Thursday, December 18, 2003

A pessimistic law of history was at work here. Many such mixed communities [as Nagorny Karabakh] coexisted for centuries, not just in the Caucasus but throughout Eurasia and North Africa. And yet they were, in reality, only held together by fear, the fear of what a brutal outside authority would do to them all if mutual tolerance broke down. When the external pressure was removed, whether it was the Caliphate, the Tsardom, the Ottoman or British Empire, or Soviet power, then the current of fear which enforced that mutual tolerance was switched off.

Neal Ascherson, In the Black Garden, New York Review of November 20, 2003.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Monday, December 08, 2003

Strictly Business by Paul Krugman in the NYRB.

Friday, November 28, 2003

What we think is a gesture of freedom is a symptom of our cage. ...Planets and moons form, and people stick to them because something in the cosmos is trying to keep itself company.

Nicolas Pizzolatto, "Ghost-Birds" in the October 2003 Atlantic Monthly

Friday, November 21, 2003

Everything was okay until he got shot.

Lt. Col. (USArmy, ret.) Larry May

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

OriginsNet -- the origins of man, religion, art and mind

Thursday, November 13, 2003

A credible threat to one's life has a certain bracing effect.

Wife quoting husband.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

When and from where [the Sumerians] first settled near the Euphrates was much debated a generation ago, but without any clear consensus. People had settled the region and were growing crops by irrigation before 5000 BC; the best we can say is that the urbanized people who, before 3000 BC, first wrote Sumerian emerged out of this agricultural way of life and tradition without any obvious break.

Timothy Potts, in “Buried Between the Rivers”, New York Review, 9/25/2003

Friday, October 24, 2003

Well I've been out walking,
I don't do that much talking these days,
These days--
These days I seem to think a lot
About the things that I forgot to do.

I sit alone on corner stones
And count the time in quarter tones to ten,
My friend
Don't confront me with my failures
I had not forgotten them.

Jackson Browne, from These Days

Monday, October 20, 2003

Jesus said, "Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the all.

Jesus said: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

Jesus said, "If they say to you 'Where did you come from?' say to them, 'We came from the light, the place where the light came into being on its own accord and established [itself] and became manifest through their image.'

From The Gospel of Thomas as quoted in the New York Review, Oct 23, 2003.

Friday, October 17, 2003

It's time to make new mistakes.

Steve Tomchik

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

You must not neglect doing a thing immediately good, from fear of remote evil;--from fear of its being abused.

Samuel Johnson to James Boswell

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Oh a sleeping drunkard Up in Central Park
Or the lion hunter In the jungle dark
Or the Chinese dentist Or the British Queen
They all fit together In the same machine

Nice, nice, very nice
Nice, nice, very nice
So many people in the same device

Oh a whirling dervish And a dancing bear
Or a Ginger Rogers and a Fred Astaire
Or a teenage rocker Or the girls in France
Yes, we all are partners in this cosmic dance

Nice, nice, very nice
Nice, nice, very nice
So many people in the same device

Ambrosia, 1975

Monday, September 29, 2003

Listening Wind by the Talking Heads (lyrics)

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Externally there was nothing to hinder his making another start on the upward slope, and by his new lights achieving higher things than his soul in its half-formed state had been able to accomplish. But the ingenious machinery contrived by the Gods for reducing human possibilities of amelioration to a minimum – which arranges that wisdom to do shall come pari passu with the departure of zest for doing – stood in the way of all that.

Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge

Saturday, September 27, 2003

(T)here is one form of centralized government which is almost entirely unprogressive and beyond all other forms costly and tyrannical—the rule of an army....though education and culture may modify, they cannot change [its] predominant characteristics—a continual subordination of justice to expediency, an indifference to suffering, a disdain of ethical principles, a laxity of morals, and a complete ignorance of economics.

Winston Churchill, The River War

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

All great movements, every vigorous impulse that a community may feel, become perverted and distorted as time passes, and the atmosphere of the earth seems fatal to the noble aspirations of its peoples. A wide humanitarian sympathy in a nation easily degenerates into hysteria. A military spirit tends towards brutality. Liberty leads to license, restraint to tyranny. The pride of race is distended to blustering arrogance. The fear of God produces bigotry and superstition. There appears no exception to the mournful rule, and the best efforts of men, however glorious their early results, have dismal endings…

Winston Churchill, The River War.

Friday, September 12, 2003

I do not believe that fanaticism exists as it used to do in the world, judging from what I have seen in this so-called fanatic land. It is far more a question of property, and is more like Communism under the flag of religion.

Charles Gordon, as quoted by Winston Churchill, speaking about “fundamentalism” in 19th century Sudan.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

What enterprise that an enlightened community may attempt is more noble and more profitable than the reclamation from barbarism of fertile regions and large populations? To give peace to warring tribes, to administer justice where all was violence, to strike the chains off the slave, to draw the richness from the soil, to plant the earliest seeds of commerce and learning, to increase in whole peoples their capacities for pleasure and diminish their chances of pain—what more beautiful ideal or more valuable reward can inspire human effort? The act is virtuous, the exercise invigorating, and the result often extremely profitable. Yet as the mind turns from the wonderful cloudland of aspiration to the ugly scaffolding of attempt and achievement, a succession of opposite ideas arises. Industrious races are displayed stinted and starved for the sake of an expensive Imperialism which they can only enjoy if they are well fed. Wild peoples, ignorant of their barbarism, callous of suffering, careless of life but tenacious of liberty, are seen to resist with fury the philanthropic invaders, and to perish in thousands before they are convinced of their mistake. The inevitable gap between conquest and dominion becomes filled with the figures of the greedy trader, the inopportune missionary, the ambitious soldier, and the lying speculator, who disquiet the minds of the conquered and excite the sordid appetites of the conquerors. And as the eye of thought rests on these sinister features, it hardly seems possible for us to believe that any fair prospect is approached by so foul a path.

Winston Churchill, The River War.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Through the desert flows the river—a thread of blue silk drawn across an enormous brown drugget*; and even this thread is brown for half the year. Where the water laps the sand and soaks into the banks there grows an avenue of vegetation which seems very beautiful and luxuriant by contrast with what lies beyond. The Nile, through all the three thousand miles of its course vital to everything that lives beside it, is never so precious as here. The traveler clings to the strong river as to an old friend, staunch in the hour of need. All the world blazes, but here in shade. The deserts are hot, but the Nile is cool. The land is parched, but here is abundant water. The picture painted in burnt sienna is relieved by a grateful flash of green.

Winston Churchill describing the Nile in The River War.

*Drugget – a rug made of a coarse fabric having a cotton warp and a wool filling.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Level plains of smooth sand—a little rosier than buff, a little paler than salmon—are interrupted only by occasional peaks of rock—black, stark, and shapeless. Rainless storms dance tirelessly over the hot, crisp surface of the ground. The fine sand, driven by the wind, gathers into deep drifts, and silts among the dark rocks of the hills exactly as snow hangs about an Alpine summit; only it is a fiery snow, such as might fall in hell. The earth burns with the quenchless thirst of ages, and in the steel-blue sky scarcely a cloud obstructs the unrelenting triumph of the sun.

Winston Churchill describing northern Sudan in The River War.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

The mass of every people must be barbarous where there is no printing, and consequently knowledge is not generally diffused. Knowledge is diffused among our people by the newspapers.

Samuel Johnson, as quoted by James Boswell

Monday, August 11, 2003

It is so far from being natural for a man and women to live in a state of marriage, that we find all the motives which they have for remaining in that connection, and the restraints which civilized society imposes to prevent separation, are hardly sufficient to keep them together.

Samuel Johnson, as quoted by James Boswell.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Monday, July 28, 2003

There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were somehow weak and helpless.

Yann Martel, The Life of Pi

Monday, July 14, 2003

In Europe and America [modernity] had two main characteristics: innovation and autonomy (the modernizing process was punctuated in Europe and America by declarations of independence on the political, intellectual, religious and social fronts). But in the developing world, modernity has been accompanied not by autonomy but by a loss of independence and national autonomy. Instead of innovation, the developing countries can only modernize by imitating the West, which is so far advanced that they have no hope of catching up. Since the modernizing process has not been the same, it is unlikely that the end product will conform to what the West regards as the desirable norm.

Karen Armstrong, in Islam: A Short History

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Education is when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get when you don't.

Pete Seeger as quoted by Jim and Tim (The Duct Tape Guys)

Monday, July 07, 2003

What strange narrowness of mind now is that, to think the things we have not known, are better than the things which we have known.

Samuel Johnson, as quoted by James Boswell.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

A gentleman who had been very unhappy in marriage, married immediately after his wife died: Johnson said, it was the triumph of hope over experience.

Rev. Maxwell to James Boswell.
...(S)o many objections might be made to every thing, that nothing could overcome them but the necessity of doing something.

Samuel Johnson to Rev. Maxwell, as quoted by James Boswell.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Every man, at last, wishes for retreat; he sees his expectations frustrated in the world, and begins to wean himself from it, and to prepare for everlasting separation.

Samuel Johnson to Rev. Maxwell, as quoted by James Boswell.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

You can never be wise unless you love reading.

Samuel Johnson in a letter to his servant, Francis Barber, as quoted by James Boswell.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch.


Friday, May 30, 2003

Ain't no use in preachers preaching
When they don't know what they're teaching
The weakest man be strong as Samson
When you're being held to ransom

From As Strong as Samson, Keith Reid

Friday, May 23, 2003

The peninsular Arabs of pre-Islamic and early Islamic times lived and sang in the heroic style -- tribal, nomadic, warlike, obsessed with battle and vengeance, honor and shame, death and destiny, and personal, family and tribal pride. Their poetry and legends mirror the conceptions and preoccupations of a heroic age. Muhammad, the greatest of them all, was not only a prophet; he was also an Arab hero and a warrior of noble birth.

Bernard Lewis, Islam and the West

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

There lurks, perhaps, in every human heart a desire of distinction, which inclines every man first to hope, and then to believe, that nature has given him something peculiar to himself.

Samuel Johnson, as quoted by James Boswell

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Idleness is a disease which must be combated; but I would not advise a rigid adherence to a particular plan of study. I myself have never persisted in any plan for two days together.

Samuel Johnson, as quoted by James Boswell

Sunday, April 13, 2003

The ancient Greeks, it has been said, were too reasonable to ignore the intoxicating power of the unreasonable. They worshiped Dionysus, the god of excess and ecstasy, and they admired tragedy -- an art form that shows that human feelings are far too intense and varied to be contained by the narrow strictures of rational self-interest. Explosions of passion -- romantic and destructive, cruel and self-sacrificing, among nations as among individuals -- not only are to be expected but are central to the human spirit.

Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly (May 2003)

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

If the abuse be enormous, Nature will rise up, and claiming her original rights, overturn a corrupt political system.

Samuel Johnson, as quoted by James Boswell

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Democracy and the free market have proven enduringly compatible only under historically unusual conditions of prosperity, or else in protected domestic settings and typically at the expense of third parties somewhere else.

Tony Judt in "America and the World", The New York Review (April 30, 2003)

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

General truths are seldom applied to particular occasions.

Samuel Johnson to Joseph Baretti, as quoted by James Boswell

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Surely life, if it be not long, is tedious, since we are forced to call in the assistance of so many trifles to rid us of our time, of that time which never can return.

Samuel Johnson to Joseph Baretti, as quoted by James Boswell

Saturday, March 15, 2003

I know not any thing more pleasant, or more instructive, than to compare experience with expectation, or to register from time to time the difference between idea and reality. It is by this kind of observation that we grow daily less liable to be disappointed.

Samuel Johnson to a young friend, as quoted by James Boswell

Saturday, March 08, 2003

...recent experiments showed that a patient's sense of pain can increase threefold when his or her spouse is in the room.

The New Yorker, January 20, 2003, pg. 55.
When the radical idea branches out into parallel ramifications, how can a consecutive series be formed of senses in their own nature collateral?

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary as quoted by James Boswell
Pepys Online Diary

Thursday, March 06, 2003

I shall rejoice to hear from you, till I can see you, and will see you as soon as I can.

Samuel Johnson to a friend, as quoted by James Boswell
It has been long observed, that men do not suspect faults which they do not commit.

Samuel Johnson, as quoted by James Boswell

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude it, if less be possible, with less; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation.

Samuel Johnson to his former patron, Lord Chesterfield, as quoted by James Boswell

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

I think there is some reason for questioning whether the body and mind are not so proportioned, that the one can bear all which can be inflicted on the other, whether virtue cannot stand its ground as long as life, and whether a soul well principled will not be sooner separated than subdued.

Samuel Johnson as quoted by James Boswell

Saturday, February 22, 2003

Monday, February 17, 2003

A man who writes a book, thinks himself wiser or wittier than the rest of mankind; he supposes that he can instruct or amuse them, and the publick to whom he appeals, must, after all, be the judges of his pretensions.

Samuel Johnson as quoted by James Boswell

Friday, February 14, 2003

Are introverts arrogant? Hardly. I suppose this common misperception has to do with our being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts. Also, it is probably due to our lack of small talk, a lack that extroverts often mistake for disdain….extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves….We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood…it will not be impolite to say “I’m an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.”

Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic Monthly, March 2003

Sunday, February 09, 2003

It sounds to me like it's all your fault.

Patrick, on the occasion of Sponge Bob seeking absolution from guilt.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be
saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any
immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however
virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is
quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.
Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History quoted in The Atlantic Sept 02 by David Brooks

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

Philo of Alexandria, as quoted in the Washington Post Book World of 2/2/2003
We could do that but it would be wrong.

Richard Nixon
No matter where you go, there you are.

Buckaroo Banzai
Get over it.

Marion Barry
If all you want to say is "Yes, yes, continue conducting yourself in this bad manner and you will see what I will do to you," then you're going to need "head raised and bent forward several times, with the eyes narrowed and menacing." If, however, the situation is more grave, if what you mean is "Wait, or give me time, so that a favorable occasion might turn up and then I will make you see if I know how to avenge myself for the wrong you do to me," then "palm held facing downwards and oscillated slowly up and down" is the ticket.

From Joan Acocella "The Neapolitan Finger", being a NYRB review of Gesture in Naples and Gesture in Classical Antiquity by Father Andrea de Jorio.
How sour sweet music is,
When time is broke and no proportion kept!
So is it in the music of men’s lives,
And here have I the daintiness of ear
To check time broke in a disorder’d string;
But for the concord of my state and time
Had not an ear to hear my true time broke.
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.

Shakespeare, Richard II
The Man who knew no bounds

Title of a lost work
It might feel good,
It might sound a little something,
But fuck the game
If it ain’t saying nothing.

Public Enemy - He Got Game
"Mom, I wish there was no bath."

From a young boy overheard in a coffe shop.
"The first thing wrong was that it was a bad investment."

An executive of a large American energy company on an investment in a
South American country that had lost several hundred million dollars so
Presented with two ruthless, pandering men who believe expressly in God
and necessarily in Mammon, each of whom must be overcompensating
drastically for something in his childhood, we ought to vote for whichever
one strikes us as marginally more likely, by dint of personal verve or
party affiliation, to slow down or speed up the nation’s drift toward
wherever we fear or hope it is heading…. If there is a third party
candidate for whom we would rather vote, we should vote for our second
choice…. If you are going to vote for [the third party] because he or she
is right, you might as well vote for yourself.

From Roy Blount Jr., "Relativism as Teflon: How Clinton kept us from
getting his goat
" in the February, 2001 Atlantic Monthly
Captain William Clark was one of the most defiant, as well as most
inventive, spellers ever to attempt to use the English language. He may
be said to have invented the concept of windchill when he described a
forty-below Dakota day with the wind blowing as "Breizing."

From a review by Larry McMurty in the February 8, 2001 NYRB of The Journal
of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
ed. By Gary E. Moulton.
"When a man with a gun knocks on your door at 11 at night wanting food and
a place to sleep, he becomes your landlord."

A Colombian farmer who survived a paramilitary attack in the town of
Chengue as quoted in the Washington Post of January 28, 2001.
And I imagined (because it did not occur to me to ask him) that what he
had to teach me concerned the beauty in labor that remains, at the end of
the job, hidden, and that no one except the worker will see or understand
or even necessarily appreciate.

From, "Black Mountain, 1977" by Donald Antrim in the December 25, 2000 -
January 1, 2001 New Yorker.
Deep and abiding cynicism is the portal to true idealism.

From a Washington life.
"When they mistake you for dead, its time to move on."

Overheard at Foggy Bottom.
The contingency of the world is fourfold. First, the laws of physics
themselves appear to be contingent. Second, the cosmological initial
conditions could have been otherwise. Third, we know from quantum
mechanics that “God plays dice” - i.e., there is a fundamental statistical
element in nature. Finally, there is the fact that the universe exists.
After all, however comprehensive our theories of the universe may be,
there is no obligation for the world actually to instantiate that
theory….In my own mind, I have no doubts at all that the arguments for a
necessary world are far shakier than the arguments for a necessary being…

The Mind of God by Paul Davies.
Political parties who accuse the one in power of gobbling the spoils etc,
are like the wolf who looked in at the door & saw the shepards eating
mutton & said --
"Oh certainly, it's all right as long as it's you, but there'd be hell to
pay if I was to do that!"

Mark Twain, from his journals as quoted by Roy Blount, Jr. in The Atlantic
Monthly, July/August 2001.
When we consider that all quanta have interacted at some point in the
history of the cosmos … and that there is no limit on the number of
correlations that can exist between these quanta, this leads to [a]
dramatic conclusion -- nonlocality is a fundamental property of the entire
universe….The indivisible whole whose existence is inferred … cannot be
measured or observed, we confront here an "event horizon" of knowledge
where science can say nothing about the actual character of this reality.

From a discussion of a 1997 experiment suggesting communication between
two points at faster than the speed of light in The Non-local Universe:
The New Physics and Matters of the Mind
by Robert Nadeau and Menas Kafatos.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Hence this life of your which you are living is not merely a piece of the
entire existence, but is, in a certain sense, the whole; only this whole
is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance.

Erwin Schrodinger as quoted in The Non-local Universe by Robert Nadeau and
Menas Kafatos.
What is Oedipus' hamartia then? Obviously it is not bad temper,
suspiciousness, hastiness in action -- for his punishment does not fit
these crimes; not ignorance of who his parents are -- for ignorance of
this type is not culpable; still less murder and incest -- for these
things are fated for him by the gods. No, Oedipus' blind spot is his
failure in existential commitment; a failure to recognize his own
involvement in the human condition, a failure to realize that not all
difficulties are riddles, to be solved by the application of disinterested
intellect, but that some are mysteries, not to be solved at all, but to be
coped with only by the engagement, active or passive, of the whole self.

Richmond Y. Hathorn as quoted in Asides: the Shakespeare Theatre 2001-2002
Season Issue
To be perpetually talking sense runs out the mind, as perpetually
ploughing and taking crops runs out the land. The mind must be manured,
and nonsense is very good for the purpose.

Boswell, as quoted by Richard Holmes in the New York Review of Books ,
September 20,2001
I wish I could remember what is said at this table.

Bob Homme, a regular at the Friday Misbackian.
There's nothing you can do when you're the next in line.

Genesis, from The Last Domino.
The Man, sing to me Muse of the wily man
Who wandered much after he sacked the holy citadel of Troy,
Who saw many cities and learned of the mind of men
Who suffered on the sea much grief in his heart
While striving for his soul and the return of his comrades.

Odyssey - my translation of first five lines.
Have you ever started a path? No one seems willing to do this. We don't mind using existing paths, but we rarely start new ones. Do it today. Start a path. Even if it doesn't lead anywhere.

George Carlin