Politics & Policy

Dear Derb

Come into my inbox.

I get a lot of e-mail. A lot. I confess I really can’t keep up with it. I try my very best to stick to the blogger’s Golden Rule: Even if you can’t reply to everything, you should read everything. Even this ideal has suffered a little slippage recently, though, and I am resorting to subterfuge. (Mainly, letting my Hotmail e-box fill up for a day or two so it won’t accept new postings.) I’m sorry if this sounds mean, but there are only so many hours in the day, and the National Review suits, for reasons I do not understand, are dragging their feet on my longstanding request for a staff of secretaries. Look, I’m doing my best.

I read 95 percent of my e-mail, though, and reply to around 30 percent. Some of these exchanges with readers are, I believe, revealing of something or other–of The Culture, of The Way We Live Now, of NRO’s readership, of me–in some small way. I have therefore collected a few here, for your amusement and edification.

All of the following are actual exchanges with readers. I have not made any of them up. (As if I would! All right, I made up one. Just one.)


Mr. Derbyshire–Hello there! I am one of your younger readers in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. A gentleman came into my Starbucks this evening and I could have sworn it was you. (Thanks to your vacation pics posted today, I knew what you looked like.) Of course, had I thought it through, I would have remembered your sailing stories, etc and realized that you are not visiting my area! Oh well…

[My reply]–Like Saddam Hussein, I deploy a number of body doubles to confuse my enemies. Obviously you encountered one of these. It is quite all right, in these circumstances, to approach the double, shake his hand, and address him loudly by my name. If any person within hearing is a suicide bomber bent on my destruction, you will probably be killed as the assassin detonates his explosive belt; but you will have perished in the cause of truth, reason, and justice.


Mr. Derbyshire–I happened to look at the photos you posted on NRO’s The Corner of your family trip to Yosemite. I must say that they provided a much needed boost of optimism that nerdy, bookish fellows like myself can, in fact, convince beautiful women to marry them. Thank you very much for the uplift to my sagging spirits…

[My reply]–You are welcome, Sir. Quite a lot of women like nerdy, bookish guys, so long as we can (a) earn money, (b) make them laugh.


Mr. Derbyshire–I know you’re busy, so I won’t be (terribly) disappointed if I don’t hear from you, but I (out of curiosity) worked out the total number of calories grown in the U.S. (in 2002) and found that we grow about 80 times as many calories (in whatever form) as we need to feed the U.S.-about five times more than the whole world needs. My table is here. Maybe this result isn’t as interesting as I think it is, but I find it absolutely amazing that our agricultural system is so inefficient. Or maybe I’m missing something.

[My reply]–This is the kind of fact that, even if true, I think should be kept secret. Take a look at the people around you in your neighborhood shopping mall. You want them to know that more calories could easily be made available to them?


[After I posted this picture of “day laborers” (that is, illegal immigrants) at a hiring site near my home.]

Mr. Derbyshire–Re. the photo of the workers, are they really behaving any differently from a lot of Americans?

[My reply]–Right. The kind of Americans we already have enough of.


Mr. Derbyshire–Received yesterday my “I don’t see how you can ever have enough nukes”-shirt ordered through the NRO Store.

Of course I wore it to work immediately. I walked around all night with an ill-concealed grin on my face, my reaction to the self-righteous and/or confused and dismayed looks of some of the er, less resolute among my colleagues.

(Enter COWORKER) “Who’s that face on your… er…” (COWORKER freezes mid-sentence, deer-in-the-headlights look upon reading T-shirt, COWORKER quickly exits stage left.)

Amazing how much you can tell about a person’s perspective on things just by their reaction to a t-shirt. Albeit, a T-shirt emblazoned with your mug.

[My reply]–Lor’ bless you, Sir. I wish I were better looking; but we have to work with what we’ve got…


[Stock reply to numerous readers of my book Prime Obsession who claim to have resolved the Riemann Hypothesis, and want me to check their proofs]–You are laboring under the misapprehension that I am a mathematician. I am not. I wrote a book about math, that’s all.

I have also written a book about opera, but I can’t sing.


Derb–Where are you to defend this poor lady’s honor?

[My reply]–My rather strong impression is that Michelle can take care of herself pretty well.


Derb–It seems to me you are writing less and less about politics. Have you lost interest in the subject?

[My reply]–There are things that are interesting and important; there are things that are interesting but not important; there are things that are boring yet important; and there are things that are boring and unimportant. Personally, I should distribute all that comes under the heading “Current Politics” among these four categories in the following approximate percentages: 10, 20, 30, 40. And yes, as the years go by, there is a rightward drift in my placing of topics in categories: the latter percentages show a definite tendency to swell, while the former diminish.


[From NRO editor] Derb–You don’t really expect us to post that, do you?

[My reply]–Why not? All right, all right, you can edit out the stuff about camels.


Mr. Derbyshire–Do you have a middle name? What is it?

[My reply]–No. Derb Sr. was an onomastic conservative.


[Extract from a long reader e-mail defending the movie Hero, after I had trashed it in a review.] …We on the Right need to have much more respect for modern art and stop preaching to the choir, which mostly is artless and tasteless due to an essential lack of hipness and understanding. This will not only eventually doom conservatism…but will lead to an even more fractured society. We need to smash our personalities on the rocks of modern art as much as anyone else, or we will not only become irrelevant, but, in a very real sense, inhuman…

[My reply]–Ain’t nobody gonna smash my personality on the rocks of modern art, Bub. I prefer it in one piece. In a very real sense.

[To which my reader responded]–It’s obviously already smashed, as much as anybody else [sic]. You just need to recognize it to find peace.


[During some exchanges about that same movie, I posted a comment on The Corner with subject line “Hail the conquering hero!”]

Derb–Didn’t realize you were a Wolverine! Okay, maybe it was an accident, but the title to your post on Hero was an impossible-to-miss reference to “The Victors”, the fight song of the University of Michigan Wolverines:

Hail to the victors valiant!

Hail to the conquering heroes!

Hail, hail, to Michigan the leaders and best!

Hail to the victors valiant!

Hail to the conquering heroes!

Hail, hail, to Michigan the champions of the west!

[My reply]–Well, I didn’t realize either, Paul. We live and learn. Roll tide!


Derb–Do female suicide bombers get 72 virgins? or what?

[My reply]–No. They get 72 headscarfs, each in a different shade of black.



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