Radio Derb: Bombs In The Mail, Bluster On The Border, Ballots In Brazil, And Back To Puritanism, Etc.
October 27, 2018, 12:11 AM
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01m03s  Bombs in the mail.  (Battle of the priors.)

08m26s  Border bluster.  (It won't help.)

15m42s  Bad laws, good laws.  (Or from Congress, no laws.)

23m01s  SIA, a new TLA.  (Call CBP, PDQ.)

27m24s  Back to Puritanism.  (From microaggressions to picoaggressions.)

36m31s  Brazil's election.  (They want a strong man.)

38m04s  A gift from Turkmenistan.  (By the scruff of the neck.)

40m13s  Exploding toilets.  (In Berkeley, Ca.)

41m55s  Signoff.  (With a Brazilian flavor.)

Radio Derb page here.

01—Intro.     And Radio Derb is on the air! Greetings, listeners, from your hypothetically genial host John Derbyshire, with news and comment from the passing charivari.

Some listeners want to know how I'm getting on with transcribing old Radio Derbs. Well, is the answer: I have just completed transcriptions for 2004 and 2005. Onwards and upwards to 2006!

OK: without further ado, to the news.

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02—Bombs in the mail.     Sir Isaac Newton, having worked out the mathematical rules governing gravity, turned to the question of where gravity comes from, what makes it happen. His answer: Hypotheses non fingo—"I frame no hypotheses." He didn't know, and he wasn't going to speculate.

Not many of us can face the unknown—admit we just don't know—with such a high level of restraint. Newton himself couldn't, in fact; he framed a lot of hypotheses. Hypotheses non fingo is a noble ideal; but speculating is too much fun, especially when we can cook up a speculation that conforms with our prior beliefs. Speculation can be productive, too: a lot of good science starts from speculation—including, as I said, some of Newton's.

That's by way of preface to this week's top headline story: the bombs in the mail.

Various enemies of President Trump's programs received these bombs in the mail over the past few days: George Soros, Maxine Waters, Eric Holder, the Clintons, the Obamas, Joe Biden, Robert De Niro, someone at CNN, … it was getting to be a long list.

Friday morning the authorities made an arrest: Cesar Altier Sayoc, 56 years old, who is either a Native American or a Filipino immigrant, or half of each, it's not yet clear. He seems to be a keen supporter of President Trump.

It's interesting to observe your own reactions as a story like this develops. Mine I would characterize as a Battle of the Priors. Let me explain that.

In the days before Mr Sayoc's arrest there were two theories in play.

  1. A Trump supporter is sending these bombs, with straightforward malicious intent towards the recipients. And
  2. It's a false flag operation by anti-Trumpists to discredit Trump supporters, and by extension Republican candidates in the upcoming midterm elections.

The first speculation was the simpler; and Occam's Razor tells us always to favor the simplest explanation. Politics aside, I in particular favored it as conforming to my general and metaphysical priors.

I'm very much an Occam's Razor guy. On the bell curve of susceptibility to conspiracy theories I am way, way out in the left-hand tail. I instinctively associate conspiracy theories with lunatics, and instinctively assume that pretty much everything is what it seems to be. So on my metaphysical priors, I was inclined to think the mail bomber was a pro-Trump guy.

Still, I couldn't help wondering. You had to admit—I mean, even a person as fanatically empirical as I am, still had to admit—that the bombs-in-the-mail business was mighty convenient for the anti-Trumpers.

You further had to admit that while there are lunatics of every political persuasion, in the matter of passionate malevolence, or malevolent passion, the anti-Trump faction is far more richly endowed than the pro-Trumpists. It's not Trump supporters who are running wild in the streets with black masks over their faces, breaking windows and torching cars while local politicians stand down their police forces. It's not Trump supporters who pose for photographs with the severed heads of their political enemies, as Kathy Griffin did.

It was the timeliness of it, the convenience of it, that nagged at me. The caravan of Central Americans headed for our border has fired up the majority of Americans who are fed up with illegal immigration. The Democrats, who favor illegal immigration, have been casting around desperately for a counterbalancing issue.

All they've been able to come up with is health care, which, while certainly an issue worth debating, isn't as sexily visual as seven thousand illiterate peasants with their kids coming for our schools, our hospitals, our public housing, our jails, our jobs, our welfare.

When there's no counterbalancing issue lying around to be brandished, the temptation to just make one up might be awfully strong.

So Occam's Razor notwithstanding, I thought there was a decent chance this was a false flag operation. Now it's turned out not to be, I'm scolding myself for not having trusted my metaphysical priors over my political priors.

I've been told that even after Sayoc's arrest there are still people on our side arguing that it is a false flag, that Sayoc is a patsy, that anti-Trump elements in the FBI are framing him up, and so on. Now that's real conspiracy theorizing—way too much for me.

I have taken my lesson, and shall strive to be a better Newtonian in future. Hypotheses non fingo.

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03—Border bluster.     Meanwhile, what about that caravan?

Latest news here is that the Administration is sending 800 active-duty troops to our southern border to, quote, "provide logistical and technical support to Customs and Border Patrol."

The President is making much of this. He told us on Wednesday that, quote: "You're going to see a very secure border. You just watch. Just watch. Very secure. And the military is ready." End quote.

If you know anything about border operations, you know that that is empty bluster. Troops can't be used for law enforcement, it's against federal law. They can't even act defensively, since the caravanners are unarmed. They can put up tents, and chauffeur CBP officers around if necessary—that's about it.

In the public imagination, these caravanners, assuming they make it to our border, will be trekking through the southwestern desert or fording the Rio Grande, appearing at some unguarded section of the border and either having the bad luck to encounter a Border Patrol unit, or heading unhindered for the nearest town to get on a Greyhound bus to Cousin Miguel in Chicago.

Well, yes, there's a lot of that. A savvy foreigner doesn't have to risk getting lost in the sagebrush, though. He can just show up at a port of entry—a legal crossing point—and claim asylum. As Mark Krikorian says in a good article at National Review, October 26th, quote:

As border control improves and we (hopefully) do a better job of policing legal visitors to ensure their timely departure, bogus claims of asylum are going to become the primary way to circumvent immigration limits.

End quote. Under our laws an asylum claim has to be considered by suitably qualified persons. There aren't a lot of those persons, so there's a colossal backlog. We can legally detain the claimant while his claim is working its way through the backlog; but we don't have anything like enough beds for the numbers coming.

Furthermore, many arrive with minor children. The civilized way to deal with that is—or would be, if there were enough beds—to detain the adult in an adult facility, and the minor in a different facility where proper attention can be paid to his health, education, feeding, recreation and so on. That, however results in media shrieking and swooning about "children in cages!" so it can't be done.

All that can be done is to let the foreigner into the U.S.A. and make them promise, on Scout's honor, to show up for their asylum hearing. You put ankle bracelets on the adults and hand them off to some nonprofit like Catholic Community Services to find housing for them—the ones who don't just head off to stay with relatives.

At that point the foreigner is in, and will never leave. I have been reliably informed that a regular chore for maintenance staff at places like the bus station in Phoenix, Arizona where released aliens are dropped off, is gathering up armfuls of ankle bracelets that have been cut off and discarded.

With all proper respect to our President, eight hundred squaddies will make no difference to any of that. And as a matter of fact, not to break anybody's heart here, even a border wall wouldn't make much difference. As I said, you don't have to trek through the desert, unless you are really keen for there to be no record at all of your entering our country. You can just show up at a port of entry and claim asylum.

A number I would very much like to get, but can't find anywhere, is the proportion of asylum claims presented at ports of entry, as opposed to claims made by someone arrested in the desert or crossing the river. On indirect grounds I believe the proportion presented at ports of entry is between a half and three-quarters of the total. If any listener with better googling skills than mine can find a more accurate answer, I would much appreciate it.

It also needs to be said when discussing this caravan that while the caravan is mighty impressive as a visual spectacle, comparable numbers have been coming in every week or so in a steady flow. In the month of September, 16,658 people were apprehended by the CBP. Even at the very highest estimate for numbers in the caravan, that was a caravan every two weeks. On more realistic numbers for the caravan, it was a caravan every week.

Bottom line here: Troops are an empty gesture; a wall wouldn't make much difference—although I'd like to have one anyway, for the little difference it would make.

The core problem—as, to be fair to the President, he has said himself—is our stupid laws.

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04—Bad laws, good laws.     Yes, it's the laws; and don't the Cultural Marxists love those laws!

If you watch much TV commentary about the border crisis, in fact, you'll notice that the open-borders shills now have a sneering, jeering line that they throw at any opponent they're interviewing. "Shouldn't we just enforce the law?" they say. "Aren't you folk on the political Right supposed to favor law and order?"

The only answer to that is the one the President has given: the laws we are dealing with here are not fit for purpose. They do nothing to help us run a sensible immigration policy and keep undesirables out of our country. In fact they work against those goals.

So change federal law, right? Here, though, you come up against a deep and fundamental problem: the uselessness of our federal legislature.

I've been referring to Congress for some time now as the Halls of Uselessness. I more and more think there is some serious systemic problem here. Our Constitution has broken down: Congress doesn't work. Laws—vital laws, important laws—don't get made.

That's why the Supreme Court has become a much bigger issue in our politics than, historically, it was—or than, Constitutionally, it was intended to be. Someone has to make our laws. Since Congress has given up on the job, the Supremes have been doing it. We don't have same-sex marriage because Congress passed a law: We have it because the unelected Supremes said it was right that we should have it.

Congress especially doesn't work in anything to do with immigration. I've been getting reminders this past few weeks of how bad things are as I've been transcribing old Radio Derb episodes. Here I was in October 2005, thirteen years ago, saying, quote:

If we want an orderly immigration system, we must look to the U.S. Congress, which has five major bills on the subject before it. I hope our Senators and Representatives will give these bills their full attention.

End quote. They didn't, of course; and thirteen years later they still won't address immigration law. We're stuck with stupid laws from the last century, like Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden's 1980 Refugee Act. Those laws were wrong-headed when they were passed, as the names on that one tell you. Today, forty or fifty years later, they are insane.

So what kind of laws should we have? Certainly we need better rules on refugees and asylum, I completely agree with that. More than anything else, though, we need strict, watertight laws on workplace enforcement.

Paid employment in the U.S.A. should be restricted to U.S. citizens and properly-documented resident aliens. Nobody else should be able to take up paid employment.

How do we get to that? Universal compulsory E-Verify, fortified by very severe penalties against employers who violate the rule.

I've heard all the arguments against that, and I'm not impressed. "You're turning employers into Border Patrol officers," I'm told. Nonsense. It doesn't need any high level of expertise to look someone up on a database. Retail clerks do it with customer credit cards a trillion times a day.

"You'll make everyone carry a national ID card," wail the libertarians. I'm a bit more sympathetic to this, having a strong sentimental attachment to the older, freer America where a person could be footloose and fancy-free and the word "database" hadn't been coined.

Back then, though, there weren't tens of millions of people wanting to break into our country, with hundreds of millions forming up in the distance behind them. We have to do what we have to do. There is no libertarian solution. Anyway, with all those cards already in your wallet—driver's license, Medicare card, credit cards, store discount cards, pistol permit—I'm just looking through my own wallet here—you're already on twenty-nine databases, government and private. One more won't make a difference.

"E-Verify isn't up to the job," some people tell me. OK, then fix it. This is a straightforward IT problem, of the kind the private sector copes with perfectly well. Fix it. We put men on the Moon, didn't we?

Strict employee verification would have the advantage that it would flush out the umpteen million illegals already here so we could deport them, as we ought to. What, they have anchor babies? That's their problem. Take the kid with you or leave it with relatives; but you have to go!

Forget the troops, forget the wall—well, no, don't forget it: we need proper border defence, but we need a whole lot more, too. We need strict, watertight laws on workplace enforcement, with massive penalties for rogue employers.

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05—SIA, a new TLA.     A sidebar to the main caravan story has been President Trump's claim that there are Muslim terrorists among the caravanners. That's had the media folk sneering and jeering again. "How does he know?" they sneer.

Well, he's the President. He gets the intel we don't get. It's entirely possible he has some data.

Knowing our President, it's also possible he's blustering again. Tuesday this week I attended a talk by Todd Bensman, who joined the Center for Immigration Studies this summer from a career as an intelligence analyst for DHS.

Todd impressed on us what a big, smart, sophisticated operation the people-smugglers of Central America run. The government agency responsible for customs and border patrol in Guatemala, for example, is run by the smugglers—the Guatemalan government has no control.

Todd also introduced me to a new TLA, one I'd never heard before. That's "TLA" meaning "Three-Letter Acronym" (or "Three-Letter Abbreviation," for you grammatical purists).

Here is the TLA Todd introduced me to: "SIA." That's CBP jargon—sorry, "CBP," that's another TLA: "CBP" is Customs and Border Patrol—"SIA" means "Special-Interest Alien." It's just a polite way of saying "Muslim."

So imagine the CBP guys—I hope you're keeping track of the TLAs here—the CBP guys are faced with a batch of, say, a dozen aliens who've been apprehended crossing the border. They interrogate them. Eleven of the dozen are Central American peasants, but number twelve is from Pakistan. That's an SIA, a Special Interest Alien. He's going to get some extra interrogation.

Well, here's the thing in regard to this current caravan. According to Todd, the governments involved with this caravan—the governments of Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico—are working hard to keep SIAs out of the caravan. The same applies to the people-smugglers, where they are not just the same people as the government. They have people going among the caravanners, checking and weeding out the SIAs.

It is not that the smugglers have moral qualms about shipping crazy Muslims into the U.S.A. They're happy to do that, so long as they get paid. This caravan, though, with all the publicity it's been getting, has a special prominence. They want it to succeed, to poke a finger in Uncle Sam's eye, and to rid themselves of surplus unskilled labor, and to make money; and they believe that to succeed, the caravan needs to be "clean," SIA-wise.

So maybe the President is just blustering on the SIAs. Or perhaps he knows something Todd Bensman doesn't know. Or perhaps something else.

So many unknowns! Where is my Occam's Razor? …

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06—Back to Puritanism.     This Megyn Kelly story caught my attention.

Ms Kelly is the host of a morning talk show on the NBC television channel. I don't watch morning TV but I dimly remember her from her previous employment at Fox News. As best I can remember, she was a capable interviewer. I can't recall having any negative impression of her.

Well, on Tuesday this week she was chatting with someone on the show when the subject of Halloween costumes came up; in particular, the matter of white people who put on blackface as part of a Halloween act. Someone said it was racist. To which Megyn responded:

[Clip:  But what is racist? Because you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.]

That caused wailing and rending of garments from sea to shining sea and across the fruited plain. Ms Kelly was denounced from CultMarx pulpits everywhere. Some critter named Roxanne Jones at the CNN website honked that, honk: "For me the most revealing part of Kelly's explosive comments was their illumination of her true face as an out-of-the-closet racist." End honk.

Ms Kelly made a grovelling apology but of course it only made things worse. You must never apologize to these swine; it just further inflames their vindictiveness.

NBC has now suspended Ms Kelly. The fate of her contract, which paid her $69 million for three years' work, is still unknown. There are rumors that NBC was unhappy about her poor ratings and looking for an opportunity to drop her. That may be true for all I know, but the media storm of outrage over her Halloween remarks was none the less real.

What struck me about those remarks was their mildness. People are outraged about that? Yes, a great many people are.

I had a similar reaction recently listening to a talk about sexual harassment. The talker was a female attorney who represents harassed women. She was obviously quite passionately engaged with the issue. She read out some of the depositions she had taken from plaintiffs in harassment cases. Samples from memory. Quote: "He made lewd remarks every time I came into his office." Quote: "He put his hand on my rear end." Quote, which I think was the strongest one: "He tried to kiss me at a Christmas party."

I was sitting there listening to this, thinking: "That's it? That's a case in law? It just sounds to me like everyday office banter."

I'd better admit I haven't done full-time office work for nearly twenty years now. In the thirty years I was doing it, I can't recall a single issue of anything I would call sexual harassment. Guys were sometimes a nuisance to women, especially at office parties where the punch was flowing, but phrases like: "Oh, grow up, George!" and, "Would you keep your hands to yourself, please, Larry?" were still current back then.

Putting the two things together, Megyn Kelly and that attorney, it seems to me we have amped up sensitivity to a point where any kind of relaxed social life will soon become impossible.

When I first heard the word "microaggression," I laughed. Could people really be serious who used that word? I wondered. They certainly could; and now they have taken over. The merest shade of a hint of a tinge of a tint of negativity towards blacks, or of sexual suggestiveness to a female co-worker, is now a hanging offense, or at least a career-ending one.

The Swiftian ditty I recall when microaggressions first came up—I think it was from one of Steve's commenters—has come true:

Microaggressions have nanoaggressions
To marginalize and slight 'em.
And nanoaggressions have picoaggressions;
And so ad infinitum.

This is the end of free banter, the end of workplace conviviality. It also supplies the answer to the question: Why are comedians not funny any more? Answer: Because they dare not be.

But how did we get here? What or who been driving this dreadful development?

I'll go with "who" and give you my answer: the Trial Lawyer's Association.

Back in 2001—boy, I'm really digging into the archives this week—I wrote a column titled "Race on Wall Street." I told the story of the small department where I worked in an investment bank. In the several years I worked there just three black employees came and went. Two of the three ended up with a lawsuit against the firm for racial discrimination, citing a different boss in the two cases. The firm settled in both cases—these firms always settle out of court. One of the settlements was for $250 thousand dollars.

Quote from me: "In daily interaction with these people across some two thousand days, I had witnessed nothing—setting aside [a] harmless kind of banter …—that struck me as offensive, inflammatory or discriminatory." End quote.

A Managing Director of the firm explained the process to me. There is a breed of attorneys, he told me, who seek out black employees at big-money firms, and explain to them that for signing a couple of depositions they can make a bundle of money.

The sexual harassment panic is a horse out of the same stable. Predatory trial lawyers seek out neurotic women, coach them on what to say, write up the depositions, and [ker-ching!]

This is the world we live in. Guided by the Trial Lawyers and the merchants of grievance, we are drifting back to a stiff kind of Puritanism.

I don't like Puritanism. I like to laugh: Puritans don't laugh, except at the sight of a burning witch.

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07—Miscellany.     And now, our closing miscellany of brief items. Very brief this week, as I'm right up against my time limit.

Imprimis:  A runoff election on Sunday for the next President of Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro, an authoritarian nationalist, looks set fair to win.

Reading about Brazil's election without, I confess, much interest, my eye was stopped by this, from David Adler's survey of the polling. The item being polled here is support for a strong-man style of government; precisely, for, quote, "a strong man who does not bother with parliament or elections," end quote.

Among Brazilians, support for a strong-man government is between sixty and eighty percent, with the highest level of support in the political center. Only one Brazilian in ten thinks strong-man government is, quote, "very bad."

All right, that's Brazil. Every nation has peculiarities. Still, I see a straw in the wind. Representative government is losing its market share.

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Item:  Radio Derb's dear friend and business partner President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan has been getting some negative press, I am sorry to say.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was meeting with Vladimir Putin at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. This was on or near Putin's 65th birthday, so President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov brought a birthday present for Putin: a cute puppy of the Central Asian breed called Alabai. No, that's not "alibi" with a-l-i, although national leaders need alibis too; this is "Alabai," a-l-a.

Right there before the TV cameras, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov pulled the puppy out from its portable cage and held it up by the scruff of its neck, dangling it thus for the TV audience to admire.

This episode has put President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in the dog-house with dog-lovers worldwide. Putin himself hastened forward to take the pooch and cradle it in his arms.

Well, nobody's perfect. Have no fear, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov: Radio Derb remains your loyal supporter, and I look forward to my next visit to the noble republic of Turkmenistan. [Clip:  Turkmen anthem.]

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Item:  Finally, a couple of stories for which I have time only to give you the opening sentences. I put them together here because they are related … sort of.

First story, from Breitbart.com, October 22nd, opening sentence, quote: "A company is recalling 1.4 million toilet flushing systems because thousands of its toilets in the U.S. and Canada have exploded." End quote. Just be careful where you relieve yourself.

Second story, from Berkeleyside.com in, yes, Berkeley, California, October 24th, opening sentence quote: "A man wrapped in Christmas lights and covered in feces was detained by police in downtown Berkeley and taken for a psychiatric evaluation on Wednesday afternoon, authorities report." End quote.

Perhaps his toilet exploded … though that still leaves the Christmas lights to be explained. Or perhaps he's just a perfectly normal inhabitant of Berkeley, California.

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08—Signoff.     That's it, ladies and gents. Thank you for your time and attention, and a very happy Halloween to all, but most especially to any white folk who put on blackface, or black folk who put on whiteface.

I like to key the signout music, if I can, to something in the body of the podcast. Mrs Derbyshire, who is a keen ballroom dancer, tells me that since I mentioned Brazil back there, I should give you a samba. That's kind of cheating, though, as I don't know squat about dance music.

I do know lots about opera, though; so here, for the Brazilian flavor, is Bidú Sayão, a great Brazilian soprano of the 1940s, singing the gavotte from Massenet's Manon.

Profitons bien de la jeunesse,
Des jours qu'amène le printemps:
Aimons, rions, chantons sans cesse,
Nous n'avons encor que vingt ans

"Let's enjoy our youth, the days of Spring: love, laugh, sing nonstop, we'll never be twenty again." All you youngsters, take heed.

There will be more from Radio Derb next week.

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[Music clip: Bidú Sayão, "Profitons bien de la jeunesse."]