John Derbyshire's January Diary: Aztec Snow-Shovelers, Derb's Days Are Numbered; Etc.
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snowTeen displacement?  Winter storm Jonas passed through, dumping 24 inches of snow on my property, more where it drifted.  I put in four hours steady shoveling the morning of January 24th.

Yes, I shovel my own snow, politely declining the services of the three- or four-man crews of Aztecs who work my street offering to shovel for a modest fee. (Though not declining the offer from a kind neighbor to help me finish off with his gas-powered snow blower. Thanks, Charlie. Gotta get one of those things … but I say that every year. The truth is, I belong to the masochist school of home-ownership. If you're not suffering, you don't deserve your title deeds.)

It makes me sad to see those Aztec crews. They're pleasant enough people, but the few dollars they pick up should, it seems to me, be going into the pockets of American teenagers.

If the Aztecs weren't out there, though, would our youngsters take up the shovel? Or are they too supervised, safe-spaced, helicopter-parented — or too absorbed in their gadgets — to expose their precious selves to manual labor?

My own son used to shovel for money, but it wasn't quite the same thing. His best friend's Dad runs a landscaping firm, and in winter hires out as a snow-plow service. Junior and his buddy would ride along in the plow truck and clean off steps and other places the plow couldn't reach. He made some serious pocket money in a bad winter. Without the buddy thing and the pre-found customer base, though, would Junior have been up and down the street hustling for business? I don't know, and too late now to find out.

The impregnable fortress of Diversity.     I try not to read too much about the horrible slow calamity engulfing England as a result of unrestrained immigration. It's too upsetting.

unmakingOnce in a while, though, someone directs me to a piece on the topic that is so good, I can't stop reading. There was one such this month: veteran writer and editor Benjamin Schwarz's article in The American Conservative. Sample:

The mass immigration that Britain has experienced since 1997 — the year Tony Blair's New Labour government radically revised the immigration laws in a deliberate effort to transform Britain into a multicultural society — has had an effect wholly different from that of all previous political and social disruptions. Mass immigration hasn't merely embellished, changed, or even assaulted the enduring, resilient national culture that [George] Orwell adumbrated. Rather, by its very nature — by its inherent logic, and by the ideology, aspirations, and world-historical forces from which it springs and to which it gives expression — it perforce obliterates that culture. [Unmaking England: Will immigration demolish in decades a nation built over centuries? by Benjamin Schwarz; The American Conservative, January 11th, 2016.]
The piece was so good, I dug up Scharz's classic 1995 article "The Diversity Myth" in The Atlantic Monthly to re-read. That was back when the collapse of the U.S.S.R. had let loose all the long-repressed ethnic antagonisms in places like the Balkans, and U.S. politicians were lecturing Serbs, Bosnians, and the rest to be good multiculturalists like us. Schwarz had some fun with that.
A crusade in support of multinational, multicultural tolerance abroad really seeks to validate it at home. But attempting to validate a myth is futile. Before we export our myth, we had best recognize that we have not yet found a "reasonable" solution here, and that perhaps such a solution cannot be found.
That 1995 article makes a good companion piece to Jerry Z. Muller's 2008 essay "Us and Them: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism" in the debunking-Diversity canon. I riffed on "Us and Them" in Chapter Two of We Are Doomed.

It's all so darned obvious. It was obvious in 1995; it was obvious in 2008. Thoughtful, literate writers pointed out its obviousness in respectable journals: Atlantic, Foreign Affairs.

Why does this crackpot Diversity ideology still have such a hold on our culture?

Sam Francis: a prophet gets some honor (just a little bit).     Speaking of the the debunking-Diversity canon: Almost everything Sam Francis wrote belongs in there. Sam died in 2005, the proverbial prophet without honor in his own country.

That may be changing. Our own James Kirkpatrick wrote on January 22nd that:

It was nothing less than historic when talk radio titan Rush Limbaugh respectfully quoted Sam Francis on January 20, saying he was "undeservedly smeared" as a white supremacist.
Good for Rush. I'm not a Rush fan, and also not a Rush non-fan. I've never paid much attention to Rush at all, which is probably wrong of me. They guy has a big following, and if he's seeing the light on the National Question, that's all to the good.

I met Sam Francis only once, at an American Conservative function in, I think, 2002. It was a cocktail-type event, everyone standing around. Sam was standing talking with Pat Buchanan. I drifted by and Pat introduced me to Sam. I don't recall what passed between us. It wasn't much: Sam was a shy sort and didn't know me from Adam. I was concentrating on avoiding being karate-chopped by Pat, who talks with his hands most expressively.

Still, I'm glad to have met Sam before he passed on. I'm honored, too, to have shared the pages of with Sam in the early 2000s. If our country survives, we'll build statues to Sam Francis one day.

Prime_ObsessionMy days are numbered (cont.)     A correspondent has been reading my old diaries. He reminds me that in my April 2007 diary I confessed to a peculiar but harmless obsession.

Here's the thing: My days are numbered.

I have a wee text file I keep for checking historical data, with all the dates Anno Domini up into the middle of this century tallied by Gregorian date, astronomer's Julian, day of the week, and a couple of others. I generated the thing myself with VBASIC code.

One of those others is my own day number — I mean, counting my date of birth as day one. The first and last days of April [i.e. of 2007] were my personal days 22,583 and 22,612, respectively.

Now guess what: There is not a single prime number in that range. April was a prime-free month for me, personally (or anyone else born on my birth date). It was, to use the proper mathematical term of art, primzahlfrei.

This doesn't happen often — just three times in the past ten years: March 1999, June 2002, and July 2006. It won't happen again until August 2014. It's happening more often now than it used to, though, as the numbers get bigger and the primes thin out according to well-known mathematical laws.

My correspondent wanted to know if anything untoward happened in that next primzahlfrei month, August 2014; and do I have any more primzahlfrei months coming up?

I'm glad to report that August 2014 passed without major calamities. The Derbs spent half that month in Alaska; the trip went very well, apart from a slight misfortune on Mount Roberts.

More primzahlfrei months? Sure. There was in fact another one hard on the heels of August 2014: March last year.

After that there's a long primzahlfrei-months-free zone (primzahlfreimonatenfreizone?) until the next primzahlfrei month: October 2022.

Here's a spreadsheet covering the twenty years from 2007 to 2026 (in October of which latter year, according to an actuary I once knew, who put my lifestyle and genetic indicators into his algorithms, I shall die). It shows the number of prime-number days, on my own life numbering, in each month.

The last three columns on the spreadsheet show the total number of prime-number days in each year; the mid-point of each year as a day number in my life, call it x; and the "expected" number of prime days in each year (365.2422 — that's the average number of days in a year — divided by the natural logarithm of x) according to the Prime Number Theorem.

I shall of course report further on this in my diary for October 2022 … unless my actuary friend got his calculations wrong …

Swiss too corrupt, bring in an African!     It's not just the Oscars that are being criticized as too white. Consider the world of international soccer competitions.

The governing body for these events — the soccer World Cup, for example — is FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. FIFA has an elected President, currently a Swiss bloke named Sepp Blatter.

Mr Blatter is, however, under a cloud, suspected of, at the very least, turning a blind eye to financial shenanigans. There is to be a vote for a new President on February 26th.

Do you care about this? No, me neither. I do, though, nurse a sophomoric and no doubt racist weakness for silly African names. I'm still mourning the loss of Canaan Banana, first black President of Zimbabwe, obituarized by The Economist under the epithets "clergyman, politician, and rapist." Ah, Africa.

TOKYO-SEXWALEWell, here's the South African contender for next President of FIFA. He told a South African sports website that "the next FIFA leader must come from Africa or Asia" and that he is "ready to form an alliance to stop a European candidate."

The name, Derb the name! What's the guy's name?

Here you go: his name is Tokyo Sexwale.

Reading current novels, so you don't have to.     A reader, commenting on my remarks about middlebrow fiction in October's diary, expressed surprise that I read fiction at all. He: "I thought only women read fiction."

Not at all. Plenty of guys read fiction. I read one or two novels a month. Middlebrow fiction is where my heart is, as I said in October; but I try to keep up with current "serious" fiction, the kind of novels that win prizes.

This isn't often very rewarding. I take recommendations from well-read or lit-biz friends, and from the reviews in Literary Review, but I often find myself wishing I hadn't bothered.

Here, for example, is my "serious" fiction reading from the last few weeks.

Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish.  (Recommended by friend.) A strange little love story set in present-day New York City and Long Island, not badly written but with an overpowering, ultimately enthusiasm-dampening, atmosphere of squalor — what George Orwell called "the dirty-handkerchief side of life."

What the book mainly reminded me of was my own time spent as a kitchen hand in the food-processing industry. For some reason I particularly kept recalling the time I had to clean out a grease trap at a firm making kosher TV dinners.

Have you ever cleaned out a big-kitchen grease trap? I don't know how it's done nowadays, but in 1973 we used sulphuric acid. In the event this is still allowed, here's a word of advice: Do not let that sucker splash, not unless you want your T-shirt to sport an interesting array of small burn holes.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.  (Recommended by friend.) Not so much squalor here, other than some too-graphic descriptions of the effects of dysentery on the human frame, but some irritating anti-British bile of the kind Australians seem not to be able to let go of — think Mel Gibson. Too … interior for my taste, and a bit pretentious.

Playthings by Alex Pheby.  (On the strength of a gushing review in Literary Review.) A 19th-century German gent goes mad. We see it all from the inside.

The gent in question is jurist Daniel Paul Schreber, a real person. I had never heard of him, but he is famous in psychiatric circles. He wrote and published an account of his own madness. This was picked up by Sigmund Freud, and the old quack published a well-known — to Freudians, I mean — interpretation of it according to his, Freud's, own theories.

So my question would be: Given that we already have Schreber on Schreber, and Freud on Schreber, why do we need a fictionalized account of the dreary business?

I'm sorry, I don't find lunacy very interesting.

And what is this all about, from the Acknowledgments at the end of the book?

I also acknowledge my debt to all the writers who have preceded me in the fields of Schreber studies and psychoanalysis, and in the unravelling of the psychological structure of fascism.
Say what? Schreber died in 1911, ten years before Mussolini founded his Fascist Party. It's true that an imaginary Jew plays a role in Schreber's delusions, but I'm darned if I can see any political connection.

Would it be over-suspicious of me to guess that a bearded lecturer in the department of Communication and Creative Arts at a British university would feel he had short-changed his readers if he wrote a novel about 19th-century Germany without mentioning fascism, if only in his Acknowledgments? You know, Germany: the Hitler country.

And is it really the case that a novel can be written, proofed, edited, published, and lavishly praised in a respectable review without ever passing under the eyes of any person who knows the difference between the verbs "to lie" and "to lay"? Yes, apparently it is.

So, current "serious" fiction? Meh. I live in hope, though.

Limousine liberals, always with us.     There are always the classics, of course. I fully intend before I die to read every word Charles Dickens ever wrote.

I couldn't make friends with Dickens for the longest time. My father was a Dickens fan, and kept pushing him on me. I did read Copperfield, Twist, and in my college-lefty phase Hard Times, and some random other pieces, but with not much pleasure.

Then, three or four years ago, something clicked. Now I find that Dickens goes down effortlessly, smoother than bourbon. (In fact, I often imbibe both together.) I just finished Martin Chuzzlewit. Next up: Dombey and Son.

I'd heard that Dickens gave the U.S.A. a bad press in Chuzzlewit but I wasn't prepared for how bad. I'd read some of his American Notes long ago, and dimly recalled him praising a lot of things he found here: the insane asylums, for example, which by Dickens' account sounded a lot better than the one Daniel Paul Schreber was in.

There's none of that in Chuzzlewit. The Americans here are nearly all crooks, belligerent braggarts, or sanctimonious bores. However did Dickens keep his American sales up?

The least offensive section is a send-up of limousine liberals — I mean of course the 1840s equivalent thereof.

Young Martin Chuzzlewit, who is penniless, has come to New York in hopes of making his fortune so he can go back and marry his sweetheart. He befriends an abolitionist, who takes him to a soirée at the home of some like-minded New Yorkers.

All goes well until it is accidentally revealed that Martin has crossed the Atlantic in steerage class — the cheapest passage.

A death-like stillness fell upon the Norisses. If this story should get wind, their country relation had, by his imprudence, for ever disgraced them. They were the bright particular stars of an exalted New York sphere. There were other fashionable spheres above them, and other fashionable spheres below, and none of the stars in any one of these spheres had anything to say to the stars in any other of these spheres. But, through all the spheres it would go forth that the Norrises, deceived by gentlemanly manners and appearances, had, falling from their high estate, "received" a dollarless and unknown man. O guardian eagle of the pure Republic, had they lived for this!

"You will allow me," said Martin, after a terrible silence, "to take my leave. I feel that I am the cause of at least as much embarrassment here, as I have brought upon myself. But I am bound, before I go, to exonerate this gentleman, who, in introducing me to such society, was quite ignorant of my unworthiness, I assure you."

With that he made his bow to the Norrises, and walked out like a man of snow; very cool externally, but pretty hot within.

Nicely skewered, Chuck. The passage has more force when you know that Dickens himself was an ardent abolitionist, who wrote with bitter anger about slavery in American Notes.

There's always one minor character in a Dickens novel that particularly sticks in my mind. In Chuzzlewit it was Augustus Moddle: "I love another. She is Another's. Everything appears to be somebody else's." Who doesn't know the feeling?

Bonny, blithe, good, and … what?     Speaking with a friend — smart, well-educated, and a conscientious parent — I was a bit surprised to learn that she did not know which days of the week her kids were born on.

Perhaps you have to be a numbers-oriented person for that to stick in your mind; or perhaps just not being doped up with epidural does the trick. My kids were born on a Tuesday and a Monday, respectively.

English kids of my generation always knew which day of the week they were born on from having the old rhyme chanted to them.

SundayMonday'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 a living,

But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day

Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

Me, Sunday.

It ain't over until the fat ladies fight.     The later Tudor monarchs of England, from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I, have surely generated more works of fiction and drama than any other ruling personalities of any other nation across a mere 94 years of history.

I was reading Jean Plaidy's novels about them fifty years ago. In the seventies there were those great TV series, Keith Michell pitch-perfect-sinister as Henry and Glenda Jackson snarling "God's death!" at Robert Hardy. A Man for All Seasons, The Tudors, Wolf Hall, … By this point I know the corridors of Hampton Court and Whitehall better than I know my own living-room.

It's been going on for centuries, too. Heck, Shakespeare got the ball rolling.

And then there are the operas. Best-known here are Donizetti's "Three Queens," his three operas about the Tudor women: Anna Bolena (1830), Maria Stuarda (1835), and Roberto Devereux (1837). New York's Metropolitan Opera is staging all three of them this season, with American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky singing the queen roles — Ann Boleyn, Mary Stuart, and Elizabeth I — in all three.  (Yes, Mary was a Stuart.  Her grandma was a Tudor, though — Henry VIII's sister, in fact.)

So there I was on the morning of January 26th at the dress rehearsal of Maria Stuarda. Dress rehearsals are great deals if you can get tickets. Unless there's an exceptionally fussy producer or conductor, they play the thing right through with at most one or two do-overs, so you might as well be seeing a full performance. Even the do-overs have their interest, giving a glimpse into the mechanics of opera production. There's no pressure to dress up (for audience members, I mean), and you're out of there by early afternoon.


Radvanovsky was indisposed on the 26th so we got an understudy singing Maria. I was sorry to miss Radvanovsky, a major star, but this too had, or may have had, an upside. The big names sometimes sing half-voice at dress rehearsal, saving themselves for the night; but an understudy wants to show what she can do with the role, knowing it may be her only chance. This one was great. She didn't hold back, and I really wish I'd remembered her name.

Maria Stuarda is an exceptionally pure specimen of the bel canto genre that has itself inspired great works of fiction … In case you don't know bel canto, here's a sample.

Every opera comes with anecdotes, of course. Here's one for Maria Stuarda.

The heart of the plot is the rivalry between Elizabeth and Mary. The Earl of Leicester, whom Elizabeth loves but who prefers Mary, tries to reconcile the two women. He sets up a meeting for this purpose, but it does not go well.

Neither did the first orchestra rehearsal in 1835. From William Ashbrook's Donizetti and his Operas:

When [soprano Giuseppina] Ronzi, playing the role of Maria, turned on [rival soprano] Anna del Sere, the Elisabetta, she had these pointed lines to deliver:
Figlia impura di Bolena,

Parli tu di disonore?

Meretrice — indegna, oscena,

In te cada il mio rossore.

Profanato è il soglio inglese

Vil bastarda, dal tuo piè!

[Impure daughter of Boleyn, do you speak of dishonor? Obscene and unworthy prostitute, may my blush fall on you. Profaned is the English throne, vile bastard, by your foot!]

Ronzi delivered these sentiments with such conviction that del Sere took them personally and set upon her rival, seizing her hair, pommeling her with her fists and, some swore, even biting her. Not surprisingly Ronzi lost her footing under this onslaught and fell, but she regained her feet and returned to the attack. Ronzi so outweighed her adversary that del Sere fainted and had to be carried home.

Ronzi does indeed seem to have been exceptionally well-upholstered even by soprano standards. Comparing her with a different soprano, Maria Malibran, the previous year, Donizetti had written in a letter that Ronzi "has the bigger ass … besides more flesh elsewhere."

There you have the charm of bel canto: part spiritual food for deep-souled scholars like Derb, part blood sport for crazy fat egomaniacs.

Math Corner.     Last month I asked readers to find something interesting to say about the number 2016. I got:

  • 2016 is the number of ways of placing two white knights on a chessboard. What is the probability, if this is done at random, that they defend each other?
Uh, I leave that as an exercise for the reader.
  • 2016 is the first year since World War II that is an 8-almost prime.
  • 2016 (aka 0x7E0) is a "last value" in a binary arithmetic way: if you are counting with 11 bits of accuracy, and with the low five bits zero, 2016 will be the highest value you get before wraparound. This would probably not be noticed by anyone who hasn't hacked around in assembler on a smallish processor, but that's the world I used to live in, so any numbers of this sort (e.g. 192, 896, 56, 768, 3840) tend to catch my attention. To put it in more mathematical terms, it is a number that can be represented as 2^n minus 2^m, with n and m integral.
I have hacked around in Assembler — I still have my Rector/Alexy 8086 book — but I would never have thought of those.

Here's my contribution. Looking at 2016, my first thought was that it's a half of 4032, or in other words one-twentieth of 40320. That last number rings a bell for any numbers geek: it's factorial eight, 8×7×6×5×4×3×2×1, commonly written 8! Now twenty is 120/6, which is 5!/3!. So 2016 is 8!×3!/5!. That's rather neat for a number that size.

This month a new largest known prime was announced. Its value is 2^74,207,281 minus one. That's a number of 22,338,618 digits: pretty big, though of course nothing like as big as A(4,3).

So here's my question. Call that number P and imagine that, defying the actuary, I live to be P days old. What, on average, will be the proportion of primzahlfrei months at that stage in my life?

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. ) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He's had two books published by FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and From the Dissident Right II: Essays 2013. His writings are archived at

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