November Diary
What is Derb doing in Russia?


John Derbyshire

And — bananas in both ears here, guys, and prepare to do a Viennese waltz slowly along Main Street in your underwear while reciting “The Wreck of the Hesperus” in a Donald Duck voice — my friend was even understating the situation. At the Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences, their student handbook informs us, “The floor grade in Humanities is 70; the floor grade in Math/Science is 75.”

Cue Lou Costello to grab the rim of his hat and howl “Eeeeee-aaaaarrrrrgh!”

(In fairness to my fellow-townspeople, I should note that, according to that same article in the high-school student newspaper, the students themselves by and large seem to think the “floor grade policy” is nuts. Quote from a senior: “They’re giving out free points for doing nothing, punishing kids who are working hard. It just isn’t fair.” A junior: “It’s pretty dumb, because you can’t have a 50 average if you don’t know anything. If you work and miss a month, you don’t get 50 percent of your pay.” So the kids, at least, are still sane; it’s only the adults who have lost their marbles. What a world!)

As if we belonged to the moon. Finally, a thought for the day (month, whatever). I’ve been having some intimations of mortality lately — premature, in all probability, I’m glad to say, but intrusive none the less. I found some comfort from this quote, which is from William Hazlitt’s Table Talk.

We do not leave so great a void in society as we are inclined to imagine, partly to magnify our own importance and partly to console ourselves by sympathy. Even in the same family the gap is not so great. The wound closes up sooner than we should expect. . . . People walk along the streets the day after our deaths just as they did before and the crowd is not diminished. While we were living, the world seemed in a manner to exist only for us for our delight and amusement, because it contributed to them. But our hearts cease to beat and it goes on as usual and thinks no more about us than it did in our lifetime. The million are devoid of sentiment and care as little for you or me as if we belonged to the moon.

Math Corner. I buggered up last month’s puzzle, not for the first time. It should have asked you to find a “fractional part .ABCDEFGH where n.ABCDEFGH degrees = n degrees AB minutes CD.EFGH seconds.”

If you did find one, you’re smarter than I am.

Having been thus humiliated last month, I’m going to pass on setting a November puzzle, and for math class just urge you to read the aforementioned Masha Gessen’s book on the strange and brilliant Grigori Perelman. Do svidaniya!