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DERB'S APRIL DIARY [8 ITEMS!] Lenin and Immigration, Multicultural WWI, Cancelling Tennyson, and Hate Mail, Etc.
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Wordsworth moment

Daffodils! Suddenly they are everywhere. My back yard is full of them.

One of my neighbors has a front yard in the same condition. Passing by as I walked my dog, I saw the lady of the house doing gardening work among the blooms. I greeted her with: “A host, of golden daffodils!”

She called my hand and raised: “Beside the lake, beneath the trees …” We finished the stanza in unison. Bless my literate neighbors.

Is “Daffodils” the best-known poem in our language? I’d be happy to think so: it’s a gem of a poem.

Thirty years ago the British radio station Classic FM asked listeners to name their favorite poems. They ranked the top hundred poems named, then published a set of cassette tapes (remember cassette tapes?) of actors reading them. “Daffodils” was number one, read by actress Sandra Duncan.

(Numbers two through five were: Kipling’s “If—,” Walter de la Mare’s “The Listeners,” Browning’s “Home-Thoughts from Abroad,” and Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott.”)

My favorite reference to the poem is Philip Larkin’s. To a charge from an interviewer that rather a lot of his poetry was, well, … depressing, Larkin responded: “Deprivation is to me what daffodils were to Wordsworth.”

The little free library

Also on my dog-walking route, a different neighbor has brought the Little Free Library to our street.

This is a nationwide—in fact world-wide—book-sharing project. If you sign up as a steward you get a neat weather-proof little book-case to put up in front of your house. Passers-by can add or subtract books as they please.

As a deeply bookish person I naturally give my whole-hearted support to the enterprise. On the other hand, as a pessimist, I doubt it will do much to slow down the retreat of books and bookishness from our culture.

My actual town library was closed as part of the pandemic lockdown. The other day I got an email telling me it is now open again “with limited capacity.” I have it in mind to stop by there on my next trip into town, just from solidarity with bookishness; but I fear that the lockdown may have killed off the dwindling volume of traffic they had when lockdown started, so that on entering the place I shall find myself their only patron, embarrassed amid silent stacks and empty tables.

The Giver of Stars

By chance, just as my neighbor was putting out her Little Free Library, I was reading about a somewhat similar initiative eighty years ago. This was the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky program, one of those Depression-era initiatives launched by the FDR administration under the auspices of the WPA. It ran from 1935 to 1943. The idea was to provide a library service to the mountainous backwoods of eastern Kentucky, the books delivered by female volunteers on horseback.

The book I read was actually a novel: The Giver of Stars by British writer Jojo Moyes, published 2019. It was recommended to me with much enthusiasm by my sister Judith, who lives in England, and who is even more bookish than I am, although with different political inclinations. That difference sometimes spoils her recommendations; but often enough it doesn’t, and I was in the mood for a novel, so I bought Ms Moyes’ book and read it.

The Giver of Stars turned out to be one of Judith’s duds. Taken just as middlebrow fiction—from a structural and stylistic point of view, I mean—it’s not bad. There’s love interest, class interest, a courtroom scene, and so on. Ms Moyes did her homework, too, visiting the Kentucky locales and riding the trails the packhorse librarians rode. Her heroine is a Brit immigrant, so the occasional Briticism doesn’t look out of place.

The problem is that from every page rises a faint odor of early-21st-century virtue. Here are plucky women—one of them of course black—battling against Toxic Masculinity. There is some of the old-time lefty religion, too: stone-hearted capitalists crushing the miners’ union. I could swear I heard Woody Guthrie strumming away in the background.

That’s what Brit novelists are like nowadays. So far as I know, there are no honest reactionaries writing fiction over there today: no Evelyn Waugh or Simon Raven, no George MacDonald Fraser or Kingsley Amis, no Barbara Pym or Ivy Compton-Burnett. There is only the dreary monotone whine of Social Justice self-righteousness. I should not be at all surprised to hear that Britain’s public libraries have been purged of all works by the six writers I just named.

Lenin’s secret diary

The Giver of Stars was the lighter of the two novels I read in April. The heavier one was Lenin: The Novel by the late British writer Alan Brien, published 1987.

Brien’s dates are 1925-2008, the same as Bill Buckley’s. He was a critic and opinion journalist by trade, all over the place in 1960s-1970s newspapers and magazines. I remember looking forward to his pieces in the London Sunday Times and the literary weeklies. He generally had something funny or interesting to say. The claim by one of his obituarists that:

He was, I suppose, the last literary-journalistic giant in the tradition of GK Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and James Agate: original, omnivorous and lucid in his writings …

… is a bit over-blown; but Brien was a well-read and imaginative opinionator, which (I hope) isn’t nothing.

Lenin was his only novel, and you can get an argument about whether it really counts as a novel. It’s in the form of an imaginary secret diary Lenin kept from January 1886, when he was 15, to August 1923 when, aged 53, he was recuperating from his third stroke. He died five months later. That makes the book a sort of fictional autobiography.


How close does Brien get to the real Lenin? I can’t judge, having read only one of the genuine biographies (this one) and that several decades ago, long since lost on my travels. From what I recall, and bits and pieces in other sources—Chapter 2 of Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, for example—where Brien’s text overlaps with my own fragments of knowledge, he is spot on.

Accurate or not, you couldn’t hope for more detail in an actual autobiography. Brien’s Lenin runs to 735 pages. The diary entries for just three days in early July of 1917—the perilous counter-revolutionary “July days”—cover 64 pages.

The flyleaf of the book tells us that:

Since his schooldays, [Brien] has been obsessed with the complex figure of … Lenin. As only a small part of his research for this novel, he spent a year in the Soviet Union, traveling 25,000 miles by land, sea, and air, from the Arctic to the Black Sea, from Kiev to Irkutsk, following the physical path of the man whose image has haunted him all his life.

A real Lenin obsessive, then. I wonder what he thought of Damiano Damiani’s 1988 movie Lenin: The Train, released a few months after Lenin: The Novel came out. Lenin: The Train is of course is about the sealed train the Germans laid on to take Lenin and his colleagues from their Swiss exile back to Russia in Spring of 1917 — “like a plague bacillus” (Churchill). It is billed everywhere as a TV movie; yet I am sure I recall seeing it at a London art cinema in 1990 or 1991.

Googling around, I see the whole thing—it’s 3½ hours—is now on the internet.

Skim-watching it again today, I’m impressed by the really excellent casting. Ben Kingsley is a perfect Lenin, both in appearance and manner; Leslie Caron is a convincingly mousey Krupskaya; and Timothy West—who I had seen a few years earlier portraying Stalin on stage—a good cynical Parvus.

Be warned, though: Don’t come to the movie “cold.” If you don’t know the main characters beforehand, and their relations with Lenin and each other, Lenin: The Train won’t make much sense. Look them up so you know your Kerensky from your Martov, your Radek from your Zinoviev. For a fully-rounded view with a side order of schadenfreude, you could also look up their subsequent fates …

Similarly, if you’re not an expert on pre-revolutionary Russia—and I am not—it helps to take notes when reading Lenin: The Novel, to keep track of the multitude of names. I found myself wishing, in fact, that Brien had added an index. A novel with an index, wha? Well: (a) this is only sort-of a novel, and (b) it’s been done at least once before — by a Russian!

My only criticism of the movie is that it makes a bit too much of the Lenin-Krupskaya-Armand emotional triangle. Krupskaya was Lenin’s wife. They married in 1898, when both were in Siberian exile. Inessa Armand was a French-Russian beauty who married into wealth, but seems always to have held progressive views. She became a dedicated Bolshevik and follower of Lenin. She was on the train with Lenin and Krupskaya.

The play of emotions within that trio is hard to fathom. All three were brim-full of revolutionary idealism, according to which romantic love was a contemptible bourgeois affectation. It’s hard to imagine the stone-hearted Lenin whispering sweet nothings to anyone; least of all to Krupskaya, who, to judge from Alan Brien’s researches and surviving photographs, while no doubt deserving of her reputation as a model comrade, had all the sex appeal of a boiled cabbage.

We don’t even know for sure whether Lenin and Armand ever made the beast with two backs together. My own guess would be that if they did, it was on her initiative, not his. Brien thinks they did, and has some Marxist fun with it. Lenin’s “diary” entry for April 20th, 1910, when both were in Paris:

When we make love it has for me no element of conquest, of active against passive, but of equal completion, of two halves uniting, of resolution and synthesis. The first time it happened, I heard myself say as my head cleared—”Slava bogu [Glory to God], it’s the dialectic!” Inessa rolled out of bed, laughing.

One very good lesson from both book and movie is how hindsight distorts our understanding of great historical events. Reading Lenin: The Novel, I kept waiting for Stalin to show up. Well, he gets a few off-hand mentions in earlier “diary” entries, but the first extended comment on him is this one at page 667—91 percent of the way through the book. The date is January 15th 1921.

Sverdlov shared an exile’s hut for a while in Siberia with Stalin and he used to say that the Georgian was more many-sided than any of us suspected. For instance, in those days, he was fond of word-games and quite intellectual ones too. There was “Sermon” where you are given an object, say a toothpick or a bootlace, and asked to improvise a homily showing how this demonstrates the goodness of God. Stalin had been educated in a church seminary and could be very funny at this. Then there was “Proverbs” where you had to invent a convincing peasant saying. Stalin was good at that as well. Yakov always remembered one of Joseph Vissarionovich’s winning entries—”There are people with gloves who have no fingers.”

I wonder if Stalin is still playing the game? …

Oh, Stalin was playing a game all right. It wasn’t “Sermon” or “Proverbs,” though.

Not until fifty pages further on—mid-July 1922, after Lenin’s first stroke—is there anything said about Stalin as a power-player in the now well-established Bolshevik elite. Stalin doesn’t appear at all in Lenin: The Train.

Neither Lenin nor any of his comrades—except, according to Alan Brien, Georgy Pyatakov—took Stalin seriously. They thought he was a nonentity, a bumpkin, not very bright or politically adept. Alarms did not go off for Lenin until the end of 1922, when he was feeble and had only a year left to live.

We think of Stalin in hindsight as a towering figure of the mid-20th century, with Lenin merely his herald, setting the stage for him. Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks would have been astounded to know that.

OK, that’s a lot of Leniniana. Wait, though: this is Didn’t Vladimir Ilyich have anything to say about immigration?

He certainly did, at any rate according to Alan Brien. From the “diary” entry for October 29th, 1913:

There can be no doubt that dire poverty alone compels people to abandon their native land, and that the capitalists exploit the immigrant workers in the most shameless manner. But only reactionaries can shut their eyes to the progressive significance of this new movement of the clans. And it is into this struggle that capitalism is drawing the masses of the working people of the WHOLE world, breaking down the musty, fusty habits of local life, breaking down national barriers and prejudices, uniting workers from all countries in huge factories and mines in America, Germany, and so forth. It will not be long before Britain, France, and Italy will also be importing their own colonial peoples to do the dirty work at home. Here is a field, ripe for agitation, that we must not neglect to harvest.

Oh, we won’t, comrade, we won’t.

The Eastern Front

From fiction to semi-fiction to nonfiction: this month I read (well, finished: I’d started it in mid-March) Alexander Watson’s 2020 book The Fortress, which is about the siege of Przemysl in 1914-15.

Przemysl (you can hear the pronunciation at Wikipedia) is a city in, today, southeast Poland. When war broke out in 1914, though, there was no such nation as independent Poland. Most of the territory of today’s Poland was divided between the German and Russian empires. The remainder belonged to Galicia, the northeastern-most province of Austria-Hungary.

That’s where Przemysl was located: in Austro-Hungarian Galicia, thirty miles from the border with Russian Poland. A frontier town, in fact: one of particular strategic importance, as Przemysl was on key transportation routes (river, rail) and just north of the Carpathian mountains, which had historically offered Hungary some protection against northern attack.


The rulers of Austria-Hungary were very well aware of the city’s strategic importance. In the years before 1914 they had built a ring of 37 masonry-and-concrete forts around it, four or five miles from the city center, supplemented by an inner ring of 21 earthwork forts and batteries a mile or so from the center. (I’m working from Watson’s maps: Wikipedia says 44 forts in the outer circle.)

At the outbreak of war these defenses were supplemented with trenches, hundreds of gun emplacements, and thousands of miles of barbed wire. Przemysl was a fortress indeed. With this as their command base, the Austro-Hungarians sent an army north into Russian Poland. After some initial victories, everything went wrong. By mid-September the Russians had counter-attacked, advanced into Galicia, and surrounded the Fortress.

There followed a three-week siege before a relieving Austro-Hungarian army arrived; but then that army was defeated. Under pressure from Big Brother Germany, who did not think Galicia important, Austria-Hungary evacuated its troops from the province—except for Przemysl—altogether. By the second week of November the Fortress was under siege by the Russians again.

Why wasn’t Przemysl’s garrison evacuated with the rest of Galicia’s troops? Apparently the authorities in Vienna wanted a symbol of the Empire’s heroic resistance, for regime legitimacy with their own people and Big Brother.

This second siege lasted almost five months. It ended in a suicidal Götterdämmerung of noise and fire on March 21st-22nd 1915 as the garrison commanders fired off their artillery’s remaining ammunition, destroyed the guns, and blew up the city’s forts and bridges prior to surrendering.

Alexander Watson gives a vivid account of those two sieges, backed by prodigies of research. He leaves no doubt about the incompetence of the Austro-Hungarian general staff, which wasn’t helped by the bizarrely polyethnic composition of the units they had to command. The common characterization of Britain’s WW1 army was “Lions led by donkeys.” Austria-Hungary’s army was more a case of lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, lynxes, cheetahs, cougars, pumas, and ocelots led by donkeys.

Some officers may have gotten by with “Army Slavic,” a most peculiar military Esperanto blending Slavic grammar with German military terminology … Others who spoke only German relied on the battalion’s few Jews to act as intermediaries.

(Although Army Slavic would have been no help in dealing with Hungarian troops, that language being neither Slavonic nor Germanic. Ah, multiculturalism!)

The main impression left by The Fortress is one of horror. Galicia in general, and Przemysl in particular, were not places you’d want to have been in during fall and winter of 1914-15.

Watson leavens the narrative with some dark humor, though, mainly based on staff stupidity. There was for example General Kusmanek’s deeply silly system for identifying enemy troops disguised in allied uniforms, described at length in pages 195-7, sample:

Though frontline officers were too polite to point it out, the other glaring problem with the new system was that standing in the middle of no-man’s-land in broad daylight whistling and wildly gesticulating made troops sitting ducks. Quite what Russian sentries thought at the surreal sight of their enemy pirouetting in the open is sadly not recorded, but if they could overcome their astonishment there were easy kills to be had.

There are some neat Trivial-Pursuit-type curiosities, too. Przemysl had a small airfield in operation during the second siege, so that troops desperate for communication with their families could use the world’s very first (claims Watson) airmail service.

I share the common English fascination with WW1— my father’s war—but my eyes have mainly been focused on the Western Front. Stuff was happening in the east, too: stuff of at least equal horror, and arguably greater world-historical importance. I’m obliged to Alexander Watson and the friend who recommended his book for filling some of that gap in my understanding.

Neurosurgical preference

Yes, it’s been a bookish month, all right. Other things have been happening, though.

For instance: On April 17th I got a hate email, the first I’ve received for quite a while:

Wow buddy, your brain is evidently undergoing some serious atrophy. You may wanna consult a top class neurosurgeon (preferably white) before you start experiencing some profound delusions and paranoia. Oops, too late.

Well, it’s better to be noticed than ignored, so … thanks, I guess.

I said as much as I want to say about hate email in general twenty years ago, and don’t have anything new to add. I’d just like to tell this correspondent he’s wrong about my neurosurgical preference.

In that, I’m on the same page—it’s actually page 413 in my 1988 Bantam Books edition—as the perp that Assistant D.A. Torres tells Kramer about in Bonfire of the Vanities:

One time I was in the pens, and this black lawyer from the 18b [i.e. court-appointed private attorney — JD] comes in looking for the client he’s been assigned, and he starts yelling out his name. You know the way they yell out the names in the pens. Anyway, the guy he’s been assigned is black, and he comes walking over to the bars, and he looks this guy in the eye and he says, “Get lost, mother—I want a Jew.”

Canceling Tennyson

I’ll close this diary with what musicians call a da capo, returning to the theme I started with: great English poets. The one I have in mind here is Tennyson.

That’s a result of reading Anthony Esolen’s essay “Deconstructing the Decolonizers” in the April/May issue of Chronicles magazine. Esolen argues a parallel between the ideologues who have taken over our schools and colleges, and the European colonial powers in times past. In this parallel our youngsters, our school and college students, are like colonial subjects being robbed of their customs and traditions by those colonizers, albeit often with good intentions.

He qualifies the parallel by noting that old-style colonialism was constructive as well as destructive, spreading the glories of our civilization world-wide. Today’s educators, by contrast, only destroy—a colonial type of activity that they have the gross impertinence to describe as “decolonizing.” To replace what they have destroyed they offer only worthless, soul-less dreck like Critical Race Theory.

A school principal in Massachusetts has boasted of removing the Odyssey from the curriculum. That, too, is cast as “decolonization.” It is beyond ridiculous. For many decades, we have been tossing classical education into the ditch. Forget about studying Latin or Greek. Very few college students will have read Milton. Almost none will have read Tennyson. Most will not have heard of this Victorian poet; I know this from long experience.

That shocked me perhaps more than the average reader. For one thing, I am a major fan of Tennyson. If you were to ask me which, of all the poems I know in our language, is my favorite, I might give you different answers on different days, but there would be many, many days when I’d reply “Tithonus.” If you were to ask me to quote the most evocative single line of English verse I would likely, subject to the same qualification, give you this one from “The Princess”:

Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font.

For another thing there was a memory from my days teaching English literature at a college in communist China forty years ago. My teaching materials were of course government-approved, the commentaries following the Party line. The classic English poets were well represented: Shakespeare (Marx was a fan), Shelley (major lefty), Burns (a peasant!), even Wordsworth (praised the French Revolution … at first).

Tennyson, however, didn’t even get a mention. Why not? I consulted a standard 1979 ChiCom encyclopedia, which I still own. Here is the entire entry for Tennyson:

Dingnísheng (Alfred Tennyson, 1809-1892). English poet. Born into a clerical family. All his poems beautify capitalist society and bourgeois morality and ethics. In 1850 he was made Poet Laureate. His works one-sidedly promote lyricism and become merely ornate. His most important poems are “The Princess,” “Maud,” “In Memoriam,” “Enoch Arden,” “Idylls of the King,” etc.

So, a class enemy. Just another reminder, if you needed one, that there isn’t much daylight between the ideology that has taken over our schools today and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought.

Math Corner

I was a rather dreamy kid. When, at age fifteen, my school math classes bifurcated into Pure and Applied, I instinctively preferred Pure. I wanted to learn stuff that was of no practical use at all.


Things didn’t work out altogether as I expected. Projective geometry was satisfyingly useless at the level we took it to, but we soon learned that calculus, a big part of the Pure course, has been the foundation of practical science for three hundred years. You win some, lose some.

Now, with a mature understanding, I know that very little math is altogether pure; and if any area of math looks to be, wait a few decades and then check back. When geometer Elwin Christoffel (whose personality has come down to us, perhaps unfairly, as “shy, distrustful, unsociable, irritable and brusque“) cooked up his symbols of the First and Second Kind 150 years ago, he could not have imagined that they would be keys to the General Theory of Relativity, helping to keep communication satellites in orbit. Mathematical logic looked pretty airy-fairy in 1900: it now lies at the foundations of Computer Science.

There are still matters of degree, though. Number Theory has descended into regrettable practicality in areas like cryptography and information science, but much of it is still blessedly inutile.

Consider, for example, digitally delicate primes, the subject of a fascinating short March 30th article by Steve Nadis at Quanta magazine.

Think of a prime number (and cast from your mind the example of truly great algebraist Alexander Grothendieck). I’ll take 61. Now answer this question: Can I, by changing just one digit of that number to some other digit, turn it into a different prime?

In the case of 61 the answer is yes. I can change the 6 to a 1 for 11, or to 3 for 31, and so on; or I can change the 1 to a 7 for 67.

In 1978 the late Murray Klamkin posed this question about that question: Are there any primes for which the answer is no? Such a prime would, if you changed any single digit to some other digit, always give you a composite number, a non-prime.

The great but slightly weird Hungarian number theorist Paul Erdos proved that yes, there are such primes—an infinity of them, in fact. They are not easy to find. The smallest is 294001. You can see the first twenty-five of the little devils at the OEIS. They are officially called “digitally delicate primes.”

Once you’ve stumbled on a family of numbers like that and proved some basic theorems about it, the fun thing then is to define related families and sub-families, and devise theorems to be proved about them.

Suppose, for instance, you enlarge this inquiry by allowing yourself to add leading zeroes to the decimal expression of your prime: to consider not just 61 but 061, 0061, 000000000061, and so on. What if you change one of those zeroes to some other digit? That spawns a family of “widely digitally delicate” primes, for which your alteration is certain to destroy the primality. We don’t currently have an example of a widely digitally delicate prime, but as of a few months ago we know that the suckers exist.

Or what if, instead of replacing a digit, you insert a new digit between two digits of a prime? Or: How does this all apply if you use some base other than ten for writing your numbers? And so on …

… and on, and on. The questions proliferate, spawning and dividing like living things. That’s the fun of Number Theory. And this corner of it, the corner inhabited by digitally delicate primes and their offspring, is perfectly, happily useless … so far.

Oh, it’s a brainteaser you’re wanting? I’m not sure this one really counts, but it defeated me (and has, I should say, nothing whatsoever to do with digitally delicate primes). It may in fact be one of those puzzles that divides the human race into two non-overlapping subsets. Persons of a visual-artistic inclination perhaps get it right away, while those whose thinking is more abstract and numerical overthink it, as I did.

(For all 35 years we’ve been married Mrs Derbyshire and I have been setting aside an evening now and then to sit and watch a rented movie, and for just exactly as long she’s been grumbling that I fall asleep halfway through the show.)

Anyway, this was going round on WeChat, my lady’s Chinese social network. She challenged me with it, and I failed.

Here is a false statement:

5+5+5 = 550.

Can you make the statement true by adding one single line?

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 has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

(Republished from VDare by permission of author or representative)
• Category: History • Tags: Iosef Stalin, Lenin 
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  1. John

    Since you mentioned Murray Klamkin……A problem he posed about primes apparently was a special case of way bigger mathematical territory connected to the Tao-Green Theorem. Klamkin’s puzzle was about mathematical creatures known as digital primes. You can read about this over at Quanta Magazine(Simons Institute publication)

    A few months ago over at Field Medalist Terence Tao’s Blog, Tao wrote about a young Jewish-Russian mathematician who was allied with the scummy Nalvany(I don’t know the correct spelling). The comments are very interesting. Go have a look.

    Yes, I do check out those micro-libraries. Found a book in Southold about Saturday Night high school football in small town America. I think the book was made into a Movie. If you want to know why Native White America is being RACE-REPLACED….think American Football-America’s Religion.

  2. JMcG says:

    In Re: the Brainteaser; can’t one just strike a line through the equality sign? I’m kind of a brute force type of guy though, so perhaps there’s a more elegant solution.
    I’m a little hurt that you made no mention of Betjeman in your section on English poetry. Again, I’m a brute, but his poem, Norfolk, can move me to tears. I first read it on your recommendation when my son was a toddler. We would walk down sunlit lanes by the Suck or by the Shannon in the Irish midlands rather than by the Bure, but the rough tweed coat and the utter peacefulness of the moment were the same.
    Thanks for the very great deal of pleasure your recommendations have given me over the years, Mr. Derbyshire.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
    , @Alfa158
  3. John

    You and Mrs. Derbyshire should go to Southold and get the tour of the Historic Preservation Site by John the retired English nuclear warhead designer and his lovely wife.

  4. We have those “Little Libraries” where we live to, Mr. D. I imagine it started as an informal thing by a creative and giving family, kind of how the kids would paint rocks and leave them for other kids to find. I’d like to see more, actually, I’d like to DO more of this.

    Regarding the full-sized libraries, Peak Stupidity wrote about the totally unnecessary many-dozen-million dollar bond issue used to renovate all of them, when they were perfectly fine – see More stupidity at the library – the big one.*

    They were then closed for half of last year and then re-opened with a no-entry mode (other than librarians, who’d go get your stuff). Well, one time I forgot that the return stuff was to go in the box, gave the lady 2 videos, and she came out looking SHOCKED, SHOCKED, I tells ya’ that now COVID germies were all in the library – see March Mask Madness – Part 1.

    Now it’s open, but for only one person at a time! Madness!


    * This one is not particularly work-safe, unless you’ve shed your workplace of HR ladies – I digressed a bit at the end …

  5. @JMcG

    Well, damn, Mr. McG, that was probably the only one of these teasers I was going to ever get. ;-} Now, I’ll never know if I would have …

  6. @War for Blair Mountain

    The correct terminology is DIGITAL DELICATE PRIMES….

  7. Anonymous[385] • Disclaimer says:

    For us, the little building that used to be a one-room school house now serves as an unstaffed library with floor-to-ceiling books in shelves along the walls and reading tables in the center. Lots of Black’s Readers Service volumes but also tons of ’50s and ’60s era paperbacks, Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club books, etc. When someone passes away or moves, their books, few or many, literary or trash, are donated. The door is never locked and there are never any derelicts or hobos infesting it.

    stone-hearted capitalists crushing the miners’ union.

    You know, John, that’s not “woke” history. That was real. Many of us have ancestors who fought the bosses and their gunsel armies. It’s one reason we won’t give up the 2nd Amendment. And it’s also a reason our grandparents and great-grandparents revered Franklin Roosevelt — he signed the Wagner Act.

    • Replies: @Greta Handel
    , @Dutch Boy
  8. We have those book boxes in my hood too. You know what? I think book dealers raid them pretty regularly, as I’ve recognized (I think) books that I left in them in nearby used book stores! Some of them were rare, distinctive things. People could sell them online too. Beware lest your benevolence be exploited.

    That emailer is an idiot. People with dementia don’t need surgery, they would need a neurologist, the clinical doctor. Surgeons remove masses or clip aneurysms, or treat trauma. Actually, I would not expect a Jewish neurosurgeon to be better, as the skills needed involve the visuospacial and manual dexterity, which are not areas where jews are superior, possibly the reverse. A Jewish neurologist might be better. Within medicine jews tend to congregate in the internal medicine specialties, which stress analytical skills. However, I would want an older white male in neurosurgery.

    That could be a curse, like the Chinese “may you live in interesting times.” “May you be operated upon by nonwhite neurosurgeons and get a motorcycle while you’re at it!” Lol

  9. @Anonymous

    You know, John, that’s not “woke” history. That was real. Many of us have ancestors who fought the bosses and their gunsel armies.

    And Mr. Derbyshire couldn’t care less. His shtick isn’t class, it’s race, with enough ChinaDidIt to show British fealty to his adopted Uncle Sam.

    Dissident Right, Inc.

  10. Dutch Boy says:

    It was Roosevelt’s greatest legacy but now mostly undone.. His worst legacy (the American Empire) is also on its last legs.

  11. Alfa158 says:

    That was my immediate solution but it seems too easy. Every time I get a brain teaser too quickly, I’m convinced it’s a trap and I’ll end up doing the equivalent of this:

    • LOL: JMcG, Achmed E. Newman
  12. lloyd says: • Website

    Book publishers are all wokes these days. Their gate keeper readers are all feminist women or maybe gay. The book publishers of old, conservative and left, were white male bibliophiles. They thought, this is a promising book, ideology came second to talent if at all. So they published in a few weeks for a few hundred pounds or less. Now a days, the ms goes to the slush bucket. If it is considered at all, it goes through committees of wokes, who deliberately or not delay any chance of publication until the issue that stimulated the book is stale. Then they turn the ms down because it will not generate income to pay their salaries. The iconoclastic authors can find no other outlets than blogs and Amazon. That should not per se be a bad thing but the new “cancel culture” and corporate giant ownership and arbitrary censorship may eliminate alternate writing. Fifty Shades of Grey has an interesting history in that its publication was originally a blog. It was eventually book published because it generated so much money and publicity. However sadistic sex could only be published by a woman author.

  13. lloyd says: • Website

    John Derbyshire implies he would use a Jewish neurosurgeon. I think he is a bit dated there. Top surgeons have historically come from the cleverest most hard working poor immigrants. These days, he is more likely to be an Arab, or Indian Moslem. In Israel, according to Uri Averney, everyone agrees the Arab doctors are the best. They are not strictly speaking immigrants but are treated as such. I certainly would never choose a female surgeon. Precision surgery requires a male as with racing car drivers. A black male surgeon may be suitable if no affirmative action.

  14. John

    The book I plucked out of the Southhold micro-library:SATURDAY NIGHTS LIGHTS:A TOWN….A TEAM….A DREAM…by GH Bissenger….

    • Replies: @JMcG
    , @europeasant
  15. JMcG says:
    @War for Blair Mountain

    Buzz Bissinger turned into quite the train wreck. I think he went broke buying Italian designer clothes. Pretty weird story.

    • Replies: @gandydancer
  16. SafeNow says:

    Sorry, Mr. Derb, but Daffodils is NOT number 1, it is number 29, well behind Maya Angelou, who comes in at number 15.

    Again, sorry, but this your April diary, and they call April the cruelest month for a reason.

    Still, thanks for the poetry. When this website is cancelled, Jen Psaki will grudgingly acknowledge, as she adjusts her hair, “They sure knew their poetry, gotta give them that,”

  17. @SafeNow

    Huhn, you know, I’ve got a book on that listing, or ranking, and it’s got a bit different from mr derb: 1 was If by Kipling, 2 daffodils, and 3 warning by Jenny Joseph (never heard of that), 4 Keats to autumn, etc. I would say ts eliot and Kipling had the most entries out of the 100. 4 each.

  18. BTW thank you for the link to Deconstructing the Decolonizers — the most savagely erudite thing that I’ve read in quite some time.

  19. D. K. says:

    Was that April 20th, 1910, on the Gregorian calendar used by Parisians, then as now, or April 20th, 1910, on the Orthodox (Julian) calendar used by the Russians, until after the Russian Revolution?

    If the former, that was the Wednesday on which Adolf Hitler turned 21:,_1910_(Wednesday)

    If the latter, it was Tuesday, May 3rd, 1910, on the Gregorian calendar:,_1910_(Tuesday)

  20. Daffodils is a great poem. Though, I prefer “the world is too much with us”.
    As for Tennyson, I don’t think you need to be a communist to approach his poetry with …. a raised eye brow. Actually, the Victorians, as a category are often open to question. (tho, I’m biased — for all its hustle & progress, still one of history’s ugliest periods)

    • Replies: @3g4me
  21. Anon[363] • Disclaimer says:

    I added a line through the equals symbol, 5+5+5550, and now the equation is true. Similarly, Christian theology can be corrected by adding a negative to Rabbi Jesus’ infamous blasphemy, “Salvation is not from the Jews.” Not that I ever needed saved anyway; I was born right’n’white the first time.

    • Replies: @UR2
    , @Bill Jones
  22. in re Brain Teaser: I’m not sure what a “line” means in his statement of the puzzle, but if I draw a diagonal line through the equal sign, it becomes an “is not equal to” sign and makes the equation true. I suspect I won’t get a degree for this answer, though.

  23. A slash through the equal sign?

  24. Anon[590] • Disclaimer says:

    Another great installment Derb. I went to your website and damn Mrs. D sure has held up, I seriously reread the caption thinking it was maybe your daughter’s friend. Is there an adage? Perhaps, Asian don’t raisin?

  25. martin_2 says:

    At least Mr Derbyshire reads poetry but I wish he, (and many others who don’t even read poetry), wouldn’t go on about Rudyard Kipling and his poem “If” as if its the be all and end all of English poetry. I’m sure Mr Kipling was a very fine poet, but up against the likes of Keats or Chaucer he is completely out of his depth.

  26. martin_2 says:

    At least Mr Derbyshire reads poetry but I wish he, (and many others who don’t even read poetry), wouldn’t go on about Rudyard Kipling and his poem “If” as if its the be all and end all of English poetry. I’m sure Kipling was a very fine poet, but up against the likes of Keats or Chaucer he is completely out of his depth.

    • Replies: @SafeNow
  27. @SafeNow

    … they call April the cruelest month for a reason.

    Do any of you English poetry aficionados actually know the reason? Peak Stupidity reminds us, in the post “The cruelest day of the cruelest month, of the, I dunno, 8th cruelest year?”. The IRS made April the cruelest month, English poetry notwithstanding.

  28. 3g4me says:

    @ martin_2: When it comes to Keats (and most of the romantic poets), I side with Philip Larkin. From memory,

    Gods chase
    Round Vase.
    What say?
    What play?
    Don’t know.
    Nice, though.

  29. 3g4me says:

    @20 animalogic: As you admitted (to your credit), you are biased. I loved Tennyson, still do. His “Idylls of the King” inspired a freshman essay which later inspired a hand set, printed, and bound book and helped lead to a scholarship and graduate study in England. The Victorian period, (personalities, and psychology) is fascinating. And even some of the ugly parts are so ugly as to be beautiful. While I’ll pass on the incredibly cluttered interior decorating, the design of the better homes – with their distinction between public and private spaces and individual rooms for individual functions – inspires my vision of a ‘dream home.’ I moulder here in my godawful ‘open concept’ suburban home, where anyone at the front door can take in almost the entirety of the space at a glance. Privacy — yet another golden traditional concept that ‘Americans’ have discarded.

    • Agree: dfordoom
    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  30. I see that others are keen on changing “equal” to “not-equal” – my own thought was to change it to “less-than-or-equal” – but I suspect that these are trivial solutions, and we’re all missing something more interesting. Something like creating a division or a change of base – although this is perhaps the very “overthinking” that Derb mentions.

    • Replies: @John Derbyshire
  31. SafeNow says:

    Keats, Chaucer, they are all wonderful. In fact, a few times I have worried that enjoying the traditional literary canon will be seen as “white supremacy” and get us cancelled. I recant my sarcastic reference to Maya Angelou. But, as a famous French guy said, Be drunk, always be drunk, on wine, poetry, or virtue.

    Signing off as a mediocre mathematician. Pronounced such by reason of my being unable to grasp that .999…(forever) does not come merely darn close to 1, but rather, actually equals 1.

    • Replies: @gandydancer
  32. LondonBob says:

    ‘The Eastern Front 1914-1917’ by Norman Stone is very good, no fluff and plenty of analysis of the Russian economy, important for industrialised warfare.

  33. @John Derbyshire

  34. @War for Blair Mountain

    Itz H G Bissenger. I could not find GH Bissenger so I looked up HG Bissenger and found

    ” Friday Night Lights
    A Town, A Team, and A Dream
    Bissinger, H.G.”

  35. I’ve read many of Lenin’s biographies, but I would recommend Leszek Kolakowski’s “Main Currents of Marxism”, vol.2, the ending (“Lenin’s genius”). I wholeheartedly agree with Kolakowski that Lenin was the most important historical figure of the 20th C, basically the man without whom Stalin, Hitler, Mao … were unimaginable.

    A few marginal notes ….

    1. Stalin was the number 2 party man even in 1922, 2 years before Lenin’s death.

    2. Krupskaya suffered from Graves’ disease, which causes problems with menstrual cycles. It is solidly attested that both Lenin & Krupskaya expressed regret for not having their own, biological children.

    3. Armand was Lenin’s lover, but it is not known whether there was any physical intimacy between them. Krupskaya once told Lenin that she would leave, not wanting to interfere with his newly found love. He dissuaded her, telling her she was more important to him.

    4. immigration? Lenin was anti-racist, but it is impossible to predict how he would have behaved. Lenin was a strange combination of dogmatism & flexibility, and it is possible he would have adopted a race realist position.

    Anyway, he was, by temperament, totally un-Woke.

  36. @Derb: A word about the proper use of Wikipedia: Any citation ought to be to a particular version of the text. I forget the exact way to do this, but I’m not the one who is regularly citing Wikipedia, and you’ll only have to find out once. Also, when citing a claim from Wikipedia (” Wikipedia says 44 forts in the outer circle.”) you probably want to see if you can link to the embedded citation, which ought to be present.

    Around the city, in a circle of circumference 45 km (28 mi), 44 forts of various sizes were built. The older fortifications were modernised to provide the fortress with an internal defence ring. The fortress was designed to accommodate 85,000 soldiers and 956 cannons of all sorts, although eventually 120,000 soldiers were garrisoned there.[12]

    That “[12]” points to , which is informative, but, however, does not contain the number “44”. You could probably find out where the “44 forts” claim came from by looking into the article history for when it first appeared, as it was probably correctly cited then, with citation rot having taken place in subsequent rewrites. So, in this case, you can’t easily do what I suggest, but you should check.

  37. It’s hard to imagine the stone-hearted Lenin whispering sweet nothings to anyone; least of all to Krupskaya, who, to judge from Alan Brien’s researches and surviving photographs, while no doubt deserving of her reputation as a model comrade, had all the sex appeal of a boiled cabbage.

    Not so fast. She lost her looks, of course, but apart from the arguably angry expression, this isn’t bad:

  38. @JMcG

    Buzz Bissinger turned into quite the train wreck. I think he went broke buying Italian designer clothes.


    In a column published in GQ, Bissinger states he is a shopaholic with an obsession for expensive designer clothes, spending \$638,412.97 between 2010 and 2012.

    \$213k/yr for 3 yr? That actually shouldn’t bust him. He might even be able to keep it up, depending on how much he spends on closets.

    • Replies: @JMcG
  39. @SafeNow

    …by reason of my being unable to grasp that .999…(forever) does not come merely darn close to 1, but rather, actually equals 1.

    Yes, I realize you are probably aware of the proof, and that that is probably not the problem, but….

    Let x = .999…(forever)
    10x = 9.999…(forever)
    10x – x = 9
    9x = 9

    Also relevant to Zeno’s Paradox, etc.

    • Thanks: Happy Tapir
  40. @3g4me

    The term is “McMansion”, 3g4me. At least, I think that’s what you mean with the “open concept” suburban houses. Most have lots of square footage but with a quarter of it not really being part of any one room.

    Then, they get really big, ft^3 wise, but it’s wasted too. I remember my friend’s new place had these 2 dormers with windows way up top. On the outside till, I thought “it’d be cool to hang out up there, with a good view of something.” Nope, they are just way the hell up off the floor and you can’t get up there. How you clean them is another story – not my problem.

  41. UR2 says:

    Finish it up: “but the hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth”. When considering the value of Judaism, one must keep in mind that, at the advent of ‘that Rabbi’ you have such disdain for, Judaism was superseeded by Catholicism, the Old Testament was perfected and completed by the New Testament; the essence of God emerged as Love and Charity. The Jews of today have no right to the name. They should be called ‘Those who failed to recognize their own Messiah’. Its possible you know nothing of Christ. I didn’t either untill l read the Gospel of Matthew myself out of curiosity; slowly, reflectively: thats the beginning of worshipping in spirit and in truth.

    • Replies: @gandydancer
  42. @UR2

    The demand that anyone else “keep in mind” such a load of unverifiable nonsense is absurd.

  43. @Anon

    The original:
    “Salvation is from the Jews.”

    Is correct. Only Christ can save us from the Jews.

  44. SFG says:

    There are right-wing books–I just read Delicious Tacos and Bronze Age Pervert (neither of which I recommend to be honest–I don’t think you’ll be able to stand their very-informal prose style; Bronze Age Pervert in particular is hard to understand if you’re not up on alt-right memes). Small Men on the Wrong Side of History, by Ed West, was pretty good IMHO, and had enough of a ‘normal’ prose style you might enjoy it. Good reactionary fiction, though–I have to admit, once you get past Houellebecq I can’t think of anyone recent. Tito Perdue and Andy Nowicki had a bunch of books no–anyone read those?

    Amazon is actually not that bad so far–you can find quite a bit there, though as the purge accelerates it might get harder. Order your dissident books in hard copy!

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