There were once many kind people, and even unkind ones pretended to be good because that was the thing to do. Such pretense was the source of hypocrisy and dishonesty so much exposed in the realist literature at the end of the last century. The unexpected result of this kind of critical writing was that kind people disappeared. Kindness is not, after all, an inborn quality — it has to be cultivated, and this only happens when it is in demand. For our generation, kindness was an old-fashioned, vanished quality, and its exponents were as extinct as the mammoth. Everything we have seen in our times — the dispossession of the kulaks, class warfare, the constant "unmasking" of the people, the search for an ulterior motive behind every action — all this has taught us to be anything you like except kind.
From Hope Against Hope (1970) by Nadezhda Mandelstam, Max Hayward's translation.
The Phone Booth Principle (cont.). That Nadezhda Mandelstam quote (which, by the way, I first encountered in Simon Leys' 1976 book Chinese Shadows) is connected in some way I haven't thought through with The Phone Booth Principle that I described in my diary five years ago.
You don't need an old-style British red phone booth to see The Phone Booth Principle at work. I experienced it the other day sitting at home.
From last Fall through this Spring I had undergone some minor surgical procedures involving four different doctors. The appropriate claims had been placed with my insurance companies.
I have two insurers. My wife works full-time for a company that gives her family coverage from a big insurer, so I am covered by that. As a certified geezer I also have Medicare. The Mrs pays a big fat deduction out of her salary for the family coverage and I've been paying for Medicare all forty-odd years I've been working in the U.S.A. down to the present (with ongoing monthly deductions from my Social Security check). So I consider myself insured twice over and thoroughly paid for.
This makes it infuriating when insurers won't pay up. Sure, I understand the system. Providers want to get paid; insurers want to wriggle out of paying any way they can. That doesn't stop my teeth from grinding every time I get a letter or a bill from a provider telling me that, "Unfortunately, your insurance company has denied payment …"
The reason payment was denied, when they deign to tell me the reason, is a slab of insider argot: "Coordination of benefits," or some such. That leaves me wanting to know:
- Why is the provider telling me this? They want to be paid; the insurer doesn't want to pay; I understand. Isn't this
something they should sort out between the two of them? My only obligation in the matter is to give the provider full details of my coverage, which of
course I did when I signed up for treatment. The providers' invoices actually show the names of my insurers — primary,
secondary — at the top, so I know they didn't misplace that information. Why is anything else required of me?
- Why is the provider smacking me across the face with specialist jargon? I don't know that stuff and shouldn't need to know it. Isn't it enough that I and my wife have shelled out untold thousands of dollars for our coverage? Do we have to acquire Ph.D.s in medical accounting before we may use it?
I got another one of those denial-of-benefits letters in the midday mail early this month, third or fourth in a series. I'd assumed the issue was something that would sort itself out, but apparently it wasn't going to. I seethed about it all afternoon, and discussed it with the Mrs over dinner. Mrs D. is a down-to-earth, sensible sort, not a seether; she told me I'd have to call them in the morning.
I seethed all evening and even had trouble sleeping — unusual for me. I rehearsed and re-rehearsed the bitter, scathing things I would say to the incompetent moron on the other end of the line when I called.
Morning came. After one final seethe over breakfast, I composed myself and called the provider.
A young woman answered: polite, clear, and well-spoken. I told her about the letter.
"Oh dear. There must have been some mix-up at the insurer's end. Those letters are sent out by a computerized system, you know. Please don't worry. I'll straighten it out with them. Payment should show on your next mailing. If not, do please give us another call. I'm sure we can fix it. I'm so sorry you've been inconvenienced …"
Me, meekly: "Thank you so much, Ma'am. I'll wait for the letter."
Christening. The great family event of the month was of course the christening of our grandson, Michael Joseph. I passed some comments in the July 22nd Radio Derb, and posted some pictures on my website.
This was the first time for ages that I'd attended a Roman Catholic church service. I had a vague idea, left over from decades ago, that RC protocols require women to have their heads covered in church. When I mentioned this to my trouble and strife she said I'd darn well better find out, as she didn't want to be the only hatless female.
Inquiries among papist friends met with general hilarity. "Not since, like, the Council of Trent, Derb, hng hng hng …," and so on. Funny how these things persist in our minds.
Bugocalypse? I am a martyr to small biting insects. For summer I stock up on bug repellent creams and sprays, supplemented by anti-itch lotions for when the critters get through, which they always do.
This year, however, I have hardly been bitten at all. In a boldly experimental frame of mind I stopped using the repellents altogether: no bites!
Has the bugocalypse arrived at last? I've been hearing for years that widespread spraying would eventually kill off all the bugs, with unknown effects on the ecological chain. Yeah, yeah I have muttered skeptically year after year as I slather on the Cortisone cream; but now … has the End of Days finally arrived for mosquitoes, gnats, and horseflies?
In suburban Long Island we have, for three or four years now, been getting regular fliers in our mail from firms offering to spray our garden. Two years ago we hired one of them. They didn't seem very diligent, though; and a neighbor, watching them in operation, told me I could do the job myself much cheaper with stuff sold at the Home Depot.
I bought the stuff and sprayed in late May that year, to not much effect. I still got bitten. Last year the same. This year I sprayed again, and … hey!
So maybe it's worked at last. Or perhaps there's something going on that's less local (my yard) and more global (my neighborhood). I give my dog a two-mile walk every morning, past dozens of other people's gardens. I used to get bitten on those walks; but now, again … nothing.
No doubt bugs have some important role to play in the great chain of environmental stability; so if the bugocalypse truly has arrived, disaster will follow. I'm trying really, really hard to give a damn.
For a good 15-minute introduction to just one aspect of the bugocalypse, I recommend Sabine Hossenfelder's YouTube account of the bee-ocalypse. You have to not mind the rather heavy-footed German style of humor. And while I know it's wrong of me, and can't account for it at all, there is something about Dr Hossenfelder — something other than her topics, I mean — that I find … interesting.
(If you prefer your pop-science in print form, the lady has a book coming out in August. )
A tradition of uselessness. Politics on the other side of the Pond has been all about British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's July 7th resignation as leader of the Conservative (a.k.a. Tory) Party. This means that BoJo is now only a caretaker Prime Minister, his powers of influence and patronage draining away into the desert sands.
Things will remain that way until the entire Tory Party membership (officially 200,000, although I have my doubts — see below) votes on the leadership in early September. There will then be a new party leader and that person will be called to Buckingham Palace so that the Queen can invite him/her/xem to form a government.
Who's it likely to be? There's been a winnowing process all this month, Tory Members of Parliament participating in five separate ballots to eliminate all but two candidates. It's between those two that party members at large will choose in September. The two survivors are both deeply lackluster, like most of the MPs who've been voting.
From a conservative point of view the 21st-century Tories have not been quite as comprehensively useless as our own GOP. Johnson did at least pull off Brexit, restoring his country's independence. Brexit aside, though, Johnson and his predecessors in the Conservative Party leadership — Theresa May and David Cameron — conserved nothing at all; nor, so far as I can judge, did any of them want to.
The two candidates offering themselves to the party faithful in September look likely to continue that tradition of uselessness. That is, in fact, the only connection I can find between the word "tradition" and the modern Conservative Party.
(It was under Cameron's government that same-sex marriage was legalized in 2013, causing mass resignations of Conservative Party members. Thirty-five to forty percent is the usual figure given for those resignations, leaving party membership below 100,000. That's why I am skeptical of that 200,000 number for today's membership.)
And while Brexit did restore Britain's independence, the result has, by general agreement, been grossly mismanaged, to the degree that polling this month showed only 38 percent of Brits saying that Brexit was the right decision.
When I Googled for that paragraph with search string "brexit regret 2022" I got "About 2,800,000 results."
Kemi Badenoch, MP, IWSB. Earlier in the month, when the field of contenders for the Tory Party leadership was bigger, a reader wanted to know what I thought of contender Kemi Badenoch, Member of Parliament for Saffron Walden in Southeast England. (A place which by repute is every bit as pleasant as its name. My sister attended teacher-training college there.)
The reason my reader was curious for my opinion was that Mrs Badenoch is black; not merely blackish, either, but black — the UK-born daughter of two Nigerian parents.
My reader appended a link to one of her recent addresses to the House of Commons. I listened to it all through, then dug around for more information about the lady.
So what do I think of Kemi Badenoch? I must say, I rather like the cut of her jib. A degree in Comp. Sci. … another one in law … years of useful work in IT and finance … hostile to CRT and "de-colonizing the curriculum" of Britain's schools … thinks BLM is "pernicious" …
If I still had a vote in the UK I'd definitely take Kemi Badenoch over any cringing, puling, kneeling, self-flagellating white-British gentry liberal.
Of course Britain perpetrated a monstrous error in permitting the settlement of millions of blacks and Muslims. The nation would be happier, more harmonious, and more secure if it had heeded the advice of Sir Winston Churchill and Enoch Powell to radically curtail nonwhite immigration.
I remain, though, a salt-in-the-stew multiculturalist. A little diversity is positively beneficial; it's dumping a whole bag of salt in your stew that's a gross stupid blunder.
Mrs Badenoch is plainly an IWSB of the better sort. I wish her success in her future political career.
There is just one red flag that deters me from offering a more whole-hearted endorsement. "Badenoch" is a Scottish name. (Mrs Badenoch's husband's first name is "Hamish.") Some of us English natives still remember Bannockburn, Ma'am.
There is a very widespread reluctance — perhaps inability — to think of Homo sap. as just another critter; to think of human beings — or, if you favor the spirit-imprisoned-in-matter metaphysic, human matter — as physical objects subject to the laws governing all the other physical objects in the universe.
The Law of Averages, for example. The other day I got into some good-natured exchanges with an acquaintance determined to stand firm on No Such Thing As Race. She: "For any individual you can find, however smart or gifted in any way, you can find individuals from other races just as smart and gifted, if not more so."
I countered with this:
Suppose I tell you that New Orleans is a wetter city than Las Vegas — more rainfall. And suppose you consult your smartphone for today's weather reports, and come back at me triumphantly with: "Guess what? Right now it's raining in Las Vegas, but a dry sunny day in New Orleans. So much for your stupid theory about New Orleans being wetter than Las Vegas, Mister Smarty-pants!"
Would you think you had settled the matter there? Conclusively disproved my theory? Would you? Really?
She was totally, honestly baffled. "What's that got to do with anything? …
The way we live now. Eight a.m. appointment with the family doctor, his first of the day. I got there ten minutes early. The waiting room was empty.
I checked in with the lady behind the desk. We exchanged small talk. I lamented the fact that doctors' and dentists' waiting rooms no longer put out any magazines to read. I guessed it was because everyone but me has a smartphone to diddle with while they wait.
"No," said the lady, "that's not it. We're not allowed to put out magazines. It's these new strict health regulations, with the pandemic and all. They think magazines might spread infection."
Me: "That's a bit of a stretch, isn't it?"
She shrugged. "Those are the rules. The really dumb thing is, we still get all the magazines delivered. I've got a big stack of them here." She indicated some place under her counter. "They have doctors' offices and such under some kind of permanent subscription."
Me: "Really? Mind if I take one?"
She glanced around furtively, then reached under the counter and handed me one from the stack. So I spent ten minutes reading a contraband copy of People magazine while waiting for the doctor. I felt as if I had slipped through a spacetime fissure back into an earlier, more relaxed age. [Sigh.]
Yet another reason to favor Uruguay. It's round. According to these guys, in fact, Uruguay is the tenth roundest country in the world, almost as round as Poland; and their list includes "countries" it really shouldn't. Scarborough Reef? The Vatican? C'mon, man.
I've been promoting Uruguay to my listeners and readers for thirteen years now — most recently just last month. How long do I have to keep pegging away at this until the Uruguay Board of Tourism offers me and the Mrs a nice all-expenses-paid trip down there? We could use a vacation.
Is Sean Hannity Chinese? An emailer asked me if I watch Sean Hannity's show. Answer: hardly ever all the way through.
Hannity is on Fox News right after Tucker Carlson. I watch Tucker all through if I can, then stay for Hannity's opening monologue. That done, I switch off and go read something or do house chores.
Nothing against the guy. Well, not much. He was somewhat of a squish on immigration last time I checked, and has a neoconnish enthusiasm for putting the world to rights. He's sound on a lot of other things, though. He lives not far from me in Long Island and one of my neighbors, a contractor, has done work at his house; he speaks very well of Hannity.
Hannity has, however, a slight peculiarity of speech that snags my attention and distracts from whatever he's saying. This peculiarity is related to what linguists call the topic-comment construction. Let me explain that.
Most plain declarative sentences have a subject and a topic. If I tell you "I don't like spicy food," the subject is "I" and the topic is "spicy food."
Spoken English strongly prefers that the subject precedes the topic: it's "subject-prominent." You can flip the sentence round to topic-comment form, but you'll likely do it with an interrogative rising tone on the topic, or a following pause. In written form: "Spicy food? I don't like it," or "Spicy food … I don't like it." Those are topic-comment constructions.
In some other languages topic-comment is more common. East Asian languages in particular seem to favor topic-comment. Korean and Japanese are topic-prominent, according to Wikipedia. (And if you read the Wikipedia article you'll see that I've simplified some here. Bloviator's license …)
I hear topic-comment a lot in spoken Chinese. There's even an optional particle, ne, to indicate "end of topic." In English we'd most naturally say: "I can't stand Debussy's music." A Chinese speaker would much more likely say: Débiāoxī-de yīnyuè-ne wŏ shòubuliăo — "Debussy's music [end of topic] I can't stand."
Hannity does something similar, usually when talking about politicians: "Joe Biden, he hasn't got a clue." "[Kamala] Harris, along with attendees, they went through their pronouns." "Sometimes doctors, they make a guess whether a baby is a boy or a girl." "The people of West Virginia, they will pay the price for [Senator Manchin] caving [to Senator Schumer]."
It's those superfluous pronouns that snag my attention. Is Hannity actually Chinese?
Wikiguilt assuaged. Yes, I linked to Wikipedia there. It's awful handy for linking.
For some years I've been suffering from wikiguilt. I know of course that Wikipedia is edited and supervised by Social Justice Warriors. I have actually engaged with some of them and have the spittle-stains and Molotov-cocktail-burns to prove it.
Nowadays Wikipedia is, on key social, cultural, or political topics, just a mouthpiece of the left-progressive establishment, as even one of its creators has told us.
It is also known for adding or removing entire articles for no apparent reason — no reason they feel obliged to explain in public.
Bruce Faulconer, a prolific and successful composer of music, had a Wikipedia entry for 15 years. "His bio is filled with lists of prizes in composition contests, grants from the NEA and other organizations, as well as commissions from dozens of prominent institutions and individuals," noted Ted Gioia in a July 27th post at Substack. Now that entry has been deleted for reasons no-one can fathom.
And yet Wikipedia is still terrifically useful on subjects that don't stir up the bile of 17-year-old SJW editors — on general linguistics, for example, as in the link I posted in the previous segment. For reasons presumably to do with the demographics of the editor base, it is especially useful for looking up lesser-known personnel in Chinese history.
I use Wikipedia all the time while knowing how biased towards regime ideology much of it is. I used it in between this segment and the previous one, to look up Lord Kitchener's birthdate in connection with something I'd been reading. Wikipedia is evil but … handy. Hence my wikiguilt.
Well, now I have assuaged my wikiguilt. In response to a begging window that came up a few days ago, I am now paying $3.10 a month to the Wikimedia Foundation, supplementing whatever the DNC and Big Tech pay them for promoting their agendas.
Call me over-scrupulous; but if I'm using the thing, getting benefit from it, I ought to pay for it, if only at the minimum rate (which that monthly $3.10 is). Right?
That's not a rhetorical "Right?" I'd really like to hear opinions on this. Am I being over-scrupulous?
In one of my monthly diaries a couple of years ago I noted the fiftieth anniversary of my buying my first house. That was in the context of Bernie Sanders making a strong play for the Democratic Party 2020 nomination, and the support he had among young people.
To be precise, I and my then-girlfriend co-bought it. It was a three-bedroom row-house in a quiet street in London, with a garden out back. We easily got a mortgage.
A couple of listeners emailed in to surmise that, having gotten a foot on the London property ladder so early, I must have profited handsomely from my foresight.
If only. I left that girlfriend two years later for another woman. I felt terrible about it, however. The one I left had been a good, honest, loyal partner, smart and hard-working. I was just smitten with the other. Out of guilt, I signed over my share of the house to my co-homeowner for nothing at all. I hope she made a bundle on the deal.
Whether she did or not, the Fates anyway swooped down on me to even the score. Two further years later the new lady dumped me rather brutally: phone call from airport departure lounge to tell me she was off to marry another guy in another country. That came out in the wash too, mind: the marriage was a train wreck and ended in divorce.
What a mess life is!
Math Corner. In this month's Math Corner I shall, assuming you read beyond these three introductory paragraphs, vouchsafe to you the most perfectly useless piece of mathematical knowledge you will ever possess.
This is by way of self-therapy. I have for some weeks been troubled by a strange, inexplicable fixation on the number 77. I don't know why this is. It's not a very remarkable number, except for being the smallest integer whose common name in English requires five syllables to pronounce.
So I've been trying all sorts of mental tricks to expel the mindworm. Here is the latest.
Brainteaser. There is a nonempty family of positive integers N that have the following property: the sum of the primes less than the number of primes less than or equal to N is N itself.
I don't know whether the family has a name. For my purposes here I shall call them the Zimbalist Numbers.
Take 77, for example. The number of primes less than or equal to 77 is 21. They are 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73.
(Mathematicians don't include the number 1 among the primes because all the theory is more elegant and straightforward if you don't. Even including 2 is sometimes a minor nuisance; that's why a lot of theorems and problems start with, "Let p be any odd prime …")
OK: there are 21 primes less than or equal to 77. The sum of the primes less than 21 is 2+3+5+7+11+13+17+19, which is 77. It's a Zimbalist Number!
So here's the two-part brainteaser. Can you find any other Zimbalist numbers? How many are there: just the one, precious few, a lot, infinitely many?
Even if you don't attempt the brainteaser you now know something about the number 77 you didn't know before; and this is, as I promised, the most useless piece of mathematical information you have ever had imparted to you. You're welcome!