02m09s Boldness and technical prowess. (We're still the can-do nation.)
10m35s Citizens push back. (Lawfare and petitions.)
19m28s Citizens push back. (Against Covid hysteria.)
28m48s NASA defies activists. (It's the James Webb Space Telescope.)
32m26s Derek Chauvin wants federal prison. (It has a better class of inmates.)
35m09s Influencers? (I give up.)
37m50s Signoff. (With the Earl of Salisbury.)
This, of course, is your seasonally genial host John Derbyshire bringing you tidings of comfort and joy. Well, not altogether. My original idea was to have only upbeat items from the news, to cheer up everybody's Christmas. When I went scouring the news outlets, though, I couldn't find much that was upbeat. Good news is no news, I guess.
I did find some upbeat items, so I shall lead off with them in the proper Christmas spirit, before gliding steadily downhill into the more negative stuff; and I shall strive to keep the negativity under firm control.
So, upbeat. What have we got? Well, here's a story to gladden the hearts of science geeks everywhere. Even if you're not a science geek, if you're a patriot, it should stir you to pride.
Much later than that, in 1998, by that time in my fifties and married with two kids, I decided to take the family to see California.
We all had different priorities here as to what particular feature of the Golden State we most wanted to experience. For the kids, it was Disneyland; for Mom, the HOLLYWOOD sign; for me, Mount Palomar.
Some time in the late 1950s I had acquired a copy of Werner Büdeler's book To Other Worlds: Telescopes, Rockets, Stars. Mine was the English translation published in 1954, and minus the dust jacket; I can still recall the green cloth binding.
I don't know when Büdeler wrote the book — in German, I mean — but I presume it was early in that decade. It must have been later than 1949 because that was the year the 200-inch Hale telescope on Mount Palomar went operational, and Büdeler wrote about some of its discoveries. He also wrote at length about the construction of the Hale, dwelling on the work involved in grinding the primary mirror — a twenty-ton disk of glass — down to a perfect paraboloid. It took years.
OK, geeky stuff: but I'd had the Hale telescope in my mind all those four subsequent decades. The 1998 trip was in fact my second to Mount Palomar. The first time I ever went to California, in late November 1975, I'd tried to drive up to the observatory. There'd been a heavy snowfall, though, and the Highway Patrol were stopping cars halfway up the mountain to make them put snow chains on their tires. I didn't have any, so I had to turn back.
Büdeler's book, and I'm pretty sure my reading of it, was pre-Sputnik. Space exploration, other than by telescope, hadn't yet gotten started. For a pre-adolescent science geek with a strong imagination, it was all wonderfully speculative. And America, the can-do nation, was out there in front with this amazing telescope. A 200-inch primary mirror — that's almost seventeen feet in diameter!
Well, in the matter of telescopes at least, we are still the can-do nation. At any rate, we're willing to try — to attempt big, bold, expensive projects that have no other purpose than to enlarge our understanding of Creation.
Hence the James Webb Space Telescope, due to be launched tomorrow, Christmas Day. This is a tremendous advance. Against the Hale telescope's not-quite-seventeen-feet primary mirror, the James Webb primary is twenty-one feet across.
That may not seem like much of an advance in seventy-two years; but getting a telescope up and running in outer space is way, way more difficult than doing the same thing down on earth. The Hubble space telescope, which has been delivering troves of new data for thirty years, has a primary mirror only eight feet across — less than half the diameter of the Hale on Mount Palomar.
Uh … if the Hubble is only half the telescope the Hale is, how come it can see things the Hale can't?
There's a multi-part answer to that, but the main point is just that outer space is a much better place to put a telescope than the earth's surface — even on top of a mountain like Palomar. The eight-foot Hubble out in space can see things the seventeen-foot Hale can't.
An earthbound observatory can of course only operate at night, when the sky is clear; but even when weather conditions are good, light from the stars gets distorted by passing through the atmosphere. Some of it gets totally lost, especially at frequencies outside the range of visible light — ultraviolet and infrared. Light from nearby cities is a nuisance, too; so are tiny vibrations from vehicular traffic and seismic grumblings. The empty airless silence of outer space is a far, far better place to put a telescope.
So tomorrow we're going to put a 21-foot telescope out there. This is a very bold venture. Even aside from the regular hazards of being shot up in a rocket, there are a great many things that can go wrong. The entire structure of the James Webb is elaborately folded up to fit into the rocket's payload area. When it gets to its destination it has to unfold itself via hundreds of tiny operations, every one of which must work.
And that destination is far out in space, a million miles from Earth — four times further away than the Moon, three thousand times further from Earth's surface than the Hubble. If something fails, there will be no question of sending up astronauts to fix it, as was done with Hubble.
If the James Webb telescope gets into position, unfolds itself, and works as planned, that will be a colossal advance for pure science, and a heartening assertion of American boldness and technical prowess. If it doesn't, that will be eleven billion dollars and a quarter-century of effort down the tubes.
So there are a lot of fingers crossed here: not just at NASA and their partners in Europe and Canada, but among research astronomers all over, with academic careers to be made from discoveries the James Webb will send back to us. Let's all hope for a successful mission.
First exhibit here: Nicholas Sandmann has come to another settlement with the media Bolsheviks.
You'll recall Sandmann as the then-16-year-old student from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky who participated in the 2019 March for Life in Washington, D.C. At the Lincoln Memorial after the march Sandmann and his group — many of whom, including Nicholas, were wearing MAGA caps — were confronted by some hostiles.
A party from some outfit called the Black Hebrew Israelites were shouting insults at them, and an American aborigine named Nathan Phillips was beating a drum and chanting at them in some aboriginal language.
Phillips came right up to Sandmann, chanting and drumming right in his face. Sandmann stood dead still and smiled. That, the media instructed us, was white supremacist.
It was plain to anyone of sense that the kid was just trying to be polite and non-confrontational, but the media commies presented him as the villain of the incident. By the time the story faded Nicholas Sandmann had been fixed in the public mind as this generation's Bull Connor.
In addition to the emotional distress this has caused to Sandmann and his family, the young man's reputation and career prospects have obviously suffered. He has been suing the media outlets energetically. Last year he got settlements from CNN and The Washington Post. This latest one is from NBC. Still on Sandmann's list: ABC, CBS, The Guardian, HuffPost, NPR, Slate, The Hill, and Gannett (which owns USA Today and a lot of local outlets).
We don't know the size of these settlements, but The New York Post quotes a civil-litigation expert that the CNN deal was worth, quote, "at least seven figures." Sandmann's original filing against NBC asked for $275 million. By the time it's all over, Nicholas Sandmann should be set up for life.
I cheer that prospect. And may Nicholas Sandmann use his settlements, along with his native good sense, smarts, and patriotism, for the public benefit. Merry Christmas, Nicholas!
There is speculation that Kyle Rittenhouse, acquitted last month of shooting two terrorists and wounding a third, may have some civil lawsuits of his own in mind under Nicholas Sandmann's inspiration.
I don't know enough about the law to estimate Rittenhouse's prospects, but while I've cheered his acquittal and wish him all the luck in the world, it seems to me that his case for damages is different from Sandmann's in important ways. He did actually shoot people. Sure, it was justifiable self-defense; but that's a lot different than just standing there grinning, which is all Sandmann did.
Meanwhile young Kyle got a standing ovation at the Turning Point USA conference in Phoenix on Monday. It was, said one TV anchorperson, "a rock star reception."
Eighteen-year-old Kyle is in fact something like a rock star to the young patriots at TPUSA. He has, The Washington Post tells us, "been embraced by conservatives in the weeks after he was acquitted."
That's great; but with rock stars in mind, I'd advise young Kyle to be discriminating about who precisely embraces him. Remember what your Mom told you about going out on a winter's day without a scarf, Kyle: you might catch something.
Also in the file of citizens pushing back against the antiwhite radicals, here's an encouraging story from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, related to the Waukesha Christmas Parade massacre.
You may not remember the Waukesha Christmas Parade massacre. It was only five weeks ago, but the mainstream media has deep-sixed it to the best of their ability as the perp was black and the victims all white, making it not at all newsworthy. Not at all! Now where are the proofs for that latest story about Emmett Till? …
So just to refresh your memory: The Waukesha Christmas Parade massacre was the incident on Sunday November 21st when a white-hating black man drove his SUV into a festival parade, killing six and injuring sixty-two, many seriously. One of those killed was an eight-year-old child. Most of the rest were older citizens, the oldest 81.
The perp, 39-year-old Darrell Brooks, is a ne'er-do-well with a long rap sheet of assaults and sex crimes, along with an online trail of antiwhite posts. Just three weeks before the parade massacre he'd been arrested for driving that same SUV at his girlfriend and charged with felony domestic abuse and "a serious weapons-related offense." For that he'd been released on a thousand dollars bail, which he'd posted just two days before the massacre.
The encouraging story here is that a group of citizens has petitioned Wisconsin's Governor Tony Evers to fire Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.
They argue that DA Chisholm, a turn-'em-loose lefty, is responsible for that thousand dollars bail that set Brooks free to commit the massacre two days later. The bail was "inappropriately low," they say, given Brooks' criminal history and the pending felony charges against him. In response, DA Chisholm has blamed one of his underlings for the bail decision.
Given that Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers is a bleeding-heart liberal who has never had a job outside politics and the public-education bureaucracy, I doubt this petition will succeed; but I'm glad to see citizens at least trying to rid themselves of slimy nation-wreckers like DA Chisholm.
Drudge Report: "Cases rocket 509 percent in Florida, 541 percent in DC"; New York Times: "More Flight Cancellations Upend Holiday Travel … Delta, United and other airlines face staff shortages as workers contract the virus"; New York Post: "Bidens blasted over singing nurses' WH performance as COVID-19 cases rise"; San Francisco Chronicle: "Bay Area hospitals say they are ready for omicron surges"; Guardian: "Omicron's cold-like symptoms mean UK guidance 'needs urgent update'"; … My own state's strict governess Kathy Hochul has mandated we all wear masks indoors.
So the covid hysteria continues, with a new lease of life from this omicron variant.
By this point everyone has a covid story. Here's mine.
At the end of November I visited with my friends Jack and Jill, staying overnight. Jack was coughing rather a lot, I thought, but I didn't attach much significance to it. Jack's roughly my age, by the way, mid-seventies.
A couple of days after returning home I heard from Jill that Jack had been diagnosed with covid. I murmured some sympathies in reply, then got on with what I was doing.
The next day I was afflicted with rhinitis. My nose wouldn't stop running. Later I developed a cough, and then a fever. I was tired and listless.
None of it was any great cause for alarm. It was, in fact, a bad cold, or something indistinguishable therefrom. It lingered for a few days on the schedule laid down by my mother: "Three days coming, three days with you, three days going." It didn't stop me doing anything. I posted my Radio Derb podcast in the middle of it.
No sooner had I recovered, however, than Mrs Derbyshire came down with it. Same thing: rhinitis, cough, fatigue. Like mine, it came and went over a few days.
Covid? I'm triple vaccinated from early this year; my wife, double — she's still waiting for a booster. So maybe just a winter cold. I checked with Jack and Jill: they were better.
Neither I nor the Mrs has bothered to take a test; but given Jack's diagnosis there's a good probability we had some species of covid. Hey.
The experience has left me even more skeptical of the covid hysteria than I was before. Sure, I know it can be a killer, especially of the elderly. That's always been the case with colds and flu. Bertrand Russell died of the flu. (He was 97.)
So public-health-wise, the sensible policy is: protect the most vulnerable and let the rest of us, the vast majority, get on with normal life.
The upbeat news here is that this approach is increasingly the one favored by the general public; and even, to an increasing degree, by our elected representatives.
That mask mandate from New York State's strict governess Kathy Hochul — who, by the way, was not elected: she took over when Andrew Cuomo slithered out of office — Kathy Hochul's mask mandate is being widely ignored. Here on Long Island, the chief executives of both Nassau County and my own Suffolk County have publicly declared they won't enforce the mandate. Both those chief executives, by the way, are Democrats, as of course is our strict governess who they're defying.
And the commentariat has brought forth heroes and heroines to inspire our disdain for elite hysteria. A stellar example here is Heather Mac Donald over at The Spectator.
Heather's December 20th post is titled Inside the Omicron fear factory, subtitle, "Public health chiefs and the media are working overtime to gin up hysteria." The New York Post cross-published it under the different headline, in the print edition: How the Elite Keep Us Scared. You get the idea; but you really should read the whole piece.
I'll give you a brief sample. Heather has just quoted a so-called public health expert at Georgetown University pooh-poohing reports of the Omicron variant's lack of severity. Quote from him: "Even if infection is mild in many individuals, it's not going to be mild in everyone." End quote. Heather Mac Donald ripostes, quote:
But that 100 percent mildness standard is unrealistic. There are outliers in any disease and any treatment; the question is: what is the predominant reality? The zero-risk, zero-harm standard for public policy adopted for the first time with Covid has proven a social, economic and public health disaster.
That's absolutely right. It tells us something about the state of our nation, and of the state of the West in general, that we are nowadays so susceptible to these mass hysterias.
I actually find that hysteria more alarming than covid. If we yield so easily to public-health hysterias, and to political hysterias like the Trump Derangement Syndrome of this past five years, shall we likewise be susceptible to military hysterias if our elites decide to gin one up? Now that is scary.
Again, though, we are seeing some healthy push-back against elite-sponsored hysteria from the public, from our representatives, and from brilliant commentators like Heather Mac Donald.
In this season of hope, there are good strong reasons to hope.
James Webb, born in 1906, was head of NASA, the National Aeronatics and Space Administration, through most of the 1960s, 1961 to 1968 — key years, of course, in the development of manned space flight.
In those years there was strong public disapproval of homosexuality, and laws against homosexual acts all over the U.S.A. That meant that government employees who were homosexual were vulnerable to blackmail.
Employees in areas connected with national security, in particular, were subject to recruitment by Soviet spies via blackmail. This was the height of the Cold War, remember. Consequently, and very reasonably, federal departments, especially the most security-conscious ones like State and Defense, fired employees who were found to be homosexual.
NASA in the 1960s took the same approach. At least one NASA employee was fired for homosexuality while James Webb was NASA chief.
No surprise then that earlier this year homosexual activists fired up a campaign to rename the James Webb telescope. It would be wrong, wrong they said to name such a major project after a homophobe.
Leaving aside the fact that James Webb is not known to have had any active part in firing homosexuals, this ignores the other fact that in the 1960s approximately ninety percent of Americans were homophobic by the standards of 2021. Indeed, never mind the 1960s: In 1986 the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court quoted in support of his written opinion the traditional view of homosexual sodomy as, quote, "an infamous crime against nature," end quote, to no public outcry at all.
Here's the encouraging bit. NASA, to their credit, have announced that they will not rename the telescope. It will go on being the James Webb Space Telescope.
NASA will, however, give serious consideration to renaming the Artemis program that aims to put Americans back on the Moon later this decade. The proposal under consideration is that Artemis should be renamed Liberace.
Given that Chauvin was sentenced to twenty years minimum in Minnesota state court earlier this year for the same incident, you may think he is a victim of double jeopardy, in violation of all the norms of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. If you do think that you are totally, completely and absolutely WRONG. This is not double jeopardy. Only wreckers and saboteurs utterly ignorant of the law could think so. Correct your thinking, comrade!
Latest news is that Chauvin, who has not yet been sentenced by the federal court, wishes to serve his time for both offenses in federal prison, not in state prison, even though, on the usual guidelines, he may get more time on the federal offense. Chauvin hasn't given a reason for this request, but the general assumption is that he knows federal prisons are better-managed and more comfortable than state prisons, with a better class of inmate.
Meanwhile the officers restraining Tony Timpa in Dallas, Texas five years ago when Timpa died from, quote from the autopsy report, "cocaine and the stress associated with physical restraint," end quote, those officers remain un-charged with anything at all and are still, so far as I can ascertain, patrolling the streets of Dallas.
"One of the restraining officers used his knee to pin Timpa face down for 13 minutes waiting for paramedics to arrive."
Why has Tony Timpa's death gone almost entirely unreported, while George Floyd's precipitated a mighty national convulsion? No idea, sorry. I can't figure it out at all.
That's not just geezer talk, either. The other day I was in conversation with my bright and intelligent daughter about social media, which I assumed she would be thoroughly familiar with. I asked her a question about it. She replied: "Don't ask me, Dad. I can't keep up."
To which I replied: "You can't keep up? Honey, you're 28 years old. How the hell d'you think I feel?"
Case in point, although not the one I was asking my daughter about: "influencer."
Suddenly I'm seeing this word everywhere. I don't recall seeing it at all before the middle of this year. Now it's all over. People get tagged with it in news stories as an occupation: "Travis Tinkle, a well-known influencer …"
So what the hell is an influencer? In a spirit of journalistic due diligence I had just decided on a systematic effort to find out when I happened to be browsing through this annual publication from The Economist, title: The World Ahead 2022.
OK, what does The Economist see as lying in wait for us the next twelve months? "Vertical farming" … OK. "3D-printed bone implants" … uh-huh. "Flying electric taxis" … oh, sure. "Quantum computing" … ri-i-i-ight.
And then, what's this? "Virtual influencers." Say what? I haven't figured out what influencers are yet, and they're already going virtual?
I give up.
Thank you as always for your time and attention, for your emailed comments, suggestions, and corrections, and for your generous donations. A very Merry Christmas to you all, and to those you love!
For Christmas signoff music, here of course is a carol. This is not one you hear much, but it's a favorite of mine: an old English carol — one of the oldest, from the early 17th century. The composer was William Byrd, of the generation before Shakespeare. He composed it in memory of the great English statesman Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury, who died in 1612; and that's what the carol is always called, "The Earl of Salisbury." I know, it's a peculiar name for a carol. The English are a peculiar people.
It's sung in polyphony, which makes it hard to catch the words; so I'll read them out to you beforehand, to give the flavor of the piece. Here we go:
Sweet was the song the virgin sang
When she to Bethlem Juda came,
And was delivered of a son,
That blessed Jesus hath to name.
Lulla lullaby, lulla lullaby lullaby,
"Sweet babe," sang she, "my son —
And eke a Saviour, a Saviour born,
Who hast vouchsafed from on high
To visit us that were folorn.
Lulla lullaby, lulla lullaby,
Sweet babe," sang she,
And rocked him sweetly on her knee.