S&P or some other ratings agency has formed the opinion, after investigating the issuer of the security, that they are a very good credit risk indeed.
I assume that the ESG rating tells you that a security's issuer is properly woke in those Environmental, Social and Governance dimensions. A triple-A ESG rating tells you that the issuer is fully committed to the Green Revolution, supports anti-white Social Justice activism, and favors the Democratic Party's radical wing.
I'll have a clearer idea of the precise nature of the ESG rating when I've done more reading. This week's news is that Tesla, Elon Musk's signature company, has been dropped altogether from the ESG ratings.
Quote from Yahoo Finance, May 18th, quote:
Factors contributing to its departure from the index included Tesla's lack of published details related to its low carbon strategy or business conduct codes, said Margaret Dorn, S&P Dow Jones Indices' head of ESG indices for North America, in an interview.
Nothing to do with Elon Musk's recent expressions of heterodox opinions, then. So that's all right …
The Daily Mail reported May 15th that a university in England has dropped sonnets from its Creative Writing course as part of a program to "decolonize the curriculum." Sonnets, say authorities at the University of Salford, are, quote, "products of white Western culture." End quote.
This kind of philistinism is less surprising in the realm of poetry than it might be elsewhere. Our culture has for decades been deeply un-poetic. Here is a thing I myself wrote back in the year 2000, quote from self:
And yet, whenever you actually hear someone quote poetry, it is always something old. I feel sure that whole days go by when no mouth anywhere in the United States spontaneously, in a non-pedagogical context, quotes any line from any American poem later than Frost's "Stopping by Woods." Ask any well-educated, but not particularly literary, friend to quote four lines by a living poet. Now ask your dentist, your mechanic, your plumber. You will be lucky to get anything but blank looks and shrugs.
I note in passing that "Stopping by Woods," published in 1923, was actually written in 1922. My complaint therefore, updated to 2022, is that no-one outside a classroom spontaneously quotes verse less than a hundred years old.
So the actual creation of poetry that anyone thinks worth memorizing has ceased long since. We've still had pre-1922 poetry to enjoy; but now, in the interests of de-colonizing their curriculum, our colleges are discouraging students from exploring even that.
It's particularly sad that the vandals have picked on the sonnet. It may indeed be the most unacceptably white of poetic forms, but it is also one of the oldest and most fertile. Of the couple of dozen poems I can recite from memory, around half are sonnets.
I have written sonnets, too, both Shakespearean and Petrarchan. I may in fact—I think I probably am—the only person ever to have published a sonnet in the "Letters" columns of The Wall Street Journal (January 9th, 1996). At an even higher level of probability, I am well-nigh certain that I am the only person ever to have published sonnets in the "Letters" columns of both the Journal and Mathematics magazine (October 1997 issue).
All right, all right, sorry for the self-advertisements. I just want you to know that sonnet-wise you are not dealing with an amateur here.
The great master poets of the past have so loved the sonnet that one of them, William Wordsworth, was moved to write a sonnet about sonnets. The title of that sonnet was, very appropriately to this week's news, Scorn not the Sonnet. Am I going to read it to you? Of course I am. You need to know that Tasso and Camoëns were poets of the sixteenth century, Tasso Italian and Camoëns Portuguese.
Here we go: Scorn not the Sonnet by William Wordsworth.
Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned,
Mindless of its just honours; with this key
Shakespeare unlocked his heart; the melody
Of this small lute gave ease to Petrarch's wound;
A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;
With it Camoëns soothed an exile's grief;
The Sonnet glittered a gay myrtle leaf
Amid the cypress with which Dante crowned
His visionary brow: a glow-worm lamp,
It cheered mild Spenser, called from Faery-land
To struggle through dark ways; and, when a damp
Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand
The thing became a trumpet; whence he blew
Soul-animating strains—alas, too few!
Take that, University of Salford!
Imprimis: Six years ago I alerted readers of my monthly diary to the long-running British radio show I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue in which two teams of comedians are given silly things to do.
I particularly alerted you to the game of silly definitions. Here you are given a word and invited to give a silly or nonsensical definition of it. I offered examples like the word "bidet," silly definition "two days before D-Day," and—my all-time favorite—the phrase "à la carte," silly definition "an Islamic wheelbarrow."
Well, the other day, sitting out back watching the grass grow, I thought up another one. I doubt it's original with me, but I want to record it anyway just for its topicality. You ready? Here it is.
The word "transparent," silly definition "a person who is either a Mom or a Dad but doesn't know which."
Wednesday this week one of the police officers standing by keeping the mob at bay when Floyd died of a drug overdose pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge and was sentenced to three years in jail. That will be served concurrently with his federal sentence for "violating Floyd's civil rights," which hasn't yet been handed down.
And no, this is not double jeopardy. No way! Absolutely not! If you think it is, you are utterly ignorant of the law, and probably a racist, too. Correct your thinking, Comrade!
There was no news this week about any further developments in the Tony Timpa case. Timpa, as I am sure you will recall from the nationwide protests and demonstrations his death occasioned, was the white Dallas, Texas guy who died under police restraint in August 2016. One of the restraining officers kept his knee pressed into Timpa's back while they waited for paramedics to arrive.
None of the cops in the Timpa case has been convicted of anything, nor even suspended from active duty, although a civil lawsuit is pending.
Item: As one who takes malicious delight in silly names, I welcome the winner of the May 9th presidential election in the Philippines, Bongbong Marcos. Yes, I know, Bongbong isn't his actual christened name, but it's what everyone calls him.
I welcome Bongbong Marcos to the illustrious company of significant national leaders like Oginga Odinga of Kenya, Canaan Banana of Zimbabwe, and U Nu of Burma. I doubt he'll do anything to improve the Philippines, but no-one expects him to. We can at least enjoy saying his name: Bongbong, Bongbong, …
It's a somewhat special week for the Derbs: Monday is our son's college graduation ceremony. I'm not too clear as to what that involves, never having attended such an event before. Do we have to walk him down the aisle, like at a wedding? I guess we'll find out. We're all looking forward to it, anyway.
Just so I don't leave you feeling too upbeat, here's something melancholy to play us out. It's a popular song from the 1920s which I confess I had never heard until a Radio Derb listener sent me a video of Frank Sinatra singing it. You can interpret the song more than one way, but to me it sounds like a memento mori, one of the oldest of all themes in prose, verse and song.
The Sinatra version is lovely of course; Sinatra couldn't sing a bad note. I got to browsing YouTube for other versions, though, and settled at last on this one from Julie London, which I thought had a slight edge even on Sinatra. It also gives me an opening for an anecdote.
When I was studying Chinese in London forty years ago one of our teachers was a native of Peking who was a big fan of Chinese opera from the nineteen-twenties and -thirties. He'd sometimes play recordings of it in class. He didn't think much of present-day Chinese opera, though. Today's singers, he said, just didn't have the vocal quality the old-timers had. Why not? one of us asked him. "Opium!" he replied. "Our singers back then all smoked opium. It gave their voices that special sound!"
I have no idea whether that guy's opinion was musicologically justified. However: if, when listening to Julie London, you find yourself captivated by the husky, smoky quality that her voice had, I think I found the explanation for it when looking her biography up on Wikipedia. Quote:
London was a chain smoker from the age of 16 and at times smoked in excess of three packs of cigarettes per day.
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Julie London, "A Cottage For Sale."]