»  VDARE.com Monthly Diary

  December 2020


Quote of the month.

"Most men with any convictions in a confused and complicated age have had the almost uncanny sensation of shouting at people that a mad dog is loose or the house is on fire, to be met merely with puzzled and painfully respectful expressions, as if the remark were a learned citation in Greek or Hebrew." — G.K. Chesterton, William Cobbett

Footnote to that:  I've known that quote for as long as I can remember, but without recalling why I know it. I've never read William Cobbett, so it must have been somewhere else I saw it.

The mystery was solved as an indirect result of my posting, in last month's diary, a few words of appreciation for British journalist Richard West, father of Unherd.com Deputy Editor Ed West. I wrote:

Ed comes from a talented family, too; one I've been engaged with as a reader for most of my adult life. His Dad Richard West, who died in 2015, wrote for the London Spectator when I was a subscriber forty-some years ago. I remember his 1981 book An English Journey very fondly, as a small masterpiece of social observation and historical reflection.

Browsing idly on the internet after posting that, I saw a second-hand copy of An English Journey on sale for next to nothing. I bought it on a whim, having lost my original long since (if I ever had one and didn't just read a library copy). The author uses that Chesterton quote as a postscript. That's where I first saw it.

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Cruz kills a bill.     December 5th I ranted about the U.S. Senate passing, by unanimous consent, the horrible "Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act," opening the white-collar labor market to untold multitudes of cheap foreign workers.

Unanimous consent has to be unanimous: one single senator could have slain this monster by objecting. No senator did. Fortunately for American office workers, the beast died of starvation before it could be made law: the House and the Senate weren't able to reconcile their versions of the legislation in time to slip it into the omnibus funding bill.

The cheap-labor lobbies are tireless, though. December 7th the House passed a different measure, "The Hong Kong People's Freedom and Choice Act of 2020." Executive summary: The U.S.A. should give Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to anyone from Hong Kong that claims it. For finer details see Dan Cadman's posts at cis.org here and here.

As we at VDARE.com have been complaining for ever and a day, there is nothing temporary about TPS. Once you're in, you're in for ever, work permit and all.

Onwards to the Senate. On December 18th Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and Durbin (D-IL) asked for the unanimous consent of their colleagues to pass the bill and send it to the President for signature.

This time, though, a hero stepped forward. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas denied consent. The bill as written, he said, fatally weakened the standard for claiming refugee status from "persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution" to "concern about the possibility of such persecution." Furthermore, the new weaker standard "would be used by the Chinese Communists to send even more Chinese spies into the United States."

Coming as it does right before the 116th Congress wraps up, Cruz's objection almost certainly kills the bill. The sponsors will have to start from scratch in the new Congress.

I nurse a strong sentimental attachment to Hong Kong and have Chinese friends there. The ChiComs' shameless trashing of the 1997 Basic Law guaranteeing the city's civil liberties is an outrage. The resistance put up by angry citizens has been brave and noble. Believing those things as I do, why am I cheering for Ted Cruz here?

For consistency, that's why. My preferred immigration policy is the one I have spelled out here at VDARE.com more than once: Derbian minimalism. Spouse and minor children of citizens? Sure. Nobel Prize-level geniuses? No prob. The occasional Solzhenitsyn-level heroic dissident? Yes. A handful of other special cases, each carefully scrutinized? OK. That gets legal immigration down from over a million a year to a few thousand. Illegals should of course be arrested and deported. Anything else? No, that's it.

Plus, all the critical stuff I've written about importing an overclass.

Plus, Ted Cruz is right: A big intake of Hong Kongers would be addled with ChiCom agents.

Plus, the U.S.A. has no legal or historical commitment to Hong Kongers. It's not as though it was our colony.

Plus, there are dissidents a-plenty in China with no wish to emigrate. The Hong Kongers will fortify their numbers. The only way for China to attain rational government is for Chinese patriots to struggle for it in China. Outsiders can help with criticism, boycotts, and books like the one I'm currently reading (some discussion later in this diary); but at last, this is Chinese peoples' fight.

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James Flynn, RIP.     James Flynn, who gave his name to the Flynn Effect in psychometrics, died December 11th aged 86.

The Flynn Effect is the steady increase in average IQ scores across most of the 20th century. It's been much discussed; I've been making passing references to it for at least twenty years.

In the evergreen nature/nurture controversy as it relates to human intelligence, Flynn was standard-bearer for the nurturists. He was, however, a polite and collegial soul who seems to have gotten along well with everybody in his field. See, for example, naturist (uh … oh, you know what I mean) James Thompson's obituary remarks at the Unz Review.

I only once saw Flynn in person. That was thirteen years ago. I posted a brief account of it to The Corner, National Review Online's blog.

Wednesday night I attended a function got up by one of the think tanks in New York City, at which Charles Murray debated James Flynn on the black-white gap in test scores. It was all terrifically cordial and collegial (and in fact it's plain that Murray and Flynn, despite being on opposite sides of the nature/nurture issue, like and respect each other a lot).

Even trying my hardest not to be pre-disposed, though, I was struck by how unimpressive Flynn's arguments are when you have to sit through them. He is a pretty pure "nurturist," whose faith in "interventions" is infinite. He adores that Eyferth study (children of black servicemen growing up in Germany) — you can't but suspect that it's the only one the nurturists have got, though there are all sorts of problems with it, and, as Murray points out gently, there are now about ten thousand studies on the other side. The appeal of the Eyfurth study for Flynn is, I think, the idea that these black kids in Germany were growing up and learning without any influence from the established ghetto culture of black America — the braggadoccio and honor codes, the who's-actin'-white? pressures and hip-hop filth — which Flynn detests. He seems not to ask himself any of the questions that obviously come to one's mind here.

Murray demolished Flynn's positions briskly but politely, with masses of data neatly presented on PowerPoint slides. If it'd been a fight, the ref would have stopped it in the second.

Watching Flynn's presentation, though, you also can't help but be struck by the fundamental decency of his democratic-socialist position. He honestly, earnestly, wants to lift up the poor and disadvantaged. His way to do it is by deploying legions of government-salaried helpers, all as earnest and sincere as himself, to supply "interventions" to any person or group that needs them. He seems not to be aware of the problems with this. A world populated entirely by Jim Flynns would probably be a pretty nice place …

Two good points from Murray:
I noted with amusement how these guys have been thrashing these things out for so long, they've attained a sort of shorthand for talking about them. It's like being among those long-term prisoners in the old story, who have got so used to hearing each other's jokes they've just given them all numbers — you only need to say "number 85" and everyone falls around laughing. It's the same with these IQ researchers. If you don't know your Eyferth from your Shaker Heights, they can be real hard to follow. ["Debating Intelligence" by John Derbyshire; The Corner, November 30th 2007.]

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A philocaptive anniversary.     In August I omitted to note a key anniversary — a bicentenary! — in the annals of philocaption.

The annals of what?

"Philocaption, or inordinate love of one person for another."

Early in the morning of Wednesday, August 16, 1820, on the second floor of a lodging-house in west-central London, Hazlitt had his breakfast brought to him by his landlady's daughter, Sarah Walker. She was 19; he, 42. Having delivered the breakfast-tray, Sarah left. But:
[T]he first time I ever saw you, as you went out of the room, you turned full round at the door, with that inimitable grace with which you do every thing, and fixed your eyes full upon me, as much as to say, "Is he caught?"
He certainly was. There followed two years of dreadful infatuation — an exceptionally severe case of philocaption. [Hazlitt's Philocaption: a very child in love by John Derbyshire; The New Criterion, October 2008.]

There, I have made up for the omission.

Hazlitt would have had no truck with James Flynn's nurturism. As I pointed out in that essay, he was strongly for nature. Hazlitt: "No one ever changes his character from the time he is two years old; nay, I might say, from the time he is two hours old …"

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Digital Leninism.     On the recommendation of a commenter at the Unz Review I bought and read Kai Strittmatter's recent book We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China's Surveillance State.

"Recent" calls for some approving remarks. Strittmatter wrote the book in German and it was published in that language in 2018. An English translation by Ruth Martin came out in Britain last year. This American edition was published September 1st this year by Custom House. It's as up-to-date as it possibly could be, covering for example the early part of the coronavirus pandemic. Strittmatter and Martin must have done some fast work on revising and translating. Thanks to them both for that.

I'm not going to attempt a review of the book, being somewhat burned out in that area. I've been reading and reviewing Western observers' books about Communist China for most of my life, starting with Simon Leys and Fox Butterfield back when Mao's corpse was still warm. From the mid-1980s on I have reviewed a shelf-full of them.

It hasn't just been the ChiComs, either. I'm well-read in foreigners' books from the Republican and imperial periods, from Abbé Huc and Robert Fortune to memoirs by long-forgotten missionaries in remote outposts.

"World-weary" is not a look that I like, much less cultivate; but where foreigners' China books are concerned, I've read 'em all. I'm not sure I qualify as an Old China Hand, but I claim with full confidence to be an Old Books-About-China Hand.

So please excuse me for passing up on a full review. Strittmatter is a diligent and observant professional journalist, and We Have Been Harmonized is a good solid book. You'll learn a lot about Xi Jinping's China from it: most to the point, that since 2013 it really has been Xi Jinping's nation, dominated and shaped by that one man. The author sometimes plods along heavily for a page or two; but hey, he's German. He counters that effect with some neat turns of phrase: I liked "digital Leninism" (p. 234).

I should warn potential readers, though, that Strittmatter suffers from a nasty case of Trump Derangement Syndrome: the snotty European variant, Guilty German Boomer sub-variant.

"the ignorant, anti-science Donald Trump" (p. 189),

"Trump's alarming isolationism and revolting conduct" (p. 280),

"the destructive power of Donald Trump and the apocalyptic noise of right-wing populists within our own midst" (p. 336) …

I have made a mental note not to bother reading anything by Herr Strittmatter on American or European politics. On China, however, he is, so far as I can judge, sound.

No thoughtful critique of ChiCom culture is complete without some passing tributes to Lu Xun, "The Chinese Orwell." Strittmatter does not disappoint. The eleventh chapter of his book is actually titled "The Iron House," a reference to one of Lu's autobiographical essays, published 98 years ago this month. Just typing those words here prompts the thought that for China, even more than for the rest of us, it's been a lo-o-ong 98 years.

A Lu Xun tribute is so much the norm in books of this kind, I wouldn't have mentioned it, but that it gives me the opportunity to boast of quite likely being the only person on the Eastern Seaboard who carries a Lu Xun keychain fob in his pocket.

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The power of humiliation.

[WARNING:  At this point in writing segments for the month's diary I got it into my head that when transcribing Chinese words, other than the most familiar place- and personal names, I should really include tone marks. "Tone" is a combination of pitch (high, low) and contour (level, rising, falling). Modern Mandarin has four tones: high level (), high rising (), low rising (), high falling (). You can hear them spoken here. (There are some wrinkles you have to learn for good diction, but they're not hard.) If you get the tone wrong, you don't make sense.

Looking back over this and the following segment after writing them, I think adding tone marks was a mistake. It comes across as fussy and distracting.

I can't be bothered to go through removing the tone marks, though. In any case, mine may be the minority judgment. Perhaps readers like tone marks. They sure help if you're trying to learn the language. By all means let me know via email; I shall weigh the yeses and noes and proceed accordingly in future diaries.]

Commentary on the psychology of power goes all the way back to the ancients. One of its threads, which comes to mind more and more as I read the news, is that total political power reinforces its authority by humiliation; in particular, by using threats and physical force to make people avow sincere belief in obvious falsehoods.

A well-known reference point here is the torture scene in Part Three, Chapter Two of Orwell's 1984, where Inner Party honcho O'Brien persuades Winston Smith, who he has wired up for electroshock, that two plus two equals five when the Party says so.

O'Brien holds up four fingers.

"How many fingers, Winston?"
"Four. I suppose there are four. I would see five if I could. I am trying to see five."
"Which do you wish: to persuade me that you see five, or really to see them?"
"Really to see them."

And so on. Another modern classic in this line of observations came from Theodore Dalrymple, I think originally in an interview with FrontPage Magazine, although the link is now defunct. From goodreads.com:

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

Who can read the brazen, dare-you-to-contradict-me lies of our ruling class and their media shills — "mostly peaceful protests," "no such thing as race," "guys can menstruate too," etc. — without calling to mind one or other of those observations?

On page 16 of We Have Been Harmonized Strittmatter reminds us that in this, as in most things to do with the psychology of power, the Chinese got there first. He tells the story behind the idiom 指鹿为马 (Zhĭ lù wéi mă, pronunciation here), "to call a deer a horse," which is known to all literate Chinese.

From a Chinese reference book, my translation:

Call a Deer a Horse

In the later Qín dynasty, after the death of First Emperor Yíng Zhèng [in 210 b.c.], the eunuch Zhào Gāo, seizing the opportunity, hatched a plot to usurp the imperial power. He concealed news of First Emperor's death and issued a fake imperial decree ordering that, First Emperor's eldest son Yíng Fúsū having committed suicide, the next son Yíng Húhài was declared Heir-Apparent. That done, Zhào Gāo proclaimed national mourning and assisted Heir-Apparent Húhài's ascent to the throne.

Zhào Gāo himself was Prime Minister in this second reign of the Qín dynasty. At this time Second Qín Emperor Húhài was full-grown, but could only be a naive puppet emperor. Prime Minister Zhào Gāo held the real power.

Zhào Gāo's ambition was by no means satisfied. He wanted to advance himself to the imperial throne, but he was afraid not all the ministers would accept him, so he devised a stratagem. The following is told in Records of the Grand Historian: Qín Dynasty:
One day Zhào Gāo presented a deer to Second Emperor. Pointing to the deer, he said: "I offer Your Majesty this horse!"

Second Emperor laughed and said: "Is the Prime Minister joking with me? This is plainly a deer. How can you say it's a horse?"

Zhào Gāo replied earnestly: "Who would dare play a joke on His Majesty? It's clear this is a horse. If you don't believe it, ask the others."

Second Emperor thereupon asked the ministers present: "Is this actually a deer, or a horse?"

Those ministers who were trusted followers or toadies of Zhào Gāo all said it was a horse. Some others who feared Zhào Gāo's power and influence also said it was a horse. Of the few honest ministers, some were silent, but a few insisted that it was in fact a deer. Zhào Gāo inwardly noted the names of those honest ministers. Later he found a pretext to have them all killed.
This story is known as "Call a Deer a Horse." Ever since it has been used as an idiom, a figure of speech for the intentional confusing of truth in order to transpose right and wrong.

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The tale of a book.     I took that story in the previous segment from a Chinese reference book, 成语典故 (Chéngyŭ Diăngù, pronunciation here), Idioms and Allusions, published in Shenyang, Northeast China, by Liaoning People's Press, 1982. This is a compilation of nearly seven hundred literary and historical stories that have settled into the language of educated Chinese people as, yes, idioms and allusions.

The book is well-known in China. You can download it, although I'd advise against on computer-security grounds. My own copy was originally gifted to me as a Christmas present 38 years ago this month by a colleague (leftmost figure here) at Siping College, also in Northeast China, where I taught 1982-3. It has somehow survived my travels through the decades, although it is now nearly as much scotch tape as paper. I got good mileage out of it when writing Fire from the Sun.

Idioms and Allusions comes with a tale, one that gives some insight into China's history during the second half of the last century.

The authors were a husband-and-wife team, Shěn Tónghéng and Yuán Lín (沈同衡, 袁林). Shěn, born in 1914, was a professional cartoonist. In the China of his time that meant he was mostly a political cartoonist, turning out grotesque caricatures of the enemy of the hour: Japanese, Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists, Americans, counter-revolutionaries.

Shěn tells us in an afterword to the book that Yuán Lín was working in the Readers' Letters department of a newspaper in 1955. She noticed the large number of letters from poorly-educated readers asking for explanations of idioms and allusions that had turned up in the paper. There were reference texts they could consult, but all were written in the stiff, difficult style of the old literati, hard for a common reader to fathom. Yuán decided to compile a popular book to help them out. Shěn supported the idea, and they drew up some general principles to guide the compilation.

Shěn was at this point head of the Art Department at the Peking People's Daily, the main ChiCom newspaper — a pretty good position. Alas, the leading bird is the first to be shot, as the saying goes. Shěn wasn't shot, but during the Anti-Rightist movement in 1957 he was canceled for "taking the road of bourgeois liberalization." He was demoted to drudge work sorting and filing the paper's news photographs, and did no more cartooning for 22 years.

Worse was to come. In 1966, when the Cultural Revolution started up, Shěn and Yuán were banished to do hard agricultural labor in occupied Eastern Turkestan (which the ChiComs call "Xīnjiāng"), far to the west of metropolitan China. That lasted until 1979, when Shěn was rehabilitated and allowed to return to Peking.

Somehow, in all those years of disgrace, exile, and hardship they had persevered with compiling Idioms and Allusions. It was published at last in 1980, became a bestseller and won prizes. Thence to my 1982 edition. Shěn died in 2002 at age 88; I don't know what happened to Yuán Lín.

To the best of my knowledge there is no English translation of Idioms and Allusions. That's a pity. Some of the stories are very colorful; some, like "Call a Deer a Horse," are highly relevant to our present cultural concerns. Someone really should do a translation. Publishers please note: I can be reached via VDARE.com.

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Pascal's wager on China.     So, is China going to eat our lunch? Plenty of people think so: Jared Taylor, for example, writing here at VDARE.com, December 22nd. From which:

Our competitors are serious.

They don't let low-IQ people immigrate.

They don't rewrite their history or demonize their founders.

They don't coddle people who hate them.

If anybody ever talked about building something based on Afrofuturism, they'd put him in the nut house.

And the Chinese understand IQ. The Beijing Genomics Institute is leading the hunt for the genes associated with intelligence. And when they find them, the Chinese will use genetic engineering to make their people as smart as possible.

There are some nits to be picked with that, and one major blooper. "They don't rewrite their history"? If Jared can find for me a textbook authorized for instruction in any school or college anywhere in China that gives an honest account of the "land reform" massacres of the early 1950s, or the appalling Mao famine of 1959-61, or that even mentions the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989, I shall eat it, dust cover and all, with soy sauce, a side dish of noodles, and a bottle of Tsingtao beer to wash it down.

Still, Xi Jinping's China is pretty impressive. I was often impressed, visiting last year. Yes, they are throwing major resources at key technologies — data mining, artificial intelligence, chip fabrication, quantum computing, genomics — while our universities bloat up with Raza Studies departments and Deans for Diversity and Inclusion. Yes, the high-speed trains are seriously cool, and their city subway systems put ours to shame. Yes, when the ChiCom government decides to do something they just do it, while we waste our substance bickering about race and politics.

There are fallacies lurking behind all that, though, the old fallacies of what Strittmatter calls "developmental dictatorship" — the shiny, efficient meritocracy that keeps the trains running on time. Behind the PR gloss there is, there always is, fear, crime, and rottenness.

The impeccably-groomed meritocrat-in-chief, smiling out at the world serenely confident in his power, lies awake at night sweating in fear of a palace coup. Crime? A Hong Kong friend of mine had a successful leather-goods business, with a factory over the border in Guangdong … until a crime syndicate (local, not Hong Kong-based) moved in and took it from him, with threats to the lives of him and his family. The crooks were of course — of course! — in cahoots with local Party bosses.

Those gleaming new trains and stations? The late 21st century's installed base.

Rottenness? Strittmatter:

In March 2018, when the National People's Congress and the Political Consultative Conference … came together to hold another coronation mass for the "people's leader" and "helmsman" Xi Jinping, no fewer than 153 of the delegates were also listed among China's "super-rich" in the Hurun Report published in Shanghai. Together, their massed wealth was the equivalent of $650 billion, or just slightly less than the GDP of Switzerland. (Page 133.)

It's true that the relationship between power and money is different there and here. In America, money cracks the whip. Our politicians and their media stooges meekly take their orders from the billionaire class. They can "be bought over the counter like so many pounds of cheese." (Orwell.)

China has billionaires, too — more than any other nation. A Chinese billionaire, however, knows that his billions, and his reputation, and his liberty, even his life and the lives of his loved ones, exist only at the mercy of the Party. If he takes a political wrong step, the Party will crush him like a bug.

So what's the future? Will China go steaming ahead to ever new heights of social efficiency and technological superiority, while we sink into squalor and disorder? Or will the rottenness bring down their whole loathsome system at last, ushering in something more honest and less cruel?

Maybe on the first, and maybe on the second.

It is certainly possible that China will be crippled by internal problems, but I do not think it is probable. Counting on China to collapse is not a strategy. We are better off assuming that China will not collapse internally, and that we must mobilize our own strength and resolve to meet the challenge. One might think of this as a variant of Pascal's wager. [David Goldman's interview with French newspaper Le Figaro; English translation at Asia Times, December 14th 2020.]

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A book recommendation, a book suggestion.     Having brought David Goldman into the conversation there, I should add a recommendation for his latest book, You Will Be Assimilated: China's Plan to Sino-form the World. It is as deeply well-informed and thought-provoking as you'd expect from Spengler.

By contrast with Strittmatter, Goldman is an Ever Trumper, to the degree that is still possible after these four years of disappointments and failures. I can claim a slight bond with Goldman there. At an informal dinner before the 2016 election, the question went round the table: "Who will be the next President?" Of the sixteen or so people present, he and I were the only ones to predict Trump.

And yes, Goldman thinks it's a good idea to import an overclass. From that last link:

If America wants to remain the world's preeminent power … it needs a lot of qualified immigrants from China and India to build new industries while we wait for the long-term impact of education reforms.

Well, every rose has a thorn.

But now that I've mentioned both Strittmatter's We Have Been Harmonized and Goldman's You Will Be Assimilated, it occurs to me that for a full set of monitory books on present-day China, there should be one whose title starts with the third-person-plural pronoun. They Will Eat Your Lunch, perhaps?

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Math Corner.     The solution to my November brainteaser is posted on my website as usual.

However, when I first posted a solution I buggered up the arithmetic and got a wrong result: slightly less than fifty-fifty for the probability, when it should be slightly more. The root cause here was relying on my memory for 220, one of those numbers that turns up so often you memorize it without trying. It's 1,048,576. I mis-remembered it as 1,048,296 for some reason. A Biden moment …

When I started doing these diaries I got into the habit, every year end, of inviting readers to come up with interesting things to say about the number of the new year. That was when the internet was still young, though. Nowadays every math geek in the Solar System — as well as, from the look of it, some bots — has a page up about the new year number. For 2021, see here, here, here, here, … Sample, from that last link:

2021 is rather special: it is the concatenation of two consecutive integers (20 and 21) and also the product of two consecutive primes (43 and 47). The next such number is 23073409469011482307340946901147 which is the product of the primes 4803478892324963 and 4803478892324969.

Betcha didn't know that. Oh, you want to see 2021 written in cuneiform? Here you go.

If woo is your thing, you'll be yearning to know the significance of 2021 as an Angel Number:

Angel number 2021 will try to convey to you that you are the creator of your life. This angel number 2021 encourages you to stay focussed on your goals. The universal energy will help you to achieve your intentions behind the scenes.

I'm not a woo person myself. When I'm reading stuff like that, in the short period before my eyes glaze over I get the uncanny feeling I'm listening to a Barack Obama speech.

So my traditional challenge to find something interesting about the year number is definitely, finally retired. In lieu thereof, here's another one of Dr Peter Winkler's "Mind-Benders for the Quarantined" from the National Museum of Mathematics. And yes, I've poached it from their subscription list. By way of penance, I urge anyone who likes this kind of thing to sign up with them at mindbenders.momath.org. It's free!

The hour and minute hands of a certain clock are indistinguishable. How many moments are there in a day when it is not possible to tell from this clock what time it is?

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