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Sweeping up after the election.
It is traditionally said that after the Lord Mayor’s Parade come the guys with brooms and shovels to clear the pavement of whatever the parade horses may have bestowed upon it. Well, the election’s over, and here I come with broom and shovel to see if there’s anything instructive to be found in the droppings.... Read More
Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe, by George Dyson
This year marks the centenary of British mathematician Alan Turing, whose researches in the unlikely and very abstruse field of mathematical logic did much to create the world in which we now live. In 1936 Turing published a paper titled "On Computable Numbers" in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society. The paper received almost... Read More
Review of the fiscal situation
"In Berlin the situation is serious but not desperate; in Vienna, the situation is desperate but not serious." This quip was heard around Central Europe in the closing days of both world wars, but certainly predates 1918. Political Scientist Paul Gottfried, my go-to guy on matters Mitteleuropäisch, thinks it originated with one of the late-Hapsburg... Read More
Remembering a brave soldier
Here is a story from World War Two. The place is the island of Crete; the date, May of 1941. The Wehrmacht was busily occupying Greece. The British expeditionary force in that country, overwhelmed, was being evacuated. Some of the Allied troops were moved to Crete, to fortify the rudimentary defenses of the place. They... Read More
Bidibidobidiboo and other art objects.
The first thing I saw on entering the atrium of the Guggenheim was a horse suspended in a sling ten feet above the ground. The sling went under the belly of the beast (as it were), leaving its head, legs, and tail drooping down dolefully. A great many other things were also suspended from the... Read More
Russia, imagined and real.
I have just spent a week in Moscow with Mrs. Straggler at the invitation of a Russian foundation. Neither of us had been in Russia before. It was a working trip, with very little time for sightseeing, and that only in central Moscow. It was, though, in a perfunctory way, an opportunity to compare the... Read More
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, by Steven Pinker
In this, his most ambitious book to date, Steven Pinker describes, and attempts to explain, a curious historical phenomenon: the decline in all kinds of violence among human beings, from pre-civilized times to the present. The first thing one wants to ask is: Has there actually been such a decline? Given the tremendous wars and... Read More
I am ill-read.
"Should I read Thomas Mann?" Miss Straggler wanted to know. She has enrolled in some sort of freshman Western Lit. course at college, and keeps coming up with these questions. What to say? I have never, to my knowledge, read a single word Thomas Mann ever wrote, though I did sit through that sappy Dirk... Read More
Goodbye, "supererogate"
Thus the founder of this magazine, writing in these pages, issue dated November 19, 1955. Bill Buckley was famously a man of many, many words. He had, I mean, more words at his disposal — there in his head, ready to use — than most of us have. That "supererogation" is characteristic. Bill used the... Read More
While I still can
We do ever more of our shopping online, I am told. The printed book is facing extinction, I am also told. The U.S. Postal Service is in dire straits, I am further told. Taken together, these facts imply, along of course with much else, that the big, printed, mail-delivered store catalog may soon be at... Read More
The lost souls of consumer culture.
Also shoes, skirts, dresses, blouses, lingerie, jeans, and sportswear. Jewelry, too; fine leather and luggage; housewares and home furnishings. Kipling's soldier didn't know the 'alf — sorry, half — of it. We had been visiting with friends in upstate New York. Now we were driving home. The first hundred miles was delightful: lovely scenery, clear... Read More
Will your breakfast newspaper meet the News of the World in oblivion?
The newspaper, in the sense of news actually printed on actual paper, is clearly in its last days. The content of a newspaper can be delivered online at far lower cost than is required by investment in printing plants and equipment, fleets of delivery vans, labor, paper, and ink. With fewer people buying the paper... Read More
Such Is This [email protected], by Hu Fayun
There has never been a good time to be an honest writer in Communist China, but the present is an exceptionally bad time. Spooked by the "Arab Spring" and jostling for position in next year's scheduled leadership changes, the Party bosses have been coming down hard on every kind of independent thinking. The cases of... Read More
Confessions of a book amasser.
Miss Straggler, just graduated from high school and with time on her hands, came home the other day with two boxes of second-hand books on the back seat of the car. "Found them outside Book Revue," she explained, naming the local independent bookstore. "There was a sign saying to please take them." The books were... Read More
I visit Turkey.
It is always fun to gather first impressions of a foreign country. Turkey is, John O'Sullivan had explained to me, "upper-tier Third World." That seems about right. The Third World-itude exhibits itself at once in the streets. The Turks' own quip about their driving skills is: "In other countries people die by accident; here in... Read More
The fragility of civilization.
Winter conducted a fighting retreat this year, one last storm bringing down our cable service. That left us without TV, Internet, or house phones. When we signed up for this threefold package a couple of years ago, Mrs. Straggler observed that we should soon be getting our food and water from the cable-service provider. With... Read More
The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance, by Jim...
I used to attend regularly at an office of the New York City government to transact some business with a very pleasant young female African American city employee. On the wall of her office was a poster listing, in quite small print, all the scores of inventions and discoveries that, according to the poster, African... Read More
I become a client of the welfare state.
There is a school of psychology called Situationism that pooh-poohs the notion of individual character. This line of thought began with some experiments by Stanley Milgram of Yale University in the early 1960s. By manipulating his test subjects' conformism and respect for authority, Milgram was able to get ordinary pleasant people to give near-lethal 450-volt... Read More
The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, by David Brooks
If the proper study of mankind is man, it has taken a remarkably long time to get that study on a truly scientific footing. From the founding of the Royal Society to the present has been more than 350 years, yet only in the last 50 of those years have quantified, replicable results about human... Read More
Brace for the big commemoration
It starts! January 20th, the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration, passed with little comment, so far as I could judge. Then the public-sector unions of Wisconsin began demonstrating against Governor Walker's bill to cut back their collective-bargaining powers. Propagandists for the unions were keen to remind us that it was John F. Kennedy... Read More
Learning to talk Turkey.
Until very recently the only thing I knew how to say in Turkish was the proverb Nerede çokluk, orada bokluk, which means (I shall bowdlerize slightly) "Where there are people, there is dung." I had learned this by the most random kind of chance. Many years ago I was living in a rooming house in... Read More
Amy Chua, who is a law professor at Yale University, has a new book out: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The book describes the parenting methods Professor Chua employed when raising her two daughters, now aged 18 and 14. An extract published in the January 8 Wall Street Journal caused a small sensation. Within... Read More
I fill a hole.
One of our township's very few claims to fame, perhaps the only one, arises from its cesspools. The Wikipedia article headed "cesspool" devotes an entire paragraph to Huntington. In numbers of people sucked down into collapsing old cesspools, we lead the nation. There were three deaths just this past decade. The Straggler family avoided this... Read More
If you want to get ahead, get a hat!
The other day I stepped into an elevator while wearing a hat. Seeing ladies in the elevator, I removed my hat. One of the ladies, who was of a certain age, complimented me on my manners. "Not many men would know to do that nowadays." Not many men need to. As someone or other has... Read More
Capital punishment then and now.
Scowling out at me from my New York Post is Steven Hayes, recently convicted in an exceptionally vile crime in my neighbor state of Connecticut. With another man, not yet tried, Hayes invaded a family home, clubbed the father senseless, then raped, tortured, strangled, and burned alive the wife and two daughters. He has been... Read More
The past, present, and future of an indispensible material.
What a place it is, this world we humans have made! It has such variety, such abundance of skills and knowledge, so many aspects one never thinks of from one year's end to the next till they are suddenly forced on one's attention. Consider, for example, glass. Over the past three or four years, windows... Read More
The Tyler Clementi case has been illuminating in several respects. Clementi was a freshman student at Rutgers University, sharing a dorm room with another 18-year-old, Dharun Ravi. Clementi asked for sole use of the room until midnight on September 19. Ravi obliged and went to his girlfriend's room, but not before activating his webcam. With... Read More
The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election, by Garland S. Tucker III
The 1924 presidential election was, on the face of it, a snoozer. The major-party candidates were Calvin Coolidge (Republican) and John W. Davis (Democrat). Both were conservative — sensationally so by today's standards. As Garland Tucker notes in this enjoyable and informative book: "There were … very few philosophical differences between Davis and Coolidge." Both... Read More
The world of work.
August lived up to its reputation as the Silly Season this year, the news dominated for several days by JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, who quit his job August 9 in a sensational manner, venting his grievances over the plane's PA system then exiting via the emergency chute. (Fortunately the plane was stationary on the... Read More
Tear down that school!
In the way these things happen, we had a sudden deluge of education stories this past few days. For this Long Islander the news was both local, state, and national. Our local news concerned a school district referendum on spending $2m to add buildings to our intermediate school (grades 4-6). The backstory here is that... Read More
I become a cyclist.
The recent political ructions over the extension of unemployment benefit brought Norman Tebbit to my mind. Tebbit was Margaret Thatcher's Secretary of State for Employment in the early 1980s. There was some urban rioting, and it was suggested to Tebbit that these disturbances were a natural response to the indignity of unemployment. Tebbit, whose origins... Read More
Priscilla and James.
For some time I had wanted to meet James Buckley, fourth of the ten in his generation. (Bill Buckley was sixth.) This man had an extraordinary career. He served at a high level in all three branches of the federal government: as a U.S. senator, as an undersecretary of state, and as a federal appeals... Read More
In the dismaying-but-not-surprising category of news stories recently, this one in the July 2 New York Times got my attention. It describes how the Obama administration is killing off the summer internship programs, many of them unpaid, that are so popular with high school seniors and college students. Sample quotes: One reason this got my... Read More
One start-up at a time
The first federal regulator I ever knew was a fellow named Ernie. This was 40 years ago, a few weeks after I'd first landed on these shores. I'd run out of money and taken work as kitchen help at a small family firm in New Rochelle, New York. The firm made frozen kosher TV dinners.... Read More
The Navy comes to Manhattan.
Fleet Week! For a few days the rather distinctly un-military inhabitants of New York City find that in hurrying from one commercial deal to another, one fashion show to another, one dinner party to another, one charity fundraiser, poetry slam, book-launch party, gallery show, clubbing excursion, coffee-klatch, or private debauch to another, they are sharing... Read More
Bad Students, Not Bad Schools, by Robert Weissberg
Front page headline in my New York Post this morning: The accompanying story describes a further dumbing-down of state math tests for kids in grades 3 to 8. Half marks are given for fragments of work; also for wrong answers arrived at via correct methods: "A kid who answers that a 2-foot-long skateboard is 48... Read More
Two steps forward in genomics.
The science news this month was dominated by two genome stories. An organism's genome is the sum total of all its genetic information — its DNA. In sexually reproducing species, a child gets half its genome from one parent, half from the other. Asexual organisms like bacteria just copy DNA from one generation to the... Read More
The risk-reward equation in medicine.
Science fiction writer Robert Sheckley wrote a story titled "Protection" whose first-person protagonist acquires a guardian angel. The angel is actually a validusian derg — an invisible, immaterial being from another plane of existence, present only as a voice in one's head. The derg's sole satisfaction is to keep a human being safe from harm.... Read More
Michael Bloomberg, New York City's Mayor-for-Life, has announced that the city will not go ahead with a publicly-funded CCT program. A what? "CCT" stands for "Conditional Cash Transfer," the current fad among anti-poverty campaigners. The name, unusually for social-policy onomastics, clearly describes the program. Cash ($$$$) is transferred (from some funding source, most likely an... Read More
Clubs and clubbability.
Third Thursday of the month, in season, is club night — the meeting, that is, of my gents' dinner club in New York City. We are a heterogeneous crowd: lawyers, doctors, writers, academics, a violinist, an ex-diplomat, some finance types. The club's been in business for decades. Bill Buckley was a member, showing up at... Read More
Intellectuals and Society, by Thomas Sowell
It is a commonplace observation that very smart people often have no sense. Writers since Aristophanes have been making sport of their intellectual superiors. Jonathan Swift had the academicians of Lagado striving to extract sunbeams from cucumbers. Twenty years ago Paul Johnson wrote a fine book titled Intellectuals, in which he tossed and gored such... Read More
Finding each other with Google.
My breakfast-time reading matter of choice, the New York Post, has regular stories about long-separated friends, lovers, and family members who find one another via Google. Here's one: High School Sweethearts Rekindle Romance After 50 Years. The boy and girl were parted by a ruse of their parents, who disapproved. Half a century on, he... Read More
We — we, National Review — seem to have been talking a lot about exceptionalism this last couple of print issues. It started in the March 8 issue. The cover piece, by Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru, was a spirited defense of American exceptionalism, with some warnings about how the current administration's policies threaten it.... Read More
Reflections on being an immigrant.
"All those years we thought we were building communism! Actually they've built communism right here in the U.S.A.!" This gets the biggest laugh of the evening. All seven of us in the room laugh, including me, the only non-Chinese. Someone quotes one of Chairman Mao's tremendous Thoughts, "We should pay close attention to the well-being... Read More
Thoughts from passenger-seat limbo.
"The parking brake, honey. Parking brake." "Sorry, Dad." She releases the parking brake and we move out into our quiet suburban street. Signaling, she drives nicely to the corner, stops, looks, and makes a graceful turn in the direction of the village. Coming up to her 17th birthday, my daughter will soon take her driving... Read More
Tom Friedman gushes over the Chinese dictatorship.
Thomas Friedman has been to China again, and seems to have experienced another Lincoln Steffens moment. More than one such, in fact. In his January 10 New York Times column Tom was swooning over the new high-speed rail link between Peking and Shanghai — five hours to cover 700 miles. "By comparison, Amtrak trains require... Read More
Open the pod bay doors, Hal.
What shall I do to be saved? Well, I might try uploading the contents of my brain to some more durable substrate. If I survive another 30 years, this will be a real option, according to Ray Kurzweil, leading light of the Singularity movement. Singularitarians believe that galloping progress in computer technology and brain science... Read More
Why aren't we even discussing it?
I find myself increasingly oppressed by the feeling that our big national policies are not merely mistaken, but deeply irrational. Take the president's recent "jobs summit." Like several other people — Pat Buchanan for example — I was baffled by the absence of any talk about limiting immigration. As Pat points out: Beats me, Pat;... Read More
But not necessarily scientists.
Well, of course we all do trust science. We trust Bernoulli's Principle every time we get on a plane; we trust celestial mechanics when we take the kids outside to watch a scheduled lunar eclipse; we trust subatomic physics when we relax with an iPod; we trust the laws of chemistry every time we strike... Read More
Adventures in asphalt.
So many things to know; so many points of view; so many disagreements, so many mishaps. Compared with home ownership, politics is a breeze. We are waiting for the driveway people to show up — the firm, I mean, that seals the surface of the driveway with a black rubberizing liquid. This is a 40-yard... Read More
John Derbyshire
About John Derbyshire

John Derbyshire 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. His most recent book, published by com is FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle).His writings are archived at