DERB'S DECEMBER DIARY [10 ITEMS]: Pistol-Packin' Long Island; Empire State Reflections; Vagabonds And Strumpets; Etc.
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My pistol-packin' county    That would be Suffolk County, New York—the eastern two-thirds of Long Island. I offered some socio-cultural notes about Suffolk County on Radio Derb back in June.

So…"pistol-packin'"? What's that about?

What it's about is the latest chapter in the saga of me and my handguns. Brief refresher:

  • Back in August 2019 on Radio Derb, I reported having fallen victim to New York State's "red flag" laws. Through no fault of my own I had to surrender the county pistol license I had held without incident since 2000, along with my two handguns.

  • The county pistol license is good for ten years. I'd renewed it in 2010. I should have renewed it again in 2020, but no longer had the permit in my wallet to remind me. It had been surrendered the previous year with my handguns.

  • So in September 2020 my pistol license was canceled. I pleaded for consideration, but to no avail. Couldn't they have sent me a reminder? I asked. "We don't do that," was the brisk reply. That's cop-speak for: "We don't extend such simple, elementary courtesies to the law-abiding middle-class suckers who fund our extravagant salaries and gold-plated pensions."

  • They told me I should just apply for a new license. That's a pile of paperwork, though, and involves asking friends and neighbors for notarized character references—a violation of one of the social rules I learned in my English childhood: "Don't impose!"

  • So I dithered for months…

 …until at the end of November 2021 I got a letter from the Police Department Property Section. My handguns had been declared lost property. If I didn't claim them within three months, they would be destroyed. (Probably cop-speak for: "Some cop will take them home." I have been told that police Property Sections are…leaky.)

Unwilling to say farewell to my handguns, I was moved to action. I did the paperwork, hustled up the character references, and took it all down to Police Headquarters. A friendly, rather pretty young policegal checked it in, took my fee, and then told me that they'd be in touch…but it would take a while. Approximately how long? I asked.

"Well, we're currently about a year and a half behind."

A year and a half? I was flabbergasted. My original license back in 2000 had come through in a few weeks. Why such a long delay?

"We're totally overwhelmed. There are about six thousand applications ahead of yours. Everybody wants a pistol license nowadays."

I hiked over to the Property Section, where I was greeted by yet another personable young copette. I couldn't claim my guns without a pistol license; the license would be a year and a half arriving; the Property Section would "destroy" my guns in three months. What to do?

"If you know someone with a license, we can transfer your guns to that person." She gave me a form to fill out and get notarized.

So: more paperwork, another imposition. And apparently my fellow residents in Suffolk County are getting armed to the teeth. I wonder why.

Postscript:  After I aired that year-and-a-half delay on the December 17th Radio Derb I heard from a friend who served many years as a clerk in New York State courts before retiring. He told me that this is, in fact, illegal: "The original N.Y. Supreme Court decision gave police exactly 183 days (1/2 year) to show why a permit should not be granted, or grant it."

We agreed, however, that if I were to raise this point with the Pistol Licensing Bureau, they would swiftly find a way to reject my license application. There would be some "i" I hadn't dotted or some "t" I hadn't crossed; or they would just say that I am too dangerously antisocial to be a permit holder.


Empire State reflections  At times like this I ask myself: Why do I live in New York State? That's just a rhetorical question, though…if something you ask yourself can be rhetorical.

Some 319,020 residents fled New York state between July 2020 and July 2021, according to US Census Bureau data released last week — a 1.6 percent year-over-year loss that made New York the nation's leading state for population decline.
[Why New Yorkers are fleeing to Texas and Florida in droves, by Zachary Kussin, New York Post, December 27, 2021]

Tell me about it.

My next-door neighbor, with whom I have enjoyed many an evening commiserating about the state of the nation over cigars and beer out on my backyard deck (he's a keen Trump supporter), is selling up and moving to Florida. My VDARE colleague Barton Cockey, whose hospitality we have enjoyed at his refurbished farmhouse in upstate New York, has bought a house in Texas.

So… Why don't I follow suit? What keeps me here?

I actually like living where I live, when not having to engage with the authorities. We shall have lived in this house for thirty years next March 22nd, so sheer inertia is a big factor. We like our village, ten minutes' walk away. We like our quiet, leafy neighborhood. We like our neighbors, some of whom we have known for all thirty of those years, and whose kids have grown up from infancy with our kids. We don't mind a four-mile drive to a mall and the big chain stores.

Mrs. Derbyshire has put much labor and TLC into her garden: flowers, shrubs, fruit trees. I've made improvements so that the house suits me: I have two book-lined studies (fiction, nonfiction), and of course the home gym. Neither of us has the least desire to go live somewhere else.

The kids were born and raised here; neither lives here any more but they regard the house with nostalgic affection. Two sweet loving dogs are buried under the trees out back. (Along with Hilbert in an unmarked grave.)

American suburban life really is an idyll. As perhaps is always the case with idylls, it blurs and softens our acquaintance with reality. I flatter myself I had experienced sufficient reality before settling here at age 46; likewise Mrs. Derbyshire, who grew up amid the chaos and cruelty of China's Great Cultural Revolution. If you have never known anything but the suburban idyll, you have likely never felt reality bite.

That, I surmise, explains those college-educated suburban women we read about who form the most loyal, but most reality-averse, base of the Democratic Party — the ones whose front yards I pass when walking my dog, front yards with ostentatious signs saying HATE HAS NO HOME HERE or NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL.

But yes, we are happy here, with no wish to move. It's a wonderful thing, really—a miracle!—that there is still so much pleasant living to be found in the USA even in a corrupt, decaying, ill-governed, over-staffed, over-taxed, over-priced, under-maintained, wokeness-blighted, bureaucracy-stifled sinkhole of a state like New York.


Game of the name    With our first grandchild due in the new year, the naming of newborns has been much discussed in the Derb household recently.

From respect to my ancestors, I have tried to make the case for some name with a British flavor. The lad might even, I have argued, be blessed with one of those names that are exclusively British. Has any American in the history of the Republic ever been named Nigel, Tristram, Quintin, Eustace, Gareth, Basil, Cuthbert, or Cyril? Well, I suppose some have; but on first hearing of a person thus named, the default assumption must be that he's a Brit.

It seems that my arguments have fallen on stony ground. The new arrival will likely be a Michael Joseph.

I suppose I could plead for Nigel or Tristram as a third Christian name, but there is little hope there. In matters onomastic, we Anglo-Saxons are minimalists. Neither I nor my sister has any middle name at all; our parents thought one Christian name each was enough.

Other cultures are more generous. My favorite example here is the artist Picasso, christened as Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. How did they get it all on his driver's license?


Bonny and blithe.     And then there is the day of the week to look out for. The following ditty used to be current:

Monday's child is fair of face.
Tuesday's child is full of grace.
Wednesday's child is full of woe.
Thursday's child has far to go.
Friday's child is loving and giving.
Saturday's child works hard for his living.
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

I myself was born on a Sunday (yeah, yeah). Mrs Derbyshire is a Monday's child. The kids: Tuesday, Monday. Basil also Monday. Some clustering there.


The writing's on the wall for handwriting.     Was mine the last generation in the Western world whose elementary schooling included formal, timetabled lessons in Penmanship?

That's what it was called in early-1950s England: Penmanship. For all our other lessons we were furnished with pencils; for Penmanship we got a pen.

It wasn't much, just a wooden shaft with a disposable metal nib stuck on the end. Into the top right corner of your school desk was set a ceramic inkwell in which to dip it. Only one or two of my more affluent classmates owned a proper fountain pen with its own ink reservoir. Ballpoint pens were still a pricey modern marvel.

The idea was of course for us to develop good handwriting. I don't recall actual copybooks, but I suppose some such aids must have been supplied. I dimly remember the teacher carefully shaping out letters with chalk on the blackboard. Lower-case "f" gave me the most trouble.

In my case the lessons were ultimately wasted. I now have terrible handwriting. I'm not even consistent. When I look over something I have handwritten the lower-case "l" is sometimes looped, sometimes just a vertical line. I don't even sign my name consistently, which leaves me wondering what the point of signatures is.

Which is all OK. According to a recent book, handwriting is close to extinction. Keyboards, or virtual keyboards, are the thing.

Extinction is probably closer in the East than in the West. Hand-writing Chinese is a nuisance, even for Chinese people. The little screens make it all much easier.

As proudly reactionary as I am, I can't summon up any real regret about the demise of handwriting. There is only a twinge of nostalgia when I look up old letters from family members now gone, or recall anguished letters of parting.

And of course formal calligraphy will survive as a hobby or paid service. A lady in the next street over from mine, who is much younger than me, does lovely calligraphy for pleasure and profit.

So what was once a necessity becomes merely decorative. It's the way of the world.


The untact society.     My word of the month is definitely "untact," which I learned from Steve Sailer, who learned it from a story about South Korea in the London Guardian.

The government invests heavily to remove human contact from many aspects of life but fears of harmful social consequences persist.
[South Korea cuts human interaction in push to build "untact" society, by Raphael Rashid, Guardian, December 9, 2021]

The untact trend has of course received a mighty boost from the Covid pandemic, but it goes back to at least 2017, according to this story at the BBC website.

"Untact" — a combination of the prefix "un" and the word "contact" — has been floating around in marketing circles since 2017. It describes doing things without direct contact with others, such as using self-service kiosks, shopping online or making contactless payments. Some believe this is a natural progression in a modern society like South Korea, which combines robotic baristas, virtual make-up studios and digital financial transactions with an ageing population and a shrinking labour force.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, "untact" has moved from being a buzzword to becoming a central government policy. President Moon Jae-in's recently announced "New Deal" economic plan includes a pledge to "promote untact industries" such as remote health and senior care, virtual offices and e-commerce support for small businesses.
[The South Koreans left behind in a contact-free society, by Julie Yoonnyung Lee, BBC, August 5, 2020]

How you feel about untact depends of course on how you feel about other people. Sir Isaac Newton would have been fine with it:

When asked for permission to publish one of his papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1669 by his early friend, the "mathematical intelligencer" John Collins, Newton acquiesced under the condition that his name be withheld, writing to Collins "I see not what there is desirable in public esteem were I able to acquire and maintain it. It would perhaps increase my acquaintance, the thing which I chiefly study to decline."

However, there are obvious demographic consequences to society turning untact. Sir Isaac died at age 84, by his own testimony a virgin.


Vagabonds and strumpets?     Is acting in plays, movies, and TV shows actually a skill? Dr. Johnson thought not. From Boswell's Life:

Boswell:  There, Sir, you are always heretical: you never will allow merit to a player.

Johnson:  Merit, Sir! what merit? Do you respect a rope-dancer, or a ballad-singer?

Boswell:  No, Sir: but we respect a great player, as a man who can conceive lofty sentiments, and can express them gracefully.

Johnson:  What, Sir, a fellow who claps a hump on his back, and a lump on his leg, and cries "I am Richard the Third"?

I have always been inclined to the same opinion as Dr. Johnson and have cherished the old English characterization of the acting profession as "vagabonds and strumpets." Last weekend, however, our Netflix rental was the 2017 movie The Leisure Seeker.

It's not a great movie — decently good, but not great — and there are plenty of nits you can pick. (Although I think that the commentators grumbling about the scenes of a Trump demo have allowed politics to take over too much of their lives.)

Nits aside, the two main actors, Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren, are simply superb.

They are doing something I couldn't do with twenty years' training, and doing it wonderfully well. Johnson wasn't right about everything.


Software sucks.     Continuing last month's theme about crappy websites: why do the big apps on offer from billion-user providers sometimes seem as dumb as bricks?

I'm one guy with one laptop, this current one for four years now; yet around once or twice a month I get a message from some app telling me I have signed on from a new device and have to go through some confirmation routines.

It's a trivial annoyance and the confirmation routines only waste a few minutes; but why does the app think I'm on a new machine when I'm not? Why does it pretend to know what machine I'm on when it obviously doesn't know? Grrr.


Math Corner.     Actual bookstores may be disappearing but some ingenious online substitutes have come up: sites where you can buy books, of course, but also places where you can browse books.

Check out Under about twelve hundred topic headings (scroll down a bit) they have listed five books per heading, chosen and briefly described by an author who has written on that topic.

Why have I put this in Math Corner? Because, ahem, I am one of those authors. My topic heading is "Mathematical Biographies." My excuse for being on the list is my 2006 book Unknown Quantity, a history of algebra.

They are still adding to the website, so check in from time to time. I heartily applaud this project, and am proud to have contributed to it.

Oh, it's a brainteaser you're wanting? Here's one of Dr. Peter Winkler's from back in July, a culinary one. You can sign up for a weekly brainteaser from Dr. Winkler at

The 100 ends of 50 strands of cooked spaghetti are paired at random and tied together. How many pasta loops should you expect to result from this process, on average?


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