Meeting the challenge. Eye-roll of the month was surely the Biden administration telling us that the invasion of our country from the south is not a crisis, merely a challenge.
When the managerial class tell us that something or other is a challenge, you can be sure it's a disaster caused by their own crackpot policies. I covered this in Chapter 2 of my spacetime-bending 2009 bestseller We Are Doomed.
That was when I had just gotten through tossing and goring political scientist Robert Putnam's pimping for "diversity" in the teeth of all the evidence of his own researches. Then:
Professor Putnam tells us in his Uppsala paper that: "[T]his article is but a prolegomenon to a larger project on how to manage the challenge that immigration and diversity pose to social capital and solidarity."
Oh, so it's a challenge. Well, there's no avoiding the challenge of diversity. It's been with us from the start … It is, though, hard to see why a sane people would be so intent on making the challenge bigger. As Putnam says, mass Third World immigration has added enormously to our diversity, so that today's challenge is hugely bigger than the one we faced forty years ago, which mainly involved bringing African Americans and Native Americans fully into the national life. Why would a nation strive to increase the challenge it faces? Was the original challenge so contemptibly small that we needed to double and triple it, to give our moral fiber a work-out?
Perhaps the idea is that by enlarging and then defeating this challenge, we shall be a better nation. In that case, if challenges are so good for us, why not create a few more? I suggest flooding some low-lying cities; causing landslides on inhabited hillsides with well-placed explosive charges; letting loose a few dangerous pathogens … Or why not set off a nuclear weapon or two in populated areas to see how well we meet the challenge of swamped hospitals and mass evacuation?
It seems to me that the human world presents enough challenges, without our needing to concoct more, or multiply the ones we have. Resource depletion, climate instability, economic stagnation, demography, and international terrorism all seem likely to present us with severe challenges in the years to come. Why should the U.S.A. add more challenges to the menu? What happened to the old adage about not troubling Trouble until Trouble troubles you? Why are we putting ourselves through this ever-swelling diversity challenge?
I have yet to hear a sensible answer to those questions, other than: We are gluttons for punishment.
Viral analogies. "Racism is a virus," tweeted the Pope on March 21st. At the risk of calling down a pontifical anathema on my head, I'll observe that His Holiness is late to the party. The coincidence of last year's race hysteria with the covid pandemic has had every lefty midwit in Creation telling us for months now that "racism is a virus!" The anti-bullying website ActToChange has even published a Racism Is a Virus Toolkit.
"Racism is a virus" is way out ahead as the most tired, threadbare cliché of the Current Year.
If we're analogizing about viruses, though, here's my two pennyworth.
The Biden Rush of Central Americans, Mexicans, and who knows what other nationalities across our southern border is surely bringing actual viruses with it, and not just covid, either. Setting all that aside, let's analogize. What else are they bringing that might spread among us like a virus?
Why are these nations like that? Is it crazy to think that the people who live there have something to do with it? And to wonder whether perhaps, once those people are settled in the millions — soon, with chain migration, tens of millions — here in the U.S.A., their violent, corrupt and dysfunctional folkways will infect our society, making it more like theirs?
Yes, that's crazy talk, Derb. Let 'em in! They'll all be good Jeffersonian democrats in no time. "Social dysfunction is a virus"? Nonsense!
The problem with USPS. My relationship with the postal service has always been cordial. As a child in England during Winston Churchill's last premiership, when there were two daily mail deliveries (early morning, early afternoon), at the sight of a mailman I would join with the other street urchins merrily chanting:
Here comes the postman
Who brings us our news.
What a lot it must cost
To keep him in shoes!
Later, in the 1962 and 1963 Christmas seasons, I was a mailman myself. The British post office hired in high-school students to help with the Christmas rush. For the first of those seasons I delivered to Poets' Corner in Northampton, my home town. (Every old English town has a Poets' Corner: Shelley Street, Milton Street, Byron Street, … Northampton's is at 8 o'clock here). The following year I had a country round, delivering to villages, farms, and canal-keepers' cottages south of the town, riding a bicycle the Post Office supplied.
So I have longstanding sympathies for the mailman and his work. I plant this marker here up front to deflect negative consequences, just as I might tell you that some of my best friends are black, Jewish, or homosexual before venturing remarks that might be taken as unfriendly to a grievance lobby.
Well: the other day I got one of those fliers from the U.S. Postal Service. Wouldn't I like to print stamps right at my home printer, without standing on line at a post office window?
I've had these fliers before and just ignored them. I buy stamps once or twice a year, no big deal. For some reason, though, this one caught me in a moment of techno-enthusiastic weakness. Yes, it would be neat to print my own stamps.
I went to the website, did some basic routines, came to a point where they sent me a security code I had to key back in. I did so. The screen flagged it wrong. Hng. I circled round, back to the security-code point. Carefully entered the new code. Wrong again! Wha? Third time lucky: circled round again, got a new security code … Wrong!
I tried "continue" to just bypass the security-code business. Na-uh: "There is an issue with your account."
I called the help line. They picked up. "I'm going to transfer you to Security."
What I actually got transferred to was a phone menu. None of the menu items mentioned security. I selected "Supervisor." Dial tone, dial tone, dial tone … "Call volume is heavy. Enter your phone number, we'll save your place in the queue and call you back." Did that.
This was midday. I was at my desk all afternoon. Nobody called back.
Good enough for gubmint work, I guess. All this followed on weeks of late mail deliveries, a couple actually missed altogether. Does USPS have problems?
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy unveiled the largest rollback of consumer mail services in a generation, part of a 10-year plan that will include longer first-class delivery windows, reduced post office hours and higher postage prices … The agency is weighed down by $188.4 billion in liabilities, and DeJoy told a House panel last month that he expects the Postal Service to lose $160 billion over the next 10 years. ["USPS chief DeJoy cuts post office hours, lengthens delivery times in new 10-year plan" by Jacob Bogage; Washington Post, March 23rd 2021.]
Digging around a bit, I think I've located the fundamental problem. Check out the USPS Board of Governors. Notice anything? Yes: They are all white men! No wonder USPS is FUBAR.
Not for much longer, though. Joltin' Joe is on the case.
More than 50 House Democrats last week asked President Biden to fire the board's six sitting members for cause — citing "gross mismanagement," "self-inflicted" nationwide mail delays and "rampant conflicts of interest" — and to allow a new slate of Biden nominees to consider DeJoy's fitness for office.
Biden already has nominated two Democrats and a voting rights advocate to fill three of four vacancies … If confirmed by the Senate, Democrats and Biden appointees would hold a 5-to-4 majority …
That should fix things.
Pfizer memories. This was the month that "Did you get vaccinated?" became a standard greeting. Mine was the Pfizer shot.
If my anti-vaxxer friends are right and I've signed my death warrant thereby, I can at least take comfort in reflecting that there'll be symmetry in my passing. Pfizer's midtown Manhattan corporate HQ was my first place of paid employment in the U.S.A.
This was in my feckless younger days — August 1973, to be exact. I'd come here from England on a tourist visa, which did not allow me to work. However, I ran out of money and had no return ticket. I signed up with an agency that supplied kitchen help.
The very first place they sent me was Pfizer HQ, to wash dishes at the employees' cafeteria. It was one day's work for two dollars an hour, subway tokens supplied.
I worked the dishwashing machine with two cheerful young Puerto Ricans named, I can still remember, Freddy and Union. They didn't speak much English, but we coped somehow. I often wonder what became of them: my first American co-workers.
Supreme gratification. You're a dilettante, with a range of interests that is wide, but not seriously deep anywhere. You write a book of some kind, fiction or nonfiction, dealing with one of your interests: math, perhaps, or Chinese culture.
Your book is published. If you're lucky it gets some praise, which is gratifying. If you're very lucky you may receive words of praise at a level far above the ordinary, from a world-class expert in whatever it was you wrote about: a real mathematician, a real sinologist, someone you have long admired. That is supremely gratifying, and glows warm in your heart forever.
I enjoyed that great good fortune back in 2011 when the famous French mathematician Jean-Pierre Serre praised my book Prime Obsession at a conference in Paris. Now I learn that I have twice been thus blessed.
The second gift of praise came from sinologist and all-round literary gent Simon Leys, whose books I've been reading with pleasure and admiration since the 1970s. Here I was reviewing his antepenultimate book The Hall of Uselessness back in 2013. Leys died the following year in Australia, where he had lived and taught since 1970. I memorialized him briefly here at VDARE.com.
The year after that, 2015, Leys' lifelong friend Pierre Boncenne published a book which, so far as I know, exists only in a French edition. The title translates as When you come to see me at the Antipodes: Letters to Pierre Boncenne. Simon Leys is credited posthumously as the author because most of the book is taken from letters that Leys wrote to Boncenne.
Leys was a prolific and imaginative letter writer. He and Boncenne had been exchanging letters for thirty years. In the book's introduction Boncenne tells us:
About ten years ago we agreed to publish a book together based on our correspondence. To give substance to the project, we signed a contract with a publisher. We started the necessary work of formatting, which gave rise to letters, which gave rise to replies, which … and so on. Disregarding the hazards of existence, it was first necessary to finish other books, for example his anthology on The Sea in French Literature, with which I helped him as much as I could. In spite of our wish to bring it to the quay, our project remained at sea …
So the epistolary material in Antipodes was selected by Boncenne after Leys' death. He has grouped it alphabetically under topic headings: Amitié, Anti-Américanisme, Argent, Australie, Autorités Intellectuelles, Alain Badiou, Balzac, BHL (et Houellebecq), Bibliothèque Idéale, …
That last heading means "Ideal Library." Boncenne had actually collaborated (not with Leys) on a book of this title, a survey of the world's best literature, published in 1988. He had asked in a letter for Leys' thoughts along the same lines. Leys replied:
To answer you, I simply went through the shelves of my library, so my list is idiosyncratic chaos. Some of these books are fundamental and well known … I mark them with a "+". Others fall under what I would call the category of "secret treasures": bedside books, which I adore for various and very personal reasons. I mark them "++".
The second book of eleven in that latter category is:
++ John Derbyshire: Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, St Martin's Press, New York, 1996. (A MIRACULOUS short novel by an unknown young English novelist — it finally had a lot of success in the United States [according to my son who lives in New York].)
Supreme gratification. I am basking.
Images of the late-covid world. Mid-month, I went to Manhattan for a meeting of my gents' dinner club. It was our first meeting since November. The normal schedule is monthly; but the hosting restaurant was laboring under the covid restrictions imposed by New York City's communist mayor Bill de Blasio, so we have missed a few.
Now our restaurant has improvised some woodwork and polythene sheeting over their back yard, in such a way as to keep diners warm and dry while still somehow satisfying the Restaurant Police that we are outdoors. This being New York City, I suspect there may have been a "sweetener" in there somewhere, but … whatever it takes.
So there we were for a happy evening of instruction (from a distinguished guest speaker), gossip, and intoxication.
I took the Long Island Railroad into the city. From Penn Station I rode the subway across town, then walked up Lexington Avenue to the restaurant. Those hikes left me with two vivid images of the late-covid world we now inhabit.
- Walking from my house to the local railroad station to catch the train into town, I passed the commuter-car parking lots. In normal
times at 4:30 on a weekday afternoon, they would be full of cars. When I was a commuter myself in the 1990s I often had trouble finding a parking
place closer than five minutes walk to the ticket office. Today those parking lots were empty. It was very striking.
- Walking along Lexington Avenue in the 50s and 60s, what were once blocks full of small stores — delis, barbers, dry cleaners, and such — were now depressing rows of empty store windows with plaintive little notices saying RETAIL SPACE AVAILABLE.
In the stars. As a consequence of something I read — of which more in just a minute — I've had a brief engagement with fortune-telling.
It got me wondering: Is astrology still a thing? It was a big thing in the seventies dating scene, at any rate with girls. "What sign are you?" she'd ask, after you'd bought her a drink, admired her flares, lit her cigarette, and exchanged opening pleasantries.
Guys, who are more empirically-minded, took it as a joke. The great Scottish comedian Billy Connolly would reply with: "Well, I used to be Sagittarius, but it wasnae me, d'ye know? So I changed and became a Capricorn. Noo I feel much better in maself." (This, I should add, was before the Age of Transsexualism.)
Tabloid newspapers all used to run a horoscope column where you could check to see what, based on your birth sign, lay in store for you each day. Do they still do that? I've been taking the New York Post daily for thirty years, but honestly didn't know. I checked. Yes! Astrologer (astrologress? astrologrix?) Sally Brompton gets half a page every day. I have no explanation for how I've missed it all these years.
My horoscope for March 15th, courtesy of Ms Brompton.
Gemini: Moderation is essential, especially on the work front where it will be all too easy to get in a war of words with people whose power you cannot hope to challenge. Appearances are important, too, so stay calm and make it look as if you are in control.
Back in the day I used to mind astrology. I mean, I thought it puzzling and a bit depressing that what was obviously a pseudoscience enjoyed such wide currency in a society of rational beings. Now I find I have mellowed.
Say what you like about Ms Brompton's mild little daily exhortations, there is no harm in them. Probably the contrary: As we embark on another day in the material world, some words of guidance and encouragement, even vague generalities like "moderation is essential," are better than none. Probably a lot of people gain comfort and assurance from reading their daily horoscope — get pointed in a helpful, or at worst not harmful, direction.
If I'm going to give over mental energy to railing against Unreason, I'll pick as my target something that's really pernicious. Goodness knows, there's plenty to choose from: the vile, nation-wrecking doctrines of Critical Race Theory, to begin with.
Astrology? I'm fine with it. I don't know how much money Ms Brompton makes from her bland little warnings and advice, but if I were to learn that it's more than Robin DiAngelo gets from the mad, poisonous dreck she extrudes, I'd stand up and cheer.
The weight of your fate's eight. Here's what turned my thoughts to astrology.
For keeping up to date with scholarship about China, every dilettante's favorite periodical is The China Journal, published quarterly by the University of Chicago Press.
An article that caught my eye in the latest issue was "When Ghosts Appear: Migrant Workers, Fears of Haunting, and Moral Negotiation in a Chinese Electronics Factory" by I-Chieh Fang, an anthropologist from Taiwan. The article's abstract opens with the arresting sentence:
This article discusses the haunting of a factory in Shenzhen, China.
The factory, although in mainland China, is Taiwan-owned and -managed. It employs about 100 workers, all migrants from rural China, many of them single women under the age of 20. Prof. Fang was doing field work there when the 2008 financial crisis hit. The factory's orders dropped off. Workers were sitting idle. They began to drift back to their villages.
Amid all this instability, a rumor came up that the single women's dormitory was haunted. Ghosts were seen; strange knockings were heard in the night, waking the women; a story went round that years before, a girl had committed suicide there.
Prof. Fang gets a rather vaporous 22 pages out of this, framed by tension between the factory workforce as a "moral community" and the necessities of business.
The appearance of a threatening ghost occurred only when the moral community and the workers' need for a reaffirmation of a moral economy was on the line … When the financial crisis pushed labor relations toward a purely economic reaction, the ghost appeared to mediate a return to moral concern.
Uh-huh. Did Prof. Fang consider the possibility that there may really have been a ghost? … Just kidding.
A thing that snagged my attention in the article was this remark by one of the managers, expressing skepticism about those night-time knockings.
What are you afraid of? Some people's eight characters are lighter, so they sleep lightly and wake up at night.
I vaguely knew about the "eight characters" traditionally used in China when casting a person's horoscope. There are two characters each for the year, month, day, and hour of the subject's birth. I myself was born in the 22nd year of a 60-year lunar cycle (乙酉 yĭ-yŏu) in the fourth lunar month (辛巳 xīn-sì) on the 23rd day (癸卯 guĭ-măo) shortly before 7 a.m. (乙卯 yĭ-măo). Those are my eight characters.
That's as much as I knew. What's this about some people's eight characters being lighter, though? Do characters have weight?
Yes they do, I have now learned. To cast a person's horoscope you first have to convert his four character-pairs to four weights, then add them up for a single number, the "bone weight." I don't know why it's called that. "Soul weight" or "fate weight" would make more sense; but likely there's something here I don't understand.
Bone weight is expressed using a unit called the liăng, equal to 1.7621 ounces. This is not an everyday unit of weight; it's a special one, used when dealing with precious metals — like our own troy pounds and ounces. That seems perfectly appropriate for weighing a person's fate.
According to Prof. Fang there's a common folk belief that women have lighter bone weight than men. There's also, she says, another common belief that persons with lighter bone weight are more likely to see ghosts.
My bone weight comes out to 1.5 + 0.9 + 0.8 + 1.0 = 4.2 liăng. That's a tad below the middle of the range, which runs from 2.1 liăng to 7.2 liăng. What does that bone weight foretell?
A person with this fate works hard for a living but finds it difficult to succeed working with others. It's best to leave home and be independent. Do things steadily and surely, with integrity. The honorable person originally, in the early years, suffers comparatively many twists and turns of fate and struggles to gather wealth. After the middle years, luck improves and wealth comes unhindered. In the later years the family is secure, all things are known, and a happy life with both fame and fortune can be enjoyed.
That's actually not bad: worthy of Sally Brompton, anyway. Although I'm still waiting for fame and fortune to show up.
News from our cultural revolution. The offenses for which you can get canceled just keep getting more and more trivial. Some editrix at Teen Vogue was fired this month for having tweeted, ten years ago when she was 17 years old, that she was googling "how not to wake up with swollen, asian eyes." Apparently that's racist. Eh, what isn't?
I share the widespread reluctance to take seriously anything that happens at a periodical called Teen Vogue. Perhaps we should, though, if only to confirm what we already kind of know: That the heavyweight journalists of the 2030s will be even dumber, more narcissistic, more vindictive, more race-obsessed, and less numerate than today's crop.
Who, God knows, are bad enough. Here's one of them: 57-year-old Hamish Bowles, writing in a recent issue of Teen Vogue's parent magazine, which is of course Vogue. Following the recent flap about racism among the British royals, Bowles, who is himself a Brit, recalled his own distress back in 2017 when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got engaged.
What had caused him pain was a front-page headline in the London Daily Mail. The headline, running alongside a picture of Harry and Meghan gazing fondly at each other, promoted an op-ed about the royal engagement on the paper's inside pages. It read as follows:
Yes, they're joyfully in love. So why do I have a niggling worry about this engagement picture?
It was that word "niggling" that had sent Mr Bowles to the fainting couch. It "seemed a surprising choice," he gasped. "It jumped from the page, as presumably it was intended to."
How far is this going to go? Our reading at the March 21st church service was from Psalm 51. It included the 7th verse:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Now that's gotta be hurtful to our nonwhite citizens. How long before the Bible gets canceled?
As a footnote to all that, I've long been curious about "Negro-head." This shows up in Chapter 40 of Great Expectations when Pip is playing uneasy host to Magwitch, his benefactor.
He got up from table, and putting his hand into the breast of the pea-coat he wore, brought out a short black pipe, and a handful of loose tobacco of the kind that is called Negro-head.
Is that a bowdlerized version of something slightly different Dickens wrote? It's "Negro-head" in my 2003 Barnes & Noble Classics edition, and also in the version at gutenberg.org. Anyone out there got an early-edition Great Expectations they could check for me?
Math Corner. Having failed dismally with the problem I took from MAA Monthly in January, I've retreated to a different MAA publication, The College Mathematics Journal, which is pitched at an undergraduate level.
The January 2021 issue of CMJ has a nifty article about divisibility tests. You know the kind of thing.
- A number is divisible by 2 iff (math-speak for "if and only if") it ends with an even digit.
- And more generally: a number is divisible by 2n iff the number formed by its last n digits
- A number is divisible by 3 iff the sum of its digits is, and
- The same rule works for 9.
- A number is divisible by 5 iff it ends with a 0 or a 5.
That's about it for well-known divisibility tests, although Hardy and Wright, in Section 9.5 of their classic Theory of Numbers, include a rather convoluted one involving 7, 11, and 13.
The authors of the CMJ article, Darrin Frey and Adam Hammett, don't add any further divisibility tests as simple as those, but they do show a neat iterative method for avoiding long division. It's not really a labor-saver; but with so much free math software online nowadays, who needs a labor-saver? It's the theory that's interesting. (And whatever may be the case for human mental labor, for software purposes, simple iterative routines code up nicely as "do" loops.)
Here, for example, is a divisibility test for 7. The number I want to test is N.
- Detach the last digit from N. What's left, a number that is one digit shorter than N, I'll call the
"stump," just for something to call it, and with absolutely no offense intended whatsoever to the amputee community.
- From the stump, subtract double that last digit.
- Lather, rinse, repeat until you end up with a number that either obviously is or obviously isn't divisible by 7. If it is, so is N; if it's not, then N isn't either.
To illustrate, I'll test 327908. Does it divide exactly by 7?
Detach that last digit. It's an 8; the stump is 32790. Off we go.
Subtract twice 8 from 32790. Answer: 32774.
Subtract twice 4 from 3277. Answer: 3269.
Subtract twice 9 from 326. Answer: 308.
Subtract twice 8 from 30. Answer: 14.
Obviously 14 is divisible by 7, so 327908 must be too.
(If your mental arithmetic is sharp, you could have stopped earlier. It only needs little more than a glance to see that 308 divides by 7. Contrariwise, if your mental arithmetic is too dull to spot that 14 is your man, you could have subtracted twice 4 from 1 to get −7, which is divisible by 7.)
So there we have a divisibility test for 7. You can cook up a similar one for any prime number greater than 2, although the drill changes slightly depending on your prime.
For some primes (p = 13, 19, 23, 29, 43, …) you add instead of subtracting; and instead of doubling that last digit you may triple (p = 29, 31) or quadruple (p = 13, 41) or quintuple (p = 17) it, or multiply it by some other number.
The logic's always the same, though: detach last digit; multiply it by some fixed number; add or subtract that product from the stump; lather, rinse, repeat.
The add-or-subtract business can be simplified by noting that addition is just subtraction of a negative number. I'll stick with subtraction for the operation; to get addition, I'll just sign that fixed number as negative.
So far, so good; but for a given prime p, how do we know whether to add or subtract? How do we know what to use as a multiplier? For 7 I've said that the answers are: subtract, and 2. Why?
Here's the rule.
RULE: Any prime p greater than 2 ends with either 1, 3, 7, or 9.
If p ends with 1 or 9, it's right next to a multiple of 10. It's either 10k+1 or 10k−1. That k will be your multiplier, and you'll sign it with the sign in the previous sentence. So if p ends with 1, k is positive; if p ends with 9, k is negative.
If p ends with 3 or 7, just multiply it by 3 before applying all that. For p = 7, tripling gets you 21, so k = +2. For k = 13, however, you'd be looking at 39, so k = −4.
Oh, you want a big one? Here you go. I've actually lifted this straight from Frey and Hammett.
Does 31 divide exactly into 490825783975? The multiplier k is +3. Detach that last digit: it's 5, leaving stump 49082578397. Off we go.
31 divides N = 490825783975:
iff it divides 49082578397 − 5×3 = 49082578382
iff it divides 4908257838 − 2×3 = 4908257832
iff it divides 490825783 − 2×3 = 490825777
iff it divides 49082577 − 7×3 = 49082556
iff it divides 4908255 − 6×3 = 4908237
iff it divides 490823 − 7×3 = 490802
iff it divides 49080 − 2×3 = 49074
iff it divides 4907 − 4×3 = 4895
iff it divides 489 − 5×3 = 474
iff it divides 47 − 4×3 = 35
But of course 31 does not divide into 35. Therefore it does not divide into 490825783975. Piece of cake.
Implicit in all that is a theorem.
THEOREM: Suppose p is a prime greater than 2, and I've extracted from it a signed number k, according to RULE. Suppose N is any number, with rightmost digit d. Call the rest of N the "stump." Then p divides exactly into N iff p divides into (the stump minus dk).
Can you prove this theorem?
(I should say I have only scratched the surface of Frey's and Hammett's paper. All the above is just their launch pad. They have much more to say about this; for instance, a way of generating infinitely many divisibility tests for p …)