01m19s Staffing problems. (Not enough Trumpists.)
08m33s Politics, old and new. (Cue Boomer ballad.)
14m39s Britain's New Left, Sweden's New Right. (The impact of Islam.)
24m45s It's hacks all the way down. (Curse of the installed base.)
33m19s The noise of democracy. (What it should sound like.)
35m03s Heritage or legacy? (And who, exactly, are they?)
36m47s Tech mogul speaks to Congress. (Oh, thank you, Sir!)
38m49s Burt Reynolds, RIP. (He was the best Burt Reynolds.)
40m37s Signoff. (For a new month.)
This week's observations are mostly of a general sort: the overall direction of our politics, some reflections on systemic complexity, brief historical musings, and the like. Don't worry, though: I shall break off now and then to be rude about particular people—people who deserve it. I shall also offer a brief memorial tribute.
So: On with the motley! [Clip: Vesti la giubba …]
02—Not enough Trumpists. Headliner of the week was the anonymous op-ed published in the New York Anti-White Times on Wednesday by, quote from the byline, "a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure," end quote.
From the tone of the thing, the respectful references to tax cuts and, quote, "a more robust military," end quote, the author is a Never Trumper, a Jeb Bush-Paul Ryan GOP type. He tells us that, quote:
Many of the senior officials in [Trump's] own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
End quote. There is an underlying systemic problem here.
A new President, coming into office, has to staff up the White House apparatus and the cabinet departments. That's a lot of personnel slots to fill. Where are you going to find all the people?
The problem is more than usually acute for a new President like Trump, who's an outsider, not a member of the political establishment. That's actually putting it mildly: Trump is the outsiderest outsider since Andrew Jackson. In fact he's even more of an outsider than Jackson, who'd served in Congress and been defeated in a previous run for President before his 1828 victory. And federal government and the White House establishment were far, far smaller in Jackson's day. Trump, coming in after November 2016, had a colossal staffing problem.
How to solve that problem? My own preferred solution would have been a mass cull of federal office positions, a drastic trimming of the organization chart; if not down to 1828 levels, as close as could be done. Who thinks we need all those Assistant Under Secretaries to the Deputy Undersecretary? Not me.
I realize, however, that that's over-idealistic. More on that in a segment or two. Trump's problem on coming to office was that there weren't enough Trumpists to staff a Trump administration. He had perforce to fall back on holdovers from the next best thing: previous Republican administrations.
So the White House, and the big cabinet Departments, are addled with cucky Jeb Bush / Paul Ryan clones who like missionary wars and who lie awake at night trembling with fear that Rachel Maddow or Al Sharpton may find a reason to call them racist.
The President himself, bless him, seems to have no great enthusiasm for trying to turn Niger into Denmark, and couldn't care less if anyone thinks he's racist. That's Trump; that's Trumpism; trouble is, there aren't enough Trumpists to staff up the huge, creaking edifice of federal government. So there are Bush-Ryan-Romney types all over, doing their best—as the anonymous New York George Soros Times op-ed writer frankly admitted—to thwart Trump's program. That would be the program 63 million of us voted for in 2016.
Trump himself isn't completely blameless. Yes, Trumpists with enough of a résumé to be useful as staffers were thin on the ground in 2016, but Trump none the less ignored some of those who were available. Could he really not have found a slot for Kris Kobach? For Tom Tancredo? For Pat Buchanan?
And the President himself could be more forceful in resisting these siren voices from the George W. Bush era whispering in his ear. Trump's instinct is that we need to defend our southern border but we don't need to defend Lithuania's border with Belarus, as we are currently committed to do by the NATO charter.
Those "senior officials" that Anonymous is writing about hold the contrary opinions, and Trump has gone along with them; so the southern border is wide open and the Lithuania-Belarus border is under the stern protection of the U.S. military. Why did he go along with this? He didn't have to. Why didn't he tell the "senior officials" to go boil their heads?
Part of the answer, possibly all of it, can be found in those disastrous televised White House meetings with congresscritters earlier this year, the one on immigration January 9th and the one on gun control February 28th. As I reported after the earlier of those two cuckfests, quote from myself: "If the President's performance on-camera was a sample of his negotiating skills, his next book should be titled The Art of the Kneel," end quote.
Allowances should be made, though. At some point in the last few years we—we, the Western world—crossed into new, uncharted political territory. If we haven't found our bearings yet—if even some of those who led us into this new territory are still not totally oriented—it's really not surprising.
I don't think so. They're a nuisance, but they're conducting a rearguard action. As I just said, sometime in the past decade or two we passed from an old politics to a new politics. This is one of those irreversible changes; there's no going back. 木已成舟, as the Chinese say: "The wood has been made into a boat."
The old politics, the politics we had through the middle and later decades of the twentieth century, was a consensus of sorts. There were of course two factions, with different ideas about what the nation's priorities should be, but there was consensus on the way things should be done: on how congressional business should be conducted, how the media should cover politics, how we dealt privately with colleagues, neighbors, family members whose views were different from ours. There was even a fair consensus on big geopolitical issues up to the end of the Cold War.
Now it's all changed. Well, not all; these things happen gradually, and this particular thing is not through happening yet.
The old politics is still with us, looking a bit dazed and baffled as the new politics rises. I commented a couple of weeks ago, in reference to the New York State gubernatorial race, how old-politics Democrats like Andrew Cuomo feel the ground moving under their feet as they see new-politics Democrats like lesbian socialist Cynthia Nixon and La Raza socialist Alexandria Whats-her-name steal the headlines.
It's the same for old-politics Republicans. They're having trouble getting their bearings in this new political territory. While Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Andrew Cuomo are shaking their heads and frowning at these upstart socialists, Paul Ryan, Lindsey Graham, and Mitt Romney are rolling their eyes and clicking their tongues at the Trumpists.
The symmetry's not perfect. The Alt-Left is culturally way more powerful than the Trumpists. They control the media, the universities, Silicon Valley, and so on. Alt-Left ideas have seeped into the flesh and marrow of the ordinary, not-very-political American public at a scale we Trumpists can only dream of.
Consider for example Mollie Tibbetts, the young Iowa woman murdered by an illegal alien in July. She was a very normal young white midwesterner, so far as we can judge; yet she thought there was nothing odd about tweeting "I hate white people." Alt-Left is the new normal.
Still, the 2016 election showed us that tens of millions of Republicans, invited to choose between, on the one hand, the full span of conventional GOP orthodoxy as represented by Christie, Huckabee, Santorum, Bush, Rubio, Cruz, Kasich, and Co., and on the other hand, someone else, chose someone else.
It's an interesting question, in fact, which like a good math instructor I shall leave as an exercise for listeners, which is losing market share faster: the old-politics Democrats or the old-politics Republicans.
The other interesting question is whether new-politics Republicans, who we might as well just call Trumpists (although personally I think Donald Trump is only a transitional figure), whether we can recover some of the cultural ground lost to the Alt-Left these past few decades.
It shouldn't be impossible. I hang out with Trumpists—new-politics Republicans—and plenty of them are young and very smart, just the types to lead a march through the institutions like the one the Left pulled off through the later twentieth century.
Whatever the answers to those questions, the change has come upon us and it's permanent. "The wood has been made into a boat."
At this point I may as well go full Boomer and bring in Bobby Dylan. Sing it, Bob.
[Clip: The line it is drawn
And the curse it is cast.
The slow one now
Will later be fast;
As the present now
Will later be past.
The order is rapidly fading.
And the first one now will later be last
for the times they are a-changing.]
04—Britain's New Left, Sweden's New Right. It's the same all over. Next to the U.S.A., the country whose politics I should know best is Britain, where I grew up and lived continuously for 26 years, thereafter on and off for an aggregate eight more years. When I read news from the old country, though, I'm lost. Talk about new political territory: I don't know where I am at all.
The way it used to be, the Tory Party was the party of toffs. If you were a toff yourself, or were a non-toff but thought toffs were the right people to have in charge, you voted Tory. If you didn't like toffs, or if you didn't mind them but thought non-toffs should get a shot at running things, you voted Labour.
A few old, or incurably old-fashioned people still think like that. You can still, if you explore odd corners, find people who'll tell you that the Tories favor the upper classes, just as you can still find Americans who'll tell you that Republicans are the party of the rich.
Outside those odd corners, though, people know it's all changed. Brits know, for example, that the BBC, which in my childhood was the cultural epitome of toff-ness (toffitude, whatever) is now staffed wall-to-wall by Cultural Marxists, who vote Labour when no Communist Party candidate is on the ticket.
Similarly in the States here. You have to be pretty detached from reality not to notice that the movie stars, Silicon Valley moguls, and corporate HR departments are all Alt-Left. Even billionaires who are not socialists promote issues that we Trumpists oppose. Poster boys here are the Koch Brothers, who are under steady fire from both old-politics Democrats, for being plutocrats who grind the faces of the poor, and new-politics Republicans, for favoring open borders.
The current flap about antisemitism in the Labour Party is another case of the kaleidoscope shifting.
Now, Labour antisemitism isn't exactly new. Ernest Bevin, who was Foreign Secretary in the Labour government right after WW2, got something of a name for it. Historian Paul Johnson described him as, quote, "an old-fashioned working-class antisemite, though not a vicious one," end quote. Johnson tells the story of Bevin holding a meeting in his government office with British Jewish leaders when the power failed. Someone suggested getting candles; but Bevin quipped that, quote, "There's no need for candles as the Israel-lights are here." [Groan.]
That was about the temperature of it, though. The Labour Party was never institutionally antisemitic. We Brits just weren't like that—too averse to asbstract theorising. You can find antisemitism in the modern history of the kingdom, for sure, but you can find philosemitism, too: Oliver Cromwell, Sir Walter Scott, Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, David Lloyd George, Margaret Thatcher. Antisemitism and philosemitism both have been random and occasional in the traditional British style, never systematic.
Fifty years ago, in fact, if you'd asked a thoughtful Brit to stick a political label on antisemitism, after scratching his head a while and asking "Who wants to know?" he would probably have said "Tory," just on the historic association between Toryism and the landowning aristocratic classes. Those classes were chronically in debt, and it was the Jewish financiers of London who helped them out, at high rates of interest, of course. The relationship was softened somewhat by occasional opportunities to marry off one's penniless but impeccably high-class daughter to one of those financiers; but on balance aristocrats, and therefore presumably Tories at large, had Jews more in mind, in a negative way, than other Brits.
That mold, if it ever existed, was decisively broken by lower-middle-class Margaret Thatcher, who I think never had less than three Jews in her cabinet. Former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, a graduate of Eton, the toniest of all the old English boys' boarding-schools, teased Mrs Thatcher about this. Quote: "Margaret, a Tory cabinet is supposed to be packed with Etonians, not Estonians," end quote.
Well, now antisemitism is getting institutionalized on the political left. Some of this is old-politics leftism, rooting for the underdog. Seventy years ago Palestinian Jews got a country of their own. Palestinian Arabs soon got countries of their own, two or three of them; but those countries are economic, cultural, demographic, political, and military failures, while Israel is a roaring success. So Palestinian Arabs are underdogs.
Most of this new Labour antisemitism, though, is on behalf of British Islam. Muslims are less than five percent of the population of Britain, but they are massively congregated in a few urban areas, giving them safe seats in Parliament, and they have high birth rates. The Pew Research Center says the Muslim population will triple over the next thirty years. These are the voters of the future. British politicians think of Muslims the way American politicians think of Hispanics.
How do they vote? Eighty-five percent for Labour. That's way higher than the 66 percent of Hispanics who voted for Mrs Clinton in 2016. And Hispanics are famously apathetic politically, which Moslems are not. And being a Muslim is kind of … how shall I put it? … more intense than being Hispanic.
You can see what the Labour Party is thinking.
This weekend the old politics confronts the new politics in an unlikely arena: Sweden. They're having a general election on Sunday, and everybody's eyes are on the Sweden Democrats. This is a comparatively new party, only thirty years old, and very Trumpish. They got just barely one percent of the vote in 2002, but they've roughly doubled their vote share in every election since.
The Sweden Democrats look set fair to break the twenty percent barrier in Sunday's election. That's not going to give them control of the government; but this is one of those systems with more than two big parties, so you end up with a coalition of roughly like-minded factions. The old-politics conservative parties have sworn they won't partner with Sweden Democrats, who are, you know, Literally Hitler; but twenty percent of the electorate is hard to ignore, so we'll see.
Follow Sweden's election on Sunday. They're six hours ahead of us and it's a smallish country with efficient communications, so there should be a result before we go to bed.
[Clip: The line it is drawn
And the curse it is cast.
The slow one now
Will later be fast …]
All right, all right; thanks, Bob …
05—It's hacks all the way down. I'll just take wing here into airy generalities for a short segment, if you don't mind, starting from an observation I made back at the beginning, about the impossibility of culling the federal and White House bureacracies.
Here's another Chinese idiom for you, I'm having a fire sale: 三句話不離本行. Translation: "By the time he's spoken three sentences, you know what line of work he's in." Well, before I became a world-famous author and commentator, my line of work for thirty years was computer programming; or, as we're supposed to say now, "software development." That's kind of like garbage men becoming "sanitation engineers." I understand the psycholinguistics of the change, I just prefer the older form.
I've quipped before about the installed base, so I'll just quote myself here. Quote:
Designing computer systems from scratch is a breeze. I can do it in my sleep. You don't have an inventory system or an Accounts Payable system? No prob.: I'll cook one up for you before breakfast tomorrow.
Alas, I hardly ever got to design a system from scratch. Usually when you're hired in to build a system, the company already has one. They want a better and more efficient one. The one they currently have is all there, though, snarling and baring its fangs at you like the Creature from the Black Bog, with all its twenty-year-old work-arounds and kluges, all its records in some no-longer-supported database format, all its managers and clerks and operators who are used to the way it works and would rather be left in peace with what they know. That's the installed base.
Ancient programmers' joke:
Q—How was God able to create the world in only six days?
A—No installed base.
That came to mind again when I was reading the Z-man's blog the other day. Z, as I've noted before, is one of the smartest, most prolific, most insightful bloggers around—up there with Steve Sailer in my book.
In his Wednesday blog, Z—that's not a pronoun, that's how he identifies himself—Z started where I just left off, talking about programming … Oh, all right: "software development." He knows a lot about it from the inside. The installed base? He knows all about that. Sample quotes, edited:
Over time … the software was changed to evolve with the company. There were upgrades and modifications. If the software is old enough, there were modifications to modifications and many hands doing the work, many of whom are long gone. More important, many of the processes were created for reasons no one remembers
All complex business software started as simple software. Over decades, it evolved into highly complex systems that even the creators don't fully understand.
End quote. That's exactly right. That's why programmers break into a cold sweat, tremble, and moan when faced with the installed base. In an email exchange with Z he observed that Intelligent Design is a really hard sell to experienced programmers. We know all too well where complexity comes from.
And so it is with those huge complex government bureaucracies. Asking, "What does the Assistant to the Under Secretary for Administrative Affairs actually do?" sounds to an old code jockey's ears like: "What does this bit of code actually do?" Who knows? It was written back in 1993 to deal with some rule or regulation that has since been changed, or no longer applies.
What would happen if we just erase it? Ninety-nine percent of the time, nothing. The other one percent of the time, the company's key processing system comes to a juddering halt …
Back to the Z-man, quote:
That's what a revolution is, when you think about it. It's a lot like the decision to buy a new software system for the company. It's not that what comes next will be better. It's that the status quo is so complicated and unpleasant, anything has to be better. Of course, just as new software never turns out as expected, revolutions always turn out to be a lot more unpleasant than anyone imagined …
Even so, it is something to think about as the West struggles to reform itself. The web of pirates, grifters, reformers and patriots within the ruling classes of the West has reached a point where no one understands what's happening. That's why official Washington remains in a state of emergency over Trump.
As a footnote to all that, I'll just add comment about a related twitter thread from Foone, F-O-O-N-E, who tweets about this kind of thing. Quote from Foone:
So, programmers, you know those systems that have been maintained for TOO LONG? that are just too expensive … to replace, that are just hacks on hacks on hacks at this point, are a never ending maintenance nightmare that can't be killed?
End quote. Oh yeah, I know those systems. Heck, at this point, I wrote some of those systems back in the Reagan administration.
Well, Foone develops an argument that life itself—all living things—developed the same way. Quote:
Life was a moderately scoped novel idea for a single-celled lifeform that consumed chemicals spewing out of deep sea vents. Simple, easy, ship by Christmas, we'll be done and can move onto other projects.
End quote. And here we are, says Foone, 4.5 billion years later, reading about it.
This old programmer thinks he may be right. Yep, it's hacks all the way down.
Imprimis: It's difficult to pick a low point out of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, but Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois deserves a trophy version of the movie Idiocracy for his contribution on Tuesday.
After some protestors tried to disrupt the hearing by screeching "Hitler! Nazi! Bigot! Racist! Toxic masculinity!" and the rest, they got escorted out by security people. Senator Durbin then praised them saying, quote: "What we've heard is the noise of democracy."
No, Senator. Here's what the noise of democracy sounds like. Someone gets up and makes an argument for some policy, with supporting facts and careful attention to logic. Then someone else gets up and does likewise, arguing a different point of view. Then the generality of citizens decides which one made the better case.
That's the noise of democracy. What we heard on Tuesday from those protestors was the noise of ignorance, intolerance, and anarchy. Sure, democracy allows that noise, preferably in some designated, fenced-off area; but democracy is no way improved by it.
Item: Just going back to blogger Z-man for a second: Z-man has used the phrase "heritage Americans" a couple of times to refer to the old core population of the U.S.A. I myself have used a different phrase, "legacy Americans," in this context.
I'm not sure which I prefer. Neither seems to have much currency, to judge from Google searches, though Heritage American is the name of a line of menswear sold at Macy's and Legacy American is a martial-arts club.
If the Dissident Right is going to adopt one or other of these terms as a standard, though, I think we should settle who, exactly, is included under them. Is it just white Europeans? Or is it more restricted, to white Europeans whose ancestors arrived before the Great Wave of the late 19th century (which would exclude most Italians, Poles, and Jews, not to mention … me). What about black Americans from pre-Civil War slave stock? If you want to pick nits, what about black Americans from pre-Civil War freeman stock?
No offense to anyone, I just like to have my terminology on a firm footing.
Item: I know, I know: it's wrong, wrong to judge people by appearances. But blimey, that Jack Dorsey bloke, the CEO of Twitter … Creepy, or what? Imagine encountering him in some alley after midnight. What's that gesture you make to ward off the Evil Eye? I need to learn it.
I was watching him in Wednesday's congressional hearing, responding to questions from Marco Rubio. I never thought I'd develop feelings of respect for Little Marco, but up against Dorsey he came across as smart and forceful and … warm.
Dorsey himself plainly regarded the whole hearing as a waste of his precious time, which would be better spent banning heretics like Jared Taylor and Alex Jones—although not, of course, Sarah Jeong or Louis Farrakhan—good Heavens, no! He left me with the impression that the temperature in that hearing room had dropped twenty degrees by the time he finished his testimony (to dignify it with a noun it doesn't deserve).
Congressional committees don't play introductory music when a witness takes his seat; but if that's a thing they might consider, to add some entertainment value to the proceedings, I have just the music for Jack Dorsey's next appearance. [Clip: Mick Jagger, Sympathy for the Devil.]
This was a mild shock; I've been coasting along for decades under the vague impression Burt and I were more or less the same age. In fact, I see with relief from the obits, he was 9.31 years older than me. Phew!
That little misconception tells you something about the guy right there. He was youth, health, and strength personified—hard for anyone of my generation to think he was older than us.
The main things I recall about Burt Reynolds is that he made some really fun movies back in the 1970s, and that he married an English lady who, like me, was born in Northampton. Mrs Reynolds also, though long since divorced from Burt by that time, died in Northampton; I hope not to share that element of biography with her.
Those movies sure were fun, though. Burt always looked like he was having fun making them. Burt's memoirs include the memorable line, quote: "I may not be the best actor in the world, but I'm the best Burt Reynolds in the world," end quote. I respectfully suggest that those words deserve inclusion on his tombstone, if there's room.
A small request here. Last night I was at a literary party where the beautiful, brilliant, and fearless Heather Mac Donald was also present. Heather has a new book out, title The Diversity Delusion, publication date this week, though of course it's been available for pre-order for a while.
Publishers nowadays harass their authors to drum up friendly reviews on Amazon. If you're thinking that's unfair—that it gives an unbalanced picture of reader opinion—you couldn't be more wrong. Hate is a stronger emotion than love, and the desire to post a hostile review of a book you dislike—or even just an author you dislike, without having read the book—is stronger than the desire to go to the keyboard and tap out a positive opinion.
Hence my request, on my own initiative, not prompted by Heather: Buy her book, read it, and offer your opinion on Amazon. If you're a Radio Derb listener it'll likely be a positive opinion; but even if not, it will be thoughtful, and that's way better than snark, so offer it anyway. Thank you!
Now some signoff music. "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Thus spake a great American author. He had a point. Illustration of his point: The Happenings.
Back at the very beginning of last year, 2017, here on Radio Derb, I recorded having gone with the Mrs to a New Year's Eve show at a local theater here on Long Island and finding myself watching The Happenings, a pop group who had some hits fifty-plus years ago and are, incredibly, still performing on stage.
Given a couple more advances in genetic manipulation, perhaps The Happenings will still be with us fifty years from now. May it be so! Here they are once again, commemorating the new month with their signature song—which, by the way, let me warn you, is an exceptionally tenacious earworm.
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: The Happenings, "See You in September."]
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