01m07s Second-rate debate. (It was a chore.)
07m01s No Trump bump. ("Fine people"? Really?)
11m36s Democracy's balloon. (Shavian cynicism.)
14m08s What is white supremacy? (A thought they can't think.)
19m33s More on meritocracy. (Kaus takes a bite at it.)
26m34s First Couple get the virus. (A politicians' disease.)
29m03s Execution in Indiana. (What took so long?)
31m24s The Twitter killer. (Pity he didn't kill the app.)
33m25s Small war in the Caucasus. (Not many dead.)
34m31s Happy 60th birthday, Nigeria! (And good luck for 60 more.)
36m46s Signoff. (With Gracie.)
Four weeks this coming Tuesday to voting day, ladies and gents. Then we look set for another four weeks, at least, of wrangling over vote counts. A depressing prospect; and I'll admit honestly, I'm depressed.
My mood wasn't improved by Tuesday's Presidential candidates debate. Why would it have been? Hoo boy. Well, let me start with that.
In my forty years of hanging around on the fringes of the worlds of power and influence, I have, a few times, found myself in a roomful of real movers and shakers with seriously impressive job titles in government or the media. None of those events included an acting U.S. President, although one of them did include an acting U.S. Vice President.
It was always the case at some point, as the event wore on and the cigars burned low and the ice diminished in its bucket, it was always the case at some point that I found myself thinking: "These guys aren't very smart."
I know from smart. I've hobnobbed with very seriously smart people: world-famous physicists and Fields Medal winners; also with prize-winning historians and other luminaries of the academic humanities. I know from smart. The people who run our public affairs are, with very occasional exceptions, not very smart. Trust me on this.
And that was the thought that kept intruding as I watched Tuesday night's debate. Not: "What a loathsome reptile that one is!" Nor: "What on earth does the damn fool mean by that?" Only, time and again, the thought: "What a bunch of second-raters."
One of George Bernard Shaw's many indictments of democracy went something like: "Democracy is the system where twenty million people are asked to choose the bravest, wisest, and best among them to be their leader, and they choose Stanley Baldwin." End quote.
That was actually an unfair slight against Baldwin, who was an intelligent and capable man. Writing about Baldwin a few months ago, I called him "Britain's Coolidge." Like Coolidge, however, Baldwin was regarded as something of a nonentity by the intelligentsia of his time—especially by those, like Shaw, who were of the opposite political persuasion.
Anyway, we take Shaw's point. Democracy does not bring forward the brightest and best. For sure it hasn't this year in these United States. For an hour and a half there on Tuesday I watched three guys talking, none of whom said anything interesting or original; none of whom, to the best of my recollection, has ever said anything interesting or original.
Has our public sphere always been this mediocre? Shaw plainly thought it was so a hundred years ago; but I'd swear I can remember better times. Richard Nixon was well-read and sometimes said things that made you think. Margaret Thatcher spoke good sense in properly grammatical sentences. Ronald Reagan could make us laugh … intentionally, I mean.
Perhaps these things go in cycles. Perhaps twenty years from now we'll be back to good sense, good manners, and wit. We can hope.
Where Tuesday night's debate is concerned, I'm definitely talking about all three people in the room. I can't say I've ever paid much attention to Chris Wallace before; but he came across on Tuesday as a dim bulb with a head full of ignorant flapdoodle gathered from the New York Times editorial columns.
I mean, really: Critical Race Theory is "racial sensitivity training"? Excuse me? That's up there with whoever it was that described Mao Tse-tung as "an agrarian reformer."
Are you getting that I was deeply unimpressed by the debate? I was.
"This world," said a wise man three hundred years ago, "is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel." In my younger days, when my mind was sharper, I might have laughed at Tuesday night's debate as comedy. Now—and sure, you can put it down to twilight-years geezerdom if you like, I don't care—now I am more inclined to weep.
The analysts have of course been crunching poll numbers, to some approximate conclusions. Ipsos, one of the better outfits, concluded that, quote:
Biden may have gained a little support, but many still think Trump has a good chance of winning.
End quote, with italics on the word "little" there. That seems to have been the pollsters' consensus.
Drilling down in the numbers, A YouGov poll for CBS News found that 92 percent of Democrats who watched say that their man won the debate, but only 82 percent of Republicans thought their guy did. That sounds plausible to me. Trump was a bit too determined to make himself the dominant male in the room. That works up to a point, but beyond that point sympathy for the underdog takes over.
On voting intentions, a post-debate poll reported by U.S. News & World Report on Thursday showed 54 percent of respondents supporting Biden to 41 percent for Trump. I don't know how much of an outlier that is, but it sure doesn't indicate a debate bump for the President.
Trump also blew chances to make real substantive points in the debate. He didn't even mention immigration, the one topic above all others that won him the Presidency.
And again Biden unblushingly quoted the "fine people" hoax at us. The President should have jumped all over that and torn it to shreds, quoting the words he actually spoke at Charlottesville that day:
[Clip of Trump speaking: You had some very bad people in that group; but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides … [pips] … You had people—and I'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally …]
Trump should have those words that he actually spoke as an audio file ready to hand on his cell phone and just play it into the mike. That would be smart.
I have that sound clip in a folder on my computer, ready for when it comes up, which it keeps doing. Why does it keep coming up? Why haven't Trump and his people killed the "fine people" hoax stone dead by now?
Trump must have some variety of smarts to have succeeded as well as he has in life, but it's not the political variety.
Even that is more than you can say about Joe Biden. What on earth has kept this bumbling buffoon at the top of the greasy poll all these decades? What have the voters been smoking down there in Delaware?
When Barack Obama tapped Joe for Vice President, the joke going round was that it was for insurance against assassination. Nobody would be crazy enough to off Obama, knowing it would put Biden in the White House.
Bad taste humor? Sure: but I laughed at the time along with everyone else—well, everyone I was hanging out with. Now, watching Joe dithering his way through that debate, I'm not so sure it was a joke.
04—The Democracy Balloon. On the upside of this not-very-penetrating commentary on the debates that I'm producing here, preparing for it at least got me riffling through the six full pages of George Bernard Shaw quotes at brainyquote.com. The old commie was very quotable. Sample:
Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.
End quote. That's not bad. I like this one, too, quote:
Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.
Here's another one on democracy that sticks in the mind somehow … Well, it's been stuck in mine for many years. Longish quote.
I am going to ask you to begin our study of Democracy by considering it first as a big balloon, filled with gas or hot air, and sent up so that you shall be kept looking up at the sky whilst other people are picking your pockets. When the balloon comes down to earth every five years or so you are invited to get into the basket if you can throw out one of the people who are sitting tightly in it; but as you can afford neither the time nor the money, and there are forty millions of you and hardly room for six hundred in the basket, the balloon goes up again with much the same lot in it and leaves you where you were before.
I can't think of much else to say about Tuesday's debate, so to fill out this segment I'll just leave you with a Trivial Pursuit question you can try out at your next dinner party.
Question: Only two people have ever been awarded both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar. Can you name them?
05—What is white supremacy? In Tuesday's debate—yeah, I'm not quite through yet—in the debate Chris Wallace asked the President whether he was willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups.
Trump replied, quote: "Sure, I'm willing to do that." Wallace and Biden badgered him about it, though. Trump fought back, challenging them to come up with a name, pointing out the while, what of course is true, that all the violence and disorder we've been seeing these past weeks has been driven by leftist mobs like Antifa and BLM.
The Biden-Wallace team came up at last with Proud Boys, a multiracial group of young men trying to offer some lawful resistance to the anarchists. If the Proud Boys have torched any police stations, looted any Target stores, pulled down any statues, dragged any people from their cars, or gone through any auto dealer parking lots smashing all the windows, I missed it.
That's the gross imbalance, the fake moral equivalence that we get from all mainstream media types, Chris Wallace no exception. I'm glad the President spoke forthrightly about it.
What is white supremacy, anyway? I am personally acquainted with several people who the media have called "white supremacist," including the proprietor of this website. None of them wants to be supreme over anyone else. What they mostly want is to be left alone, and for the demography of their nations to be left alone, to not be transformed by mass immigration. You can approve of that or disapprove of it, but it has nothing to do with supremacy.
I understand of course that white supremacy was once a thing in the U.S.A. There was a system of social rules, and in some places actual laws, to keep black Americans subordinate to whites. That you can fairly call "white supremacy."
It's long gone, though, and about as likely to come back as barber-shop quartets or three-pack-a-day cigarette habits. In fact we haven't just corrected ourselves; we've over-shot the correction mark, into a zone where blacks enjoy favors and privileges not available to nonblacks—a state of affairs you could fairly call "black supremacy."
It's true that these decades of effort haven't brought about equality of outcomes by race: but given all we've done, the decades we've spent doing it, the jurisprudence we've overturned, the laws we've passed, the money we've spent, the goodwill we've gushed, the fair conclusion has to be that equal outcomes by race are not possible. The races are too different.
That's a thought that too many people can't think, though; so they burble on vapidly about "white supremacy" and "privilege" and "militias" when the desire for white supremacy is long gone, the privilege all belongs to affirmative-action hires and black criminals released without bail, and militias nationwide add up to a few dozen fantasists playing weekend games in the woods.
When all is said and done, there was a real difference intermittently visible in Tuesday night's debate, a difference in outlook and mentation. President Trump, with all his faults, has his feet on the ground, is willing to engage with true facts about the world.
Wallace and Biden, and all the Establishment folk behind them, are floating up in the clouds, detached from reality. Society, in their minds, is shaped not by facts of human biology and psychology, but by invisible vapors and magical influences: "privilege," "racism," "supremacy."
None of those is a real thing. Our ruling classes are not interested in real things, except when those things help to reinforce their own power.
06—Is meritocracy slipping away? Speaking of Critical Race Theory, I note that one of the things Critical Race Theorists teach to the captive audiences herded and corraled for them by corporate HR departments, college Residential Advisors, and Assistants to the Under-Secretary for Diversity and Inclusion in government departments, one of those things is, that meritocracy is a form of oppression.
In that, at least, the Critical Race Theorists may be on to something. Meritocracy is a minor hobby-horse of mine, that I've returned to several times on these podcasts—six times, when I did a word-search on the archives.
The reason I'm a bit obsessive about it is chronological. Michael Young's book The Rise of the Meritocracy came out in 1958. By the time I went up to college five years later, everyone in England with any claim to be a thinking person was assumed to have read the book and to have an opinion about it.
To this day I don't believe the issues raised by Michael Young in his book have really been confronted, including the central issue of whether a society based on meritocracy can be stable. (Michael Young thought it couldn't.)
In my Diary for February 2018, marking the sixtieth anniversary of the book's publication, I quoted what Bertrand Russell wrote about the philosopher David Hume, quote from Russell:
To refute him has been, ever since he wrote, a favorite pastime among metaphysicians. For my part, I find none of their refutations convincing; nevertheless, I cannot but hope that something less sceptical than Hume's system may be discoverable.
That, I said, is how I feel about The Rise of the Meritocracy. I don't much like that central argument, that a meritocracy can't be stable, but I have never seen any convincing counter-argument.
I've returned to the topic now because I've just read a rather good piece about it by blogger Mickey Kaus, September 22nd, title: Two Paths for Meritocracy.
Kaus agrees with me about the book's prescience. Quote:
Young foresees practically everything. I mean everything. The hiving off of the credentialed, the inevitable SAT-selected snobbery, the rise of Trump-like populists, Herrnstein-Murray genetics, the push for a guaranteed income (UBI), even a Silicon-Valley style elite. I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere in there Young told us the winners of next year's Grammys.
Kaus notes that our increasing social stratification—the "coming apart" that Charles Murray wrote a book about—is a consequence of late-20th-century meritocracy. Further quote:
Highly skilled people make more money (increasingly more) and choose to live with other highly skilled people. They marry each other and have highly skilled children. Those without skills fall on harder times and increasingly rely on public subsidies.
Kaus thinks, however, that meritocracy is slipping away. The SATs and the Graduate Record Exam are being discarded on social-justice grounds. New York City's specialized public high schools are under attack on those same grounds. You can just buy a place at Harvard nowadays, which, according to Kaus, you couldn't fifty years ago: He offers Jared Kushner as an example.
What's more, he says, the meritocratic elite are not very happy in their success. Changes in the way the high professions—law, medicine, banking, corporate management—work have made those professions unrewarding, except financially.
Is there a solution? Kaus doesn't seem to think so. He makes what seems to me a muddled pitch for a less-fair system. If success in life were just random, even nepotistic, citizens wouldn't feel so bad about being un-successful. It wouldn't be our fault!
It sounds as though Kaus's argument doesn't even convince himself. He allows, for example, that his less-fair system would depress GDP, leaving us all poorer.
Probably he's right. Michael Young's argument from 62 years ago stands, I think, un-refuted; and I'm still there looking over Bertrand Russell's shoulder at David Hume. I cannot but hope that something less sceptical than Young's system may be discoverable.
Imprimis: News this morning, Friday, is that our President and First Lady have been diagnosed COVID-19-positive. Vice President Mike Pence, however, has tested negative.
We shouldn't be surprised. COVID-19 is a politicians' disease if ever there was one, especially for a politician like Trump, who likes being out there among his supporters. They're supposed to be out there "pressing the flesh," as we used to say, though I guess that phrase has dropped out of the political vocabulary now. When indoors, they spend most of their time in rooms full of advisors, or foreign ambassadors and such, all breathing on each other.
So, not a great surprise. Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has had the virus; he seems to have made a full recovery.
I also wonder if there's a generational thing in play. Trump's just a few months younger than me. Perhaps he shares my refusal to be bothered much about the COVID-19 panic. Perhaps, like me, he remembers the flu pandemic of 1957-58 that killed over a million people worldwide, when our planet's population was less than half what it is now.
I can remember a third of the seats in my school classroom being vacant, boys either sick with the flu or kept at home by parents in case. Actually closing down the school seems not to have occurred to anyone.
Politically, it's a nuisance for the President to have to go into quarantine just now, shutting down those rallies he's been doing, that he clearly finds so energizing. A possible upside, far as I'm concerned, is that we may be spared any more debates.
The First Couple have the virus but seem to be asymptomatic. I hope they remain so.
Item: I still can't get any traction for my "One Strike and You're Dead" proposal: get caught jaywalking, go to the chair. I take what comfort I can from noting that the federal government, at least, is carrying out executions.
Thursday last week 40-year-old Christopher Vialva was killed by lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, for a double homicide he committed in 1999. The actual crime is hard to read about, and the only thing to regret about the execution is that it took 21 years to give the swine his just deserts.
Vialva was black and his two victims were white. That of course has progressives calling the execution racist. On the numbers, it looks to me as if black murderers are getting off lightly. This is the seventh federal execution since July. Of the preceding six, five were white and one was Navajo.
Given that, according to federal crime statistics, 56 percent of murderers are black, one out of seven looks to me like extreme favoritism towards blacks.
Something called the Death Penalty Information Center tells us that 26 of the 56 inmates currently on federal Death Row are black. That's 46 percent. If 56 percent of murderers are black, that's still a serious under-representation, evidence of more favoritism toward blacks.
Perhaps the President could mention that in the next debate, if there is one. Yeah, right!
Item: Elsewhere they do things differently. I've been following the case of the Twitter killer in Japan.
When I saw the headline I thought for one joyful moment that the guy had killed off Twitter, sparing me the hour or so each day I spend browsing the damn thing.
No such luck. This is a young man, Takahiro Shiraishi, 29 years old, who opened a Twitter account to contact women who were contemplating suicide. He lured them by telling them he could help them die.
At least eight were thus lured, one only 15 years old. When he had them in his apartment, Shiraishi killed them, then chopped up the bodies. He also killed one male, a guy who had tracked him down when searching for his missing girlfriend.
Mr Shiraishi was arrested in 2017 but has only just this week come to trial. It's quite a sensation over there: 600 people lined up for 13 seats in the public gallery.
If found guilty, Mr Shiraishi will be executed. Japan executes average four or five people a year. The method is hanging, quicker and more honest than the hypocritical, pseudo-clinical method of lethal injection used in our federal prisons.
If the state is going to do lethal violence to a person, we should do it unapologetically, not pretend we're giving them some kind of medical treatment.
Item: A small war has broken out in the Caucasus between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
I guess war is a bad thing, and we should feel sorry for the people getting bombed, shot, and driven from their homes. I'm doing my best; but those nations are so small and remote, it's hard to work up much interest.
Viewing the war from this distance, in fact, with zero possibility the outcome will have any effect on us—unless we're such damn fools as to get involved, which of course we may be—from this distance it's tempting, though a bit macabre, to see the war as a kind of sporting contest to which we in the rest of the world are spectators. I wonder if an enterprising bookie somewhere is taking bets on the result.
Item: In a different part of the world, Nigeria—the nation of Nigeria—has just turned 60. Congratulations to Nigeria on that, and good luck for the next 60 years.
The U.N. reports consistently show Nigeria as having the fastest-growing population among the ten biggest countries. The U.N. projects a population of almost 800 million by year 2100; so 60 years from now, on a linear interpolation, there will be 650 million Nigerians, twice the current population of the U.S.A.
That assumes Nigerian statistics can be trusted. Steve Sailer has written at length about this, his findings suggesting strongly that Nigeria's censuses are a bit of a joke, both sides of the country's major ethnic split—northern Muslims, southern Christians—fudging the numbers for political advantage. Whatever: There are a huge number of Nigerians, and the number's getting huger really fast.
Corruption is dire: Nigeria ranks 146 out of the 180 nations ranked by Transparency International last year. The price of oil is sinking and the Sahara Desert is advancing southwards.
So, as I said: Good luck, Nigeria! You'll be needing it.
Thank you for listening anyway, and I shall strive to be a tad more positive next week, when there will of course be more from Radio Derb. Meanwhile, to cheer us up, here's Gracie.
[Music clip: Gracie Fields, "Sing As We Go."]