Monday, December 18, 2017

"Since there is no god, it is our job to do His work."

Howard Bloom:
I realized I was an atheist at thirteen years old and it wasn't a choice, it just happened. But no benevolent God would be so cruel. No benevolent God would create a cosmos with such pain. Any God so vicious would be one that we, as humans, would be obliged to oppose with every muscle and every cell.

And, in fact, whether there is a god or not it is our obligation to oppose the outrages and pains of this planet. Here's something I wrote a while back.

Since there is no god, it is our job to do His work. God is not a being, he is an aspiration, a gift, a vision, a goal to seek. Ours is the responsibility of making a cruel universe turn just, of turning pains to understandings and new insights into joy, of creating ways to soar the skies for generations yet to come, of fashioning wings with which our children's children shall overcome, of making worlds of fantasy materialize as reality, of mining and transforming our greatest gifts--our passions, our imaginings, our pains, our insecurities, and our lusts.

This is the work of deity, and deity is a power that resides in us.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

A blogger's view on reporters

Blogger Marco Arment:
Almost every time I’ve talked to a reporter has gone this way: they had already decided the narrative beforehand. I’m never being asked for information — I’m being used for quotes to back up their predetermined story, regardless of whether it’s true. (Consider this when you read the news.) Misquotes usually aren’t mistakes — they’re edited, consciously or not, to say what the reporter needs them to say.

Talking to reporters is like talking to the police: ideally, don’t. You have little to gain and a lot to lose, their incentives often conflict with yours, and they have all of the power.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

How Nazis viewed the USA

We would not say anything if the U.S.A. were aware of its intellectual and moral defects and was trying to grow up. But it is too much when it behaves in an impudent manner toward a part of the earth with a few thousands years of glorious history behind it, attempting to teach it moral and intellectual lessons, whether out of innocence or a complete lack of genuine culture and learning. We can forgive the mistakes of youth, but this degree of arrogance gets on one’s nerves.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Middle-class political stupidity

The imbecile bourgeoisie of this country make themselves the accomplices of the very people whose aim is to drive them out of their houses to starve in ditches.  And they have the political power still, if they only had the sense to use it for their preservation.
Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, chapter 2.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

A law professor's views on reporters

Speaking as a lawprof who used to take calls from reporters, I eventually figured out that the reporter always had the idea of what I was going to say and would keep talking one way or another at me to try to get me to say it. When I realized that all my effort explaining things in a service-oriented way was wasted and the only quote that was used was the thing I could see, in retrospect, the reporter was taking up my time trying to get me to say, I stopped taking calls — to save time and to protect myself from distortion and exploitation.
Law professor Ann Althouse,  2/4/17, 12:11 PM

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Agnew was right. The press is a gang of cruel faggots. Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits -- a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.
Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, "13. End of the Road...Death of the Whale...Soaking Sweats in the Airport".

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"The virtue of their victims"

 Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Dr. Hendricks to Dagny Taggart:

“I quit when medicine was placed under State control some years ago,” said Dr. Hendricks. “Do you know what it takes to perform a brain operation? Do you know the kind of skill it demands, and the years of passionate, merciless, excruciating devotion that go to acquire that skill? That was what I could not place at the disposal of men whose sole qualification to rule me was their capacity to spout the fraudulent generalities that got them elected to the privilege of enforcing their wishes at the point of a gun. I would not let them dictate the purpose for which my years of study had been spent, or the conditions of my work, or my choice of patients, or the amount of my reward.

“I observed that in all the discussions that preceded the enslavement of medicine, men discussed everything — except the desires of the doctors. Men considered only the ‘welfare’ of the patients, with no thought for those who were to provide it. That a doctor should have any right, desire or choice in the matter, was regarded as irrelevant selfishness; his is not to choose, they said, but ‘to serve.’ That a man’s willing to work under compulsion is too dangerous a brute to entrust with a job in the stockyards — never occurred to those who proposed to help the sick by making life impossible for the healthy.

“I have often wondered at the smugness at which people assert their right to enslave me, to control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind — yet what is it they expect to depend on, when they lie on an operating table under my hands? Their moral code has taught them to believe that it is safe to rely on the virtue of their victims. Well, that is the virtue I have withdrawn. Let them discover the kind of doctors that their system will now produce. Let them discover, in their operating rooms and hospital wards, that it is not safe to place their lives in the hands of a man whose life they have throttled. It is not safe, if he is the sort of man who resents it — and still less safe, if he is the sort who doesn’t.”

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

What the Obama adminstration really thought about the media

Rhodes singled out a key example to me one day, laced with the brutal contempt that is a hallmark of his private utterances. "All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus," he said. "Now they don't. They call us to explain to them what's happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That's a sea change. They literally know nothing." 
Ben Rhodes, advisor to President Obama. From "The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama's Foreign-Policy Guru" by David Samuels. New York Times, May 5, 2016.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The gullibility of the intellectual community

Simon Karlinsky wrote in his introduction to Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971:

...the groundswell of enthusiasm for Soviet Russia among America’s intellectuals which came just as Stalin was consolidating his power and plunging the country into the worst nightmare in its history. What amazes a person even minimally acquainted with Soviet realities about the intellectual climate of America in the thirties is the almost inconceiv-able gullibility of the intellectual community, its lack of any meaningful criteria for comparing the situations in the two countries.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Muggeridge's Law

From Tom Wolfe's "Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast:  A literary manifesto for the new social novel," Harpers, November, 1989. 
While Malcolm Muggeridge was the editor of Punch, it was announced that Khrushchev and Bulganin were coming to England. Muggeridge hit upon the idea of a mock itinerary, a lineup of the most ludicrous places the two paunchy pear-shaped little Soviet leaders could possibly be paraded through during the solemn process of a state visit. Shortly before press time, half the feature had to be scrapped. It coincided exactly with the official itinerary, just released, prompting Muggeridge to observe: We live in an age in which it is no longer possible to be funny. There is nothing you can imagine, no matter how ludicrous, that will not promptly be enacted before your very eyes, probably by someone well known.

Friday, September 09, 2016

A full Moon can occur on Easter Sunday.

The rule for finding the date of Easter is usually stated as follows:
  1. Determine the date of first full Moon on or after the first day of Spring.
  2. Easter is the Sunday after that.
This eliminates the possibility of the Moon being full on Easter Sunday.

Except that it doesn't. A lunar eclipse can occur only when the Moon is full, and there was a partial lunar eclipse on Easter Sunday, April 12, 1903.

There are two factors in the rule for Easter that contribute to this situation.
  1. The first day of Spring is always assumed to be March 21. This is not exactly true. The vernal equinox (determined astronomically) can occur on March 19, 20 or 21.
  2. The full Moon used is not the astronomical full Moon, but an ecclesiastical full Moon, i.e., one that is used for ease of determination.
The second factor is what caused Easter Sunday in 1903 to fall on the same date as the astronomical full Moon.

The date of Easter is actually determined by the Roman Catholic Church using tables that were set up when the Gregorian Calendar was established in 1582.

For further information:

Sunday, August 07, 2016

"[We academics are] the most useless people in the world" --Germaine Greer, 2014

Germaine Greer, Femifest 2014 (end of August)

3:34 "So I really think we've gone about as far as we can go with this equality nonsense. It was always a fraud. It always placed women in a position of having to adapt to a pre-existing reality that they didn't approve of anyway."

4:10 "[The corporate world] is a completely sclerotic, phalliform organizational system, and everything travels vertically. All orders come down from the top. Everybody's in authority over everybody else. It's not the way we do things. It's not the way we can go on doing things because we know that those systems depend upon oppression and cruelty, downright cruelty, and--'unmanning people', I almost said. Making people feel inferior, making them apologize for their existence, making them strive to be more like whatever the thing is you want them to be, and I think we have to do something."

6:40 " ...the abominable Guardian, which is probably the most treacherous newspaper the women's movement has ever had...and their treatment of their female staff, with a few exceptions, is usually a pretty good example of what they're like at base level."

8:52 "How do we form ourselves into an activity--a force to improve the situation? I don't have the answers. I'm an academic--[we're] the most useless people in the world."

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Islam and the Nazis

Michael Potemra tells us that in Bernard-Henri Levy’s forthcoming book Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism , there is an interesting line from the journals of Paul Claudel. On May 21, 1935, Claudel wrote, “Hitler’s speech: a kind of Islamism is being created at the center of Europe . . . ”

The Catholic poet and diplomat Claudel wasn’t alone in linking National Socialism to Islam. Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian who was the principal author (with Bonhoffer) of the Barmen Declaration against the Nazis, had this to say:
Participation in this life, according to it the only worthy and blessed life, is what National Socialism, as a political experiment, promises to those who will of their own accord share in this experiment. And now it becomes understandable why, at the point where it meets with resistance, it can only crush and kill with the might and right which belongs to Divinity! Islam of old as we know proceeded in this way. It is impossible to understand National Socialism unless we see it in fact as a new Islam, its myth as a new Allah, and Hitler as this new Allah’s Prophet
(Church and the Political Problem of Our Day , 1939, p. 43)

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Cato the Elder on women

Woman is a violent and uncontrolled animal, and it is useless to let go the reins and then expect her not to kick over the traces. You must keep her on a tight rein [...] Women want total freedom or rather - to call things by their names - total licence. If you allow them to achieve complete equality with men, do you think they will be easier to live with? Not at all. Once they have achieved equality, they will be your masters ...

I post this quote solely to provide its exact source and the context. It's attributed to Cato the Elder in many places on the Web, and it's composed of excerpts (with some paraphrasing) from a speech of Cato reported in Livy's History of Rome, book 34, sections 2-4:

Give the reins to a headstrong nature, to a creature that has not been tamed, and then hope that they will themselves set bounds to their licence if you do not do it yourselves. This is the smallest of those restrictions which have been imposed upon women by ancestral custom or by laws, and which they submit to with such impatience. What they really want is unrestricted freedom, or to speak the truth, licence, and if they win on this occasion what is there that they will not attempt? 
Call to mind all the regulations respecting women by which our ancestors curbed their licence and made them obedient to their husbands, and yet in spite of all those restrictions you can scarcely hold them in. If you allow them to pull away these restraints and wrench them out one after another, and finally put themselves on an equality with their husbands, do you imagine that you will be able to tolerate them? From the moment that they become your fellows they will become your masters. [...]  
You have often heard me complain of the expensive habits of women and often, too, of those of men, not only private citizens but even magistrates, and I have often said that the community suffers from two opposite vices - avarice and luxury - pestilential diseases which have proved the ruin of all great empires. [...] The very last things to be ashamed of are thriftiness and poverty, but this law relieves you of both since you do not possess what it forbids you to possess. The wealthy woman says, 'This levelling down is just what I do not tolerate. Why am I not to be admired and looked at for my gold and purple? Why is the poverty of others disguised under this appearance of law so that they may be thought to have possessed, had the law allowed it, what it was quite out of their power to possess? 
Do you want, Quirites, to plunge your wives into a rivalry of this nature, where the rich desire to have what no one else can afford, and the poor, that they may not be despised for their poverty, stretch their expenses beyond their means? Depend upon it, as soon as a woman begins to be ashamed of what she ought not to be ashamed of she will cease to feel shame at what she ought to be ashamed of. She who is in a position to do so will get what she wants with her own money, she who cannot do this will ask her husband. The husband is in a pitiable plight whether he yields or refuses; in the latter case he will see another giving what he refused to give. Now they are soliciting other women's husbands, and what is worse they are soliciting votes for the repeal of a law, and are getting them from some, against the interest of you and your property and your children. When once the law has ceased to fix a limit to your wife's expenses, you will never fix one. Do not imagine that things will be the same as they were before the law was made. It is safer for an evil-doer not to be prosecuted than for him to be tried and then acquitted, and luxury and extravagance would have been more tolerable had they never been interfered with than they will be now, just like wild beasts which have been irritated by their chains and then released. 

Edward Gibbon, Charles Martel, and Islam

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapter LII.
A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.
In actual fact, today Arabic studies are taught in Oxford.
From such calamities Christendom was delivered by the genius and fortune of one man. Charles, the illegitimate son of the elder Pepin, was content with the titles of mayor or duke of the Franks, but he deserved to become the father of a line of kings.
In 732, around October 10 (exact dates uncertain), Charles battled the Muslim armies between the cities of Tours and Poitiers and finally defeated them.
...the Arabs never resumed the conquest of Gaul, and they were soon driven beyond the Pyrenees by Charles Martel and his valiant race.
Charles Martel was the grandfather of Charlemagne.

Friday, June 03, 2016

"Answer" by Fredric Brown (1954) (complete short-short story)

Dwan Ev ceremoniously soldered the final connection with gold. The eyes of a dozen television cameras watched him and the subether bore throughout the universe a dozen pictures of what he was doing.

He straightened and nodded to Dwar Reyn, then moved to a position beside the switch that would complete the contact when he threw it. The switch that would connect, all at once, all of the monster computing machines of all the populated planets in the universe -- ninety-six billion planets -- into the supercircuit that would connect them all into one supercalculator, one cybernetics machine that would combine all the knowledge of all the galaxies.

Dwar Reyn spoke briefly to the watching and listening trillions. Then after a moment's silence he said, "Now, Dwar Ev."

Dwar Ev threw the switch. There was a mighty hum, the surge of power from ninety-six billion planets. Lights flashed and quieted along the miles-long panel.

Dwar Ev stepped back and drew a deep breath. "The honor of asking the first question is yours, Dwar Reyn."

"Thank you," said Dwar Reyn. "It shall be a question which no single cybernetics machine has been able to answer."

He turned to face the machine. "Is there a God?"

The mighty voice answered without hesitation, without the clicking of a single relay.

"Yes, now there is a God."

Sudden fear flashed on the face of Dwar Ev. He leaped to grab the switch.

A bolt of lightning from the cloudless sky struck him down and fused the switch shut.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Loyalty and lying
For example, in many ways nonsense is a more effective organizing tool than the truth. Anyone can believe in the truth. To believe in nonsense is an unforgeable demonstration of loyalty.

Obama and Saruman

The Two Towers, “The Voice of Saruman”:
Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment. Those who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words that they heard  [Obama's “racism” speech]; and if they did, they wondered for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves. When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell [...] But none were unmoved; none rejected its pleas and its commands without an effort of mind and will, so long as its master had control of it.
Return of the King, “Many Partings”: 
[Gandalf said,] “I fancy [Saruman] could do some mischief still in a small mean way.” 
Return of the King, “The Scouring of the Shire”:
[Saruman said,] “ ‘One ill turn deserves another.’ It would have been a sharper lesson, if only you had given me a little more time and more Men. Still I have already done much that you will find it hard to mend or undo in your lives. And it will be pleasant to think of that and set it against my injuries.”...  
But Frodo said, “...He has lost all power, save his voice that can still daunt you and deceive you, if you let it. ...”

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Sexual Identity in 1958, from comedian Shelley Berman.

We only hear his side of the call.

He phones his sister, but his very young nephew answers instead. Hilarity ensues. 
Finally (at 7:52 in the video) his sister comes to the phone.
Do me a favor, tell my nephew he's a boy, will you?

He doesn't know. He doesn't know! I asked him before, he didn't know what the hell I was talking about!

What do you mean, "he's a baby"? Now is when he should know! Now, during his formative years! Don't wait till he grows up and makes an arbitrary decision!
Originally on the LP Inside Shelley Berman.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"Chivalry is the most delicate form of contempt"

Albert Léon Guérard, Bottle in the Sea (1954):
Descartes wrote in heavy but lucid nontechnical French, for the layman if not for the man in the street. He was the first of the great popularizers (vulgarisateurs in the strictly French sense): a distinguished line and particularly Gallic, in which Pascal himself, and Renan, were to be his successors. He went so far as to include among his potential audience "even women": a revolutionary step, for the elaborate gallantry of the time had not yet broken down the prejudice against feminine brains: chivalry is the most delicate form of contempt. It is odd to think of the austere logician, mathematician, and physicist as a professor for society ladies: yet he had among his disciples Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia and Queen Christina of Sweden. We might consider him as a forerunner of Trissotin in Moliere's Learned Ladies; most decidedly of Fontenelle, whose Chats on the Plurality of Inhabited Worlds are masterpieces of drawingroom wit and courtesy; of Voltaire, who wrote his Universal History for Madame du Chatelet; of Bellac in Pailleron's Le Monde ou Von s'ennuie, the professor as society pet, a composite picture of many successful academic lecturers; even of Bergson, whose courses at the College de France were thronged with the aristocracy of birth and wealth.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cesar Chavez' fundamental problem

Like most ’60s radicals—of whatever stripe—he [Chavez] vastly overestimated the appeal of hard times and simple living; he was not the only Californian of the time to promote the idea of a Poor People’s Union, but as everyone from the Symbionese Liberation Army to the Black Panthers would discover, nobody actually wants to be poor.

The Madness of Cesar Chavez (by Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic, July/August 2011 Issue)

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Phaedrus - "what is good" - Plato/Jowett vs. Pirsig

Phaedrus by Plato (258d) (translated by Benjamin Jowett):
Soc. The disgrace begins when a man writes not well, but badly.


Soc. And what is well and what is badly—need we ask Lysias, or any other poet or orator, who ever wrote or will write either a political or any other work, in metre or out of metre, poet or prose writer, to teach us this?
As paraphrased in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig:
And what is good, Phaedrus , and what is not good—need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Science and religion

Max Planck, Where Is Science Going? (1932)
Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with.
1 Thessalonians  5:21 (KNJV)
Test all things; hold fast what is good.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Another Ogden Nash poem

Medusa and the Mot Juste

Once there was a Greek divinity of the sea named Ceto and she married a man named Phorcus,
And the marriage must have been pretty raucous;
Their remarks about which child took after which parent must have been full of asperities,
Because they were the parents of the Gorgons, and the Graeae, and Scylla, and the dragon that guarded the apples of the Hesperides.
Bad blood somewhere.
Today the Gorgons are our topic, and as all schoolboys including you and me know,
They were three horrid sisters named Medusa and Euryale and Stheno.
But what most schoolboys don't know because they never get beyond their Silas Marners and their Hiawathas,
The Gorgons were not only monsters, they were also highly talented authors.
Medusa began it;
She wrote Forever Granite.
But soon Stheno and Euryale were writing too, and they addressed her in daily choruses,
Saying we are three literary sisters just like the Brontës so instead of Gorgons why can't we be brontësauruses?
Well, Medusa may have been mythical but she wasn't mystical,
She was selfish and egotistical.
She saw wider vistas
Than simply being the sister of her sisters.
She replied, tossing away a petrified Argonaut on whom she had chipped a molar,
You two can be what you like, but since I am the big fromage in this family, I prefer to think of myself as the Gorgon Zola.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

An Ogden Nash poem

from the collection I'm a Stranger Here Myself  (1938).
How Now, Sirrah? Oh, Anyhow 
Oh, sometimes I sit around and think, what would you do if you were up a dark alley and there was Caesar Borgia,
And he was coming torgia,
And brandished a poisoned poniard,
And looked at you like an angry fox looking at the plumpest rooster in a boniard?
Why that would certainly be an adventure,
It would be much more exciting than writing a poem or selling a debenture,
But would you be fascinated,
Or just afraid of being assassinated?
Or suppose you went out dancing some place where you generally dance a lot,
And you jostled somebody accidentally and it turned out to be Sir Lancelot,
And he drew his sword,
Would you say Have at you! or would you say Oh Lord!?
Or what if you were held up by a bandit,
And he told you to hand over your money, would you try to disarm him and turn him over to the police, or would you over just meekly hand it?
What would you do if you were in a luxurious cosmopolitan hotel surrounded by Europeans and Frenchmen,
And a beautiful woman came up to you and asked you to rescue her from some mysterious master mind and his sinister henchmen?
Would you chivalrously make her rescue your personal objective,
Or would you refer her to the house detective?
Yes, and what if you were on trial for murdering somebody whom for the sake of argument we might call Kelly or O'Connor,
And you were innocent but were bound to be convicted unless you told the truth and the truth would tarnish a lady's honor,
Would you elect to die like a gentleman or live like a poltroon,
Or put the whole thing in the hands of an arbitration committee headed by Heywood Broun?
Yes, often as through life I wander,
This is the kind of question I ponder,
And what puzzles me most is why I even bother to ponder when I already know the answer,
Because anybody who won't cross the street till the lights are green would never get far as a Musketeer or a Bengal Lancer.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Political correctness

Dorothy Healey, in California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party (1990, U. of Illinois Press):

However, with the white chauvinism campaign of 1949-1953, what had been a legitimate concern turned into an obsession, a ritual act of self-purification that did nothing to strengthen the Party in its fight against racism and was manipulated by some Communist leaders for ends which had nothing to do with the ostensible purpose of the whole campaign. Once an accusation of white chauvinism was thrown against a white Communist, there was no defense. Debate was over. By the very act of denying the validity of the charge, you only proved your own guilt. Thousands of people were caught up in this campaign--not only in the Party itself, but within the Progressive Party and some of the Left unions as well. In Los Angeles alone we must have expelled two hundred people on charges of white chauvinism, usually on the most trivial of pretexts. People would be expelled for serving coffee in a chipped coffee cup to a Black or serving watermelon at the end of dinner.
Healey was eventually accused of "white chauvinism" herself. She gave in to the charge because she thought the whole thing was a farce and this would end her involvement. But then she was ordered to sign a written public statement, which was used against her in her later dealings with the Party.

She writes:
Because it was almost impossible to criticize a Black leader, the Party suffered and I think the Black leaders themselves suffered...When Blacks were spared this [criticism], it wasn't doing them any favor...when you have the notion that only Blacks can lead or that you must uncritically accept Black leadership without any standards, then you get reverse application of what you were fighting for.
Joseph R. Starobin was the American foreign editor of The Daily Worker. In his book, American Communism in Crisis, 1943-1947 (U. of California Press, 1975), he described the campaign against "white chauvinism" as a "witch hunt" and that it was used to "settle [personal] scores". Words like "whitewash" and "black sheep" were considered racist.
Doris Lessing, Language and the Lunatic Fringe (NY Times, June 26, 1992):
Yes, I know the obfuscations of academia did not begin with Communism -- as Swift, for one, tells us -- but the pedantries and verbosity of Communism had its root in German academia. And now it has become a kind of mildew blighting the whole world. [...]  
Raising Consciousness, like Commitment, like Political Correctness, is a continuation of that old bully, the Party Line. [...]
The demand that stories must be 'about' something is from Communist thinking and, further back, from religious thinking, with its desire for self-improvement books as simple-minded as the messages on samplers.  The phrase Political Correctness was born as Communism was collapsing. I do not think this was chance. I am not suggesting that the torch of Communism  has been handed on to the Political Correctors. I am suggesting that habits of mind have been absorbed, often without knowing it.
Dalton Trumbo was severely criticized for "white chauvinism". One of his sins was describing a Negro boy in one of his writings as "polished and dressed in his very best" because this implied he was "clean only on special occasions"! See Ron and Allis Radosh's "Red Star Over Hollywood". You can use Amazon's "search inside".
Here's another excerpt from that book. Herbert Biberman was a Hollywood screenwriter, one of the Hollywood Ten. He had gone to New York to consult leading "Negro cultural workers" there about films the Communists were planning. They told him (Biberman wrote in a letter) that they
"were too busy and occupied to spend an instant dealing with people who were so misinformed as to still consider that they were being 'broad-minded' in consulting  Negro cultural leaders as 'experts' on Negro material" that was developed by "lily-white artists for the good of the Negro people." White artists could join with them, he reported, but they would have to admit that "they needed the Negro People more than the Negro people needed them."
With each sentence, Biberman sounded more and more agitated. What he had learned from his experience in New York, he wrote, was "soul-shaking, land-shaking, country-shaking." He learned about "the poison of chauvinism" and how it was deeply embedded even in people like themselves. ... After talking with the New York African-American cultural leaders, Biberman decided that all their films—including those they thought were favorable to the fight for civil rights—were in reality patronizing and racist.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Information control and Communism

From A Lament for Vietnam by Doan Van Toai, NY Times Magazine, 3/29/81:
While I was in jail, Mai Chi Tho, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, addressed a selected group of political prisoners. He told us: ''Ho Chi Minh may have been an evil man; Nixon may have been a great man. The Americans may have had the just cause; we may not have had the just cause. But we won and the Americans were defeated because we convinced the people that Ho Chi Minh is the great man, that Nixon is a murderer and the Americans are the invaders.'' He concluded that ''the key factor is how to control people and their opinions. Only Marxism-Leninism can do that. None of you ever see resistance to the Communist regime, so don't think about it. Forget it. Between you - the bright intellectuals - and me, I tell you the truth.''

And he did tell us the truth. ...

The media and totalitarianism

From Goldstein's book in Orwell's 1984, part 2, chapter 9
The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians. These people, whose origins lay in the salaried middle class and the upper grades of the working class, had been shaped and brought together by the barren world of monopoly industry and centralized government. As compared with their opposite numbers in past ages, they were less avaricious, less tempted by luxury, hungrier for pure power, and, above all, more conscious of what they were doing and more intent on crushing opposition. This last difference was cardinal. By comparison with that existing today, all the tyrannies of the past were half-hearted and inefficient. The ruling groups were always infected to some extent by liberal ideas, and were content to leave loose ends everywhere, to regard only the overt act and to be uninterested in what their subjects were thinking. Even the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages was tolerant by modern standards. Part of the reason for this was that in the past no government had the power to keep its citizens under constant surveillance. The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion, and the film and the radio carried the process further. With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end. Every citizen, or at least every citizen important enough to be worth watching, could be kept for twenty-four hours a day under the eyes of the police and in the sound of official propaganda, with all other channels of communication closed. The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Picture incorrectly identified

This picture is widely identified as an ancient bridge in Kolpino, Russia.

Rakotzbrücke (Rakotz Bridge, also called Devil's Bridge) in the Azalea and Rhododendron Park in the district of Kromlau in Goblenz, Germany.

It's actually the Rakotzbrücke (Rakotz Bridge, also called Devil's Bridge) in the Azalea and Rhododendron Park in the district of Kromlau in Goblenz, Germany. It was built as part of the park development and completed in the 1860s. 

Here's what it looks like in Google Maps.

It's also apparent it isn't as huge as it looks in the first picture. It's a semicircular arch, and the stream is about 70 feet wide, so the arch is about 35 feet high.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Orwell once wrote" quote in "Fahrenheit 9/11" - actual sources

From Wikiquote:
Michael Moore declares these lines in his film Fahrenheit 9/11 as something "Orwell once wrote". They are nearly identical to a block of narration in the 1984 Richard Burton/John Hurt movie version of 1984 when Winston (Hurt) is reading Goldstein's book. All of the lines are excerpts from various parts of Goldstein's book in part 2, chapter 9 of the novel with some paraphrasing.
I have made a detailed comparison between the "Orwell once wrote" quote, 1984 movie (Burton/Hurt version), and the novel 1984. Link to Google Docs document.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Chesterton re-uses the line.

“I’m rather sorry you take this so lightly,” said Fanshaw to the host; “for the truth is, I’ve brought these friends of mine with the idea of their helping you, as they know a good deal of these things. Don’t you really believe in the family story at all?”
“I don’t believe in anything,” answered Pendragon very briskly, with a bright eye cocked at a red tropical bird. “I’m a man of science.”
The Perishing of the Pendragons, G.K. Chesterton

The media (3)

‘Do you believe in curses?’ asked Smaill curiously.

‘I don’t believe in anything; I’m a journalist,’ answered the melancholy being — ‘Boon, of the Daily Wire. ...'
G.K. Chesterton, The Curse of the Golden Cross

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The media (2)

Here's the original of the newspaper motto "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Note how taking it out of context has changed the meaning.
Whin annything was wrote about a man 'twas put this way: "We undhershtand on good authority that M-l-chi H---y, Esquire, is on thrile before Judge G---n on an accusation iv l--c-ny. But we don't think it's true."... Th' newspaper does ivrything f'r us. It runs th' polis foorce an' th' banks, commands th' milishy, controls th' ligislachure, baptizes th' young, marries th' foolish, comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable, buries th' dead an' roasts thim aftherward. They ain't annything it don't turn its hand to fr'm explainin' th' docthrine iv thransubstantiation to composin' saleratus biskit.
Newspaper Publicity in Observations by Mr. Dooley by Finley Peter Dunne (1902)

Monday, January 21, 2013

"1984": power and suffering

'The real power, the power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things, but over men.' [O'Brien] paused, and for a moment assumed again his air of a schoolmaster questioning a promising pupil: 'How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?'

Winston thought. 'By making him suffer,' he said.

'Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing...'
1984, part 3, chapter 3.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

spoons (3)

The high value of spoons can be seen from the fact that along with cups they were frequently stolen. To guard against theft, many households had them collected and counted by the steward after the main course. Even at the papal court in Avignon it was customary to keep the doors locked after a meal and not let anyone leave until all dinnerware was accounted for.
Adamson, Food in Medieval Times, p. 169

Thursday, June 14, 2012

true justice

In a just world, a terrorist like Kimberlin would be too ashamed to show his neckbearded, overbiting, felonious face on the street, much less associate it with a peaceful revolution against oppression. This is not a just world. But Google is just, and the association can be removed. We’re asking you to link to this blog. On your own blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, on the web forum where you discuss taxidermy with your fellow taxidermists.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

honor and spoons (2)

Boswell: I added that the same person maintained that there was no distinction between virtue and vice. Johnson: "Why, Sir, if the fellow does not think as he speaks, he is lying; and I see not what honour he can propose to himself from having the character of a liar. But if he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, Sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons."
--Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Credulity (2)

Philosophers and bookish people generally tend to live a life dominated by words, and even to forget that it is the essential function of words to have a connection of one sort or another with facts, which are in general non-linguistic. Some modern philosophers have gone so far as to say that words should never be confronted with facts but should live in a pure, autonomous world where they are compared only with other words. When you say, ‘the cat is a carnivorous animal,’ you do not mean that actual cats eat actual meat, but only that in zoology books the cat is classified among carnivora. These authors tell us that the attempt to confront language with fact is ‘metaphysics’ and is on this ground to be condemned. This is one of those views which are so absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them.
Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development (1959)

cf. Orwell, Notes On Nationalism

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bertrand Russell on Hegel (3) - a similar joke

Hegel believed in a mystical entity called "Spirit", which causes human history to develop according to the stages of the dialectic as set forth in Hegel's Logic. Why Spirit has to go through these stages is not clear. One is tempted to suppose that Spirit is trying to understand Hegel, and at each stage rashly objectifies what it has been reading.
A History of Western Philosophy, "Modern Philosophy", "Karl Marx"

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A bit of humor from Orwell

(emphasis added)
Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all "progressive" thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security, and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues.

The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do.

Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flag and loyalty-parades…. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a grudging way, have said to people "I offer you a good time," Hitler has said to them "I offer you struggle, danger and death," and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.
George Orwell, from a review of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, New English Weekly (21 March 1940)

Grammar in 1846



...I propose to give you a few hints on conversation...

...for some of the new grammars sanction these vulgarisms, and in looking over their tables of irregular verbs, I have sometimes half expected to have the book dashed from my hand by the indignant ghost of Lindley Murray.

Great care and discretion should be employed in the use of the common abbreviations of the negative forms of the substantive and auxiliary verbs. "Can't", "don't", and "havn't" [sic], are admissible in rapid conversation on trivial subjects. "Isn't" and "hasn't" are more harsh, yet tolerated by respectable usage. "Didn't", "couldn't", "wouldn't", and "shouldn't", make as unpleasant combinations of consonants as can well be uttered, and fall short but by one remove of those unutterable names of Polish gentlemen, which sometimes excite our wonder in the columns of a newspaper. "Won't" for "will not", and "aint" [sic] for "is not" or "are not", are absolutely vulgar; and "aint" [sic], for "has not" or "have not", is utterly intolerable...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

the media

The fat Russian agent was cornering all the foreign refugees in turn and explaining plausibly that this whole affair was an Anarchist plot. I watched him with some interest, for it was the first time that I had seen a person whose profession was telling lies—unless one counts journalists.
Orwell, "Homage to Catalonia" (1938)

Everything you read in the newspapers is absolutely true except for the rare story of which you happen to have firsthand knowledge.
Knoll's Law of Media Accuracy, Erwin Knoll, editor, "The Progressive" (Compare Thomas Jefferson: "Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knolege with the lies of the day.")

But the man [Thomas Babington Macaulay] is a humbug—a vulgar, shallow, self-satisfied mind: absolutely inaccessible to the complexities and delicacies of the real world. He has the journalist's air of being a specialist in everything, of taking in all points of view and being always on the side of the angels: he merely annoys a reader who has the least experience of knowing things, of what knowing is like. There is not two pence worth of real thought or real nobility in him.
C.S. Lewis, journal, July 1924

How could this extraordinary credulity exist in the minds of people who were adulated by one and all as maestros of discernment and judgment? It was from that moment that I began to get the feeling that a liberal view of life was not what I'd supposed it to be—a creative movement which would shape the future—but rather a sort of death wish. How otherwise could you explain how people, in their own country ardent for equality, bitter opponents of capital punishment and all for more humane treatment of people in prison, supporters, in fact, of every good cause, should in the USSR prostrate themselves before a regime ruled over brutally and oppressively and arbitrarily by a privileged party oligarchy? I still ponder over the mystery of how men displaying critical intelligence in other fields could be so astonishingly deluded. I tell you, if ever you are looking for a good subject for a thesis, you could get a very fine one out of a study of the books that were written by people like the Dean of Canterbury, Julian Huxley, Harold Laski, Bernard Shaw, or the Webbs about the Soviet regime. In the process you would come upon a compendium of fatuity such as has seldom, if ever, existed on earth. And I would really recommend it; after all, the people who wrote these books were, and continue to be regarded as, pundits, whose words must be very, very seriously heeded and considered.

I recall in their yellow jackets a famous collection in England called the Left Book Club. You would be amazed at the gullibility that's expressed. We foreign journalists in Moscow used to amuse ourselves, as a matter of fact, by competing with one another as to who could wish upon one of these intelligentsia visitors to the USSR the most outrageous fantasy. We would tell them, for instance, that the shortage of milk in Moscow was entirely due to the fact that all milk was given nursing mothers—things like that. If they put it in the articles they subsequently wrote, then you'd score a point. One story I floated myself, for which I received considerable acclaim, was that the huge queues outside food shops came about because the Soviet workers were so ardent in building Socialism that they just wouldn't rest, and the only way the government could get them to rest for even two or three hours was organizing a queue for them to stand in. I laugh at it all now, but at the time you can imagine what a shock it was to someone like myself, who had been brought up to regard liberal intellectuals as the samurai, the absolute elite, of the human race, to find that they could be taken in by deceptions which a half-witted boy would see through in an instant. I never got over that; it always remained in my mind as something that could never be erased. I could never henceforth regard the intelligentsia as other than credulous fools who nonetheless became the media's prophetic voices, their heirs and successors remaining so still.
Malcom Muggeridge, The Great Liberal Death Wish

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lan astaslem - I will not submit - I will not surrender

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Scuttle, scuttle, little roach

Nursery Rhymes for the Tender-Hearted (dedicated to Don Marquis)

Scuttle, scuttle, little roach—
How you run when I approach:
Up above the pantry shelf,
Hastening to secrete yourself.

Most adventurous of vermin,
How I wish I could determine
How you spend your hours of ease,
Perhaps reclining on the cheese.

Cook has gone, and all is dark—
Then the kitchen is your park:
In the garbage heap that she leaves
Do you browse among the tea leaves?

How delightful to suspect
All the places you have trekked:
Does your long antenna whisk its
Gentle tip across the biscuits?

Do you linger, little soul,
Drowsing in our sugar bowl?
Or, abandonment most utter,
Shake a shimmy on the butter?

Do you chant your simple tunes
Swimming in the baby's prunes?
Then, when dawn comes, do you slink
Homeward to the kitchen sink?

Timid roach, why be so shy?
We are brothers, thou and I.
In the midnight, like yourself,
I explore the pantry shelf!

—Christopher Morley

Monday, June 28, 2010

Emerson, honor, and spoons

If a pickpocket intrude into the society of gentlemen, they exert what moral force they have, and he finds himself un­com­fort­able, and glad to get away.

But if an adventurer go through all the forms, procure himself to be elected to a post of trust, as of senator, or president,—though by the same arts as we detest in the house-thief,—the same gentlemen who agree to discountenance the private rogue, will be forward to show civilities and marks of respect to the public one: and no amount of evidence of his crimes will prevent them giving him ovations, complimentary dinners, opening their own houses to him, and priding themselves on his acquaintance.

We were not deceived by the professions of the private adventurer,—the louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons; but we appeal to the sanctified preamble of the messages and proclamations of the public sinner, as the proof of sincerity.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conduct of Life VI. Worship

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

resistance and rebellion

The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive; if they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty...What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.
Thomas Jefferson in a letter to William Stephens Smith, 13 November 1787

Monday, March 22, 2010

serious problems in education

Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur--others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have even squandered the gains in student achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make those gains possible. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.

Our society and its educational institutions seem to have lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling, and of the high expectations and disciplined effort needed to attain them. This report, the result of 18 months of study, seeks to generate reform of our educational system in fundamental ways and to renew the Nation's commitment to schools and colleges of high quality throughout the length and breadth of our land. That we have compromised this commitment is, upon reflection, hardly surprising, given the multitude of often conflicting demands we have placed on our Nation's schools and colleges. They are routinely called on to provide solutions to personal, social, and political problems that the home and other institutions either will not or cannot resolve. We must understand that these demands on our schools and colleges often exact an educational cost as well as a financial one.
opening paragraphs of the report A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, by The National Commission on Excellence in Education, April 1983.

The Wikipedia entry states, "The report was primarily authored by James J. Harvey, who synthesized the feedback from the commission members and the memorable language in the opening pages."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

"I came like Water, and like Wind I go."


Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.


Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.


With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour'd it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd—
"I came like Water, and like Wind I go."
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, tr. Edward FitzGerald

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mussolini and Vanderbilt

Time magazine, Feb. 23, 1931:
Cornelius ("Neely") Vanderbilt Jr. … stated that it was he who had supplied the rambunctious General with the anecdote of Il Duce's alleged hit & run motor drive, for relating which the General was reprimanded by the Navy Department (TIME, Feb. 9; 16). But the imaginative young publicist was very wroth because General Butler "took a story of mine, twisted it around to score a point for himself, and made me the goat." Mr. Vanderbilt then gave newsmen the "real truth": "I was riding with Mussolini, who drove. A small child ran in front of the machine … and was hit. I looked back to see if the child was hurt. Mussolini placed his hand on my knee and said: 'Never look back, Vanderbilt, always look ahead in life.' "

As "twisted" by the General, the child was killed, and Il Duce's comment was: "What is one life in the affairs of a state?"

Monday, December 07, 2009

It (the press) has scoffed at religion till it has made scoffing popular. It has defended official criminals, on party pretexts, until it has created a United States Senate whose members are incapable of determining what crime against law and the dignity of their own body is—they are so morally blind—and it has made light of dishonesty till we have as a result a Congress which contracts to work for a certain sum and then deliberately steals additional wages out of the public pocket and is pained and surprised that anybody should worry about a little thing like that...
Mark Twain, License of the Press, an address before the Monday Evening Club, Hartford (1873)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

BACKWORD by Stan Freberg

(from the paperback compilation Inside Mad, Ballantine Books, 1955.)

(The following appears on page vi.)

Foremost among the song parodists is a young Californian who has rocked the nation with such hits as “John and Marsha,” “Try,” and now “Rock and Roll Around Stephen Foster.” You’ve seen his writing in Mad, Colliers, and other influential media. Now it gives us great pleasure to present this special Backword by Stan Freberg. Mr. Freberg. . .


Where is he?

I don’t see anybody.

Hold it. HOLD IT! You kids want to read Stan Freberg, don't you? Sure you do! Tell you what you do, then. Stan’s Backword is around in the back of the book. Lets all turn to page 183 in our MAD books. Got that—page 183. Ready?

Start turning!

(page 183)

BACKWORD by Stan Freberg

That fortunate legion of us tuned in on the MAD wave length, and therefore receptive to the mighty impulses radiating from its Furshlugginer-active1 pages, will immediately recognize the wisdom of a Backword. I feel, therefore, that no explanation is necessary. True, a few preoccupied shoppers may whisk the book home thinking it is Norman Vincent Peale or at least “The Mollie Goldberg Cookbook.” No matter. These people, being too pseudo-blasé or just plain dull to receive the MAD radiations, will (a) suffer an intense migraine headache four pages in, and (b) fling the book out of the window.

So that takes care of them.

This leaves a number of non-MAD-addicts who, because of their superior intelligence, will (a) see instantly the brilliant lampoonery that is MAD, (b) curse themselves soundly for having been behind the door when MAD was handed out, and (c) howl all the way through. By the time they will have reached the Backword, their brain-pans will have been conditioned to accept such things without a question. They will have become “MADDICTS” and therefore one of us. And we don’t need any explanation of a Backword, do we? So the sooner you get it through your potrzebie that there won't be any explanation the better—and that’s final now! Crimenentles!

Where was I? Oh, yes, the Backword. For the uninformed, MAD started out three years ago as a comic book kidding only other comic strips. It has graduated today into a first-rate humor magazine, kidding not only comic strips but movies, TV, novels, commercial ads or anything it feels like. Merely to say that I am a fan of this magazine would be like saying that Gina Lollobrigida is “sort of interesting.” I am addicted to MAD like the Aga Khan to starches. Why? Because it makes me laugh, and I am fond of laughing.

Fortunately, MAD loves to laugh at the same things I do—that is to say, we are both completely insane. MAD does the same thing in a literary (or illiterary) form that I try to do on phonograph records, which is to point up some of the absurdities of mankind through the medium of satire. In a world where things get a shade ridiculous at times, satire is a very important thing to mental health. It lets a little of the air out of people and things who take themselves too seriously and deserve to be brought back down to earth. It also gives everyone a good healthy laugh into the bargain.

Mad is an example of pure and honest satire, written brilliantly by my friend Harvey Kurtzman, and drawn hysterically by Jack Davis, Bill Elder and Wallace Wood. I cannot praise their combined efforts enough. This volume, for example, is taken from several issues of the original MAD and is all written by Harvey. My favorite is “Smilin’ Melvin.” You may like “Superduperman.”2

In closing, let us remember that someone once said “Laughter is the best medicine.” It is a true fact that a friend of mine had an acquaintance who fell into poor health and proceeded to decline a little each day until the doctors could do nothing for him. Upon being told that the patient was beyond medical help, my friend called one day at his bedside and on a hunch told him a very funny joke he had just heard regarding three wild animals and a man who played the violin.3 As he reached the punch line, the pale man opened his eyes and laughed for the first time in months. Color returned to his face, and would you believe it?—within forty-eight hours. . . he was dead. the laughter had overtaxed him. This shows how much the guy knew who said “Laughter is the best medicine.” HOO HAH!

It is possible, of course, that he meant “Laughter is the best tasting medicine.” This really shows you what a nudnick he was! I know of some much more daring medicines. I know of a cough sirup, for example, that tastes just like Manischewitz Wine when you pour it over the rocks. (It doesn't taste bad over ice, either.) Make this simple test at home: Pour first the cough sirup into a tall glass, then the laughter. See how much of a belt you get out of the laughter! I rest my case.

It seems pointless to go on because I think I have covered the subject adequately, and also because we are running out of paper. Those wishing to read the conclusion of my Backword will find it (with a fine magnifying glass) on the edge of this page in Sanskrit. The body of my message has been put across by now anyhow, which is simply that MAD is my favorite pastime (next to girls) and I hope you have enjoyed INSIDE MAD as much as I did. I boiled mine for dinner.

(photo of the back of Stan's head)

Notes (in original)

1. Similar to “radio-active” but with fewer commercials.
2. You may like it but you won’t get it, it’s in another collection. What do you expect for 35¢ anyway?
3. This joke is available on request.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

These are some of the cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that were the occasion for riots around the world. I've only included the ones I think are the best. I am NOT avoiding the others because they might be offensive.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Saturday Night Fry - Cutlery Exhibition

This is a transcript of a sketch from episode 3 of Stephen Fry's radio comedy series, "Saturday Night Fry", not his later programs of the same name.  Audio:

Stephen Fry: And as the prelude to act 3 of Wagner's Lohengrin fades away, it's time once more for our reports. Now then, young Hugh, you've been out and about, I understand?

Hugh Laurie: That's right, Stephen. As you probably know, the Skylight Gallery in South Molton Street has just reopened with a retrospective exhibition of modern cutlery by the group of new cutlers working in and around the Leighton Road area.

Stephen Fry: In London, is it?

Hugh Laurie: (Coldly, quietly) Yes. London, obviously. It's Kentish Town. Leighton Road, as I said. (Normal) I went to the gallery to talk to the exhibition's designer, Bothwell Crant.

Hugh Laurie: (on location) We're in front of some cutlery here entitled simply, "International Place Setting with Extra Butter Knife." Bothwell, take me through this work.

Bothwell Crant: Yes, certainly. This installation, as the artist prefers them to be called, was conceived in 1986 by the neo-classicist cutler Medusa Stoppit in response to an incident in her own personal life. She was entertaining to dinner a number of close personal friends when she discovered that she had no utensils with which the food could be eaten. So she hit upon the idea of creating out of simple everyday materials like drop-forged steel, electroplated nickel-silver and Britannia plate a number of what she calls oral ingestment instruments.

Waiter (Stephen Fry): (with Italian accent) Eh, ready to order, sir?

Bothwell Crant: Oh, yes. Minestrone, I think, and the lasagna al forno. Hugh?

Hugh Laurie: tonno e fagioli, please, followed by soliola al limone.

Waiter (Stephen Fry): Very good, sir. To drink?

Bothwell Crant: Acqua minerale, okay by you, Hugh?

Hugh Laurie: Yes, fine. You've arranged, Bothwell, this whole exhibition rather like -- rather like a restaurant.

Bothwell Crant: That's right! It was very much the idea to see the work in situ, as it were, rather than lifelessly hung on walls.

Hugh Laurie: Mmm. I'd like to bring Medusa Stoppit in, too, if I may. Medusa, this cutlery, we're about to use it. I have to say it certainly seems very functional. It all fits well to hand. I'm using a bread knife at the moment and I must say it appears to be working perfectly.

Medusa Stoppit: Thank you. You'll notice that one edge is sharper than the other.

Hugh Laurie: Yes! Yes, I have noticed that, yes.

Medusa Stoppit: This is quite deliberate. Although all knives are essentially double-edged, it seemed important to me to ensure that one edge was keener. This reflects a sense in which the choices in life, though endlessly varied, relentlessly ambiguous, must ultimately resolve. One view of the world is in the end truer, one action juster, one decision wiser, one edge must be sharper.

Hugh Laurie: Mmm. It also presumably reflects a sense in which bread is resistant to a blunt edge as far as slicing goes.

Medusa Stoppit: (Pause) (coldly) I think that's rather a shallow observation.

Hugh Laurie: Thank you. I also couldn't help noticing that each of the edges of the knives has printed on it "Firth and Sons, Sheffield, stainless steel, dishwasher-proof".

Medusa Stoppit: That's right. In a very real sense they were the makers of the instruments.

Hugh Laurie: I see. You commissioned the canteen of cutlery from them to your own design.

Medusa Stoppit: Well, I bought the set from Peter Jones, actually.

Hugh Laurie: Peter Jones the department store in Sloane Square?

Medusa Stoppit: No, Peter Jones the actor and "Just A Minute" star. Yes, of course, the department store.

Hugh Laurie: But I thought you were responsible for the actual manufacture and design.

Medusa Stoppit: I'm an ARTIST! It would take years to learn the skills involved in cutling. I haven't got the time between private viewings and press interviews to start acquiring vulgar skills. That's for ARTISANS. I BOUGHT the cutlery. Surely that's enough. If YOU had selected it it would've remained cutlery! As it is, I bought it and it's become, as you can see, something remorselessly OTHER!

Bothwell Crant: I think what Medusa is trying to say is that materials, design and function are subservient to MEANING. Meaning, of course, is connotational and independent of prescribed DENOTATION. It is her election of a meaning that is relevant, not the notionally determined and ultimately arbitrary dictates of manufacturers.

Hugh Laurie: Right. I see.

Waiter (Stephen Fry): Eh, who is having the minestrone?

Bothwell Crant: Thanks.

Hugh Laurie: What's happened here is you've got me to buy you all lunch in a restaurant in the middle of Kentish Town on the pretext of you inventing a new art form.

Bothwell Crant: Well, I think that's putting it a trifle accurately.

Hugh Laurie: I've been taken for a ride.

Medusa Stoppit: Nonsense! If we'd been genuine, you'd have had a few boring hours of art talk which would've meant nothing to no one instead of which you're having a charming Italian meal with two fascinating and engaging artists.

Bothwell Crant: Con artists, admittedly, but artists nonetheless.

Hugh Laurie: Well. With that, it's back to you in the studio, Stephen.

Stephen Fry: (chuckles) Well, lovely report, Hugh. I hope you're none the worse for your ordeal.

Hugh Laurie: Nothing that a hot bath and the skills of an exceptionally gifted orthopedic surgeon couldn't cure.

Stephen Fry: Excellent! Right.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Stan Freberg - Elderly Man River

Stan wrote this prescient sketch for his 1957 radio comedy show. It was performed on episode 6 and reprised on the last episode in a slightly different version. This transcript is an amalgam of the two versions.

Freberg: Well, it's great to be with you tonight. We have a—

Tweedly: Pardon me Mr. Freberg, but my name is Tweedly.

Freberg: Well, we all have our problems.

Tweedly: I'm the censor from the Citizens Radio Committee. And uh, I feel—

Freberg: You are from the Citizens Radio Committee, you say?

Tweedly: Exactly what I said, yes. I—

Freberg: And what is your purpose in being here?

Tweedly: I must OK all the material used on your program here. And I think the best method is to just sit back here and interrupt when I feel it's necessary.

Freberg: You mean you plan to stop me every time I do something YOU think is wrong?

Tweedly: Exactly. I'll just sound my little horn like this :HONK: and then you stop and I'll tell you what's wrong.

Freberg: Somehow I can tell this is going to be one of those days.

Tweedly: You just go right ahead, Mr. Freberg. Don't mind me.

Freberg: Yeah. Now I'd like to sing— :HONK:

Tweedly: You forgot to say "Thank you", Mr. Freberg. Politeness is an essential in radio programming. Your program goes into the home, we must be a good influence on children.

Freberg: I see uh... that's a nice little horn you have there.

Tweedly: Mm-hm.

Freberg: Thanks very much, Mr. Tweedly.

Tweedly: You're welcome, I'm sure.

Freberg: I'd like to sing a old river song in honor this week of National Mississippi River Boat Paddle Wheel Week. Mr. May, if you please.

Tweedly: Very polite, Mr. Freberg.

Freberg: Thank you.
:sings: Old Man River, that Old :HONK:
:speaks: All right Tweedly, politeness I dig, but what in the world is wrong with "Old Man River"?

Tweedly: The word "old" has a connotation some of the more elderly people find distasteful. I would suggest you make the substitution, please.

Freberg: I suppose you insist?

Tweedly: Precisely. You may continue.

Freberg: OK, music. :HONK:

Tweedly: You forgot to say "Thank you".

Freberg: Yes, okay. Thank you, Mr. Tweedly.

Tweedly: You're quite welcome, I'm sure.

Freberg: :sings: Elderly Man River, that Elderly Man River,
he must know somethin' but he don't say nothin :HONK:
:speaks: All right, hold it, fellas. Now what, Tweedly?

Tweedly: The word "something". You left off the "g".

Freberg: But that's authentic, "somethin', somethin'," that's the way people talk down there.

Tweedly: I'm sorry, the home is a classroom Mr. Freberg.

Freberg: I know, you said that.

Tweedly: Keep in mind the tiny tots. And furthermore, think back. You'll recall that you said, "but he don't say nothin". That was in quotes. Now really Mr. Freberg, that's a double negative. Do you mean "he does say something"?

Freberg: No I just wasn't using my head I guess.

Tweedly: I mean, after all, it should be grammatically correct. Keeping in mind—

Freberg: The tiny tots, yes.

Tweedly: You probably mean "he doesn't say anything".

Freberg: I-I-I I suppose I mean that, yes, I guess. All right, fine, you win. All right, Billy, music. :HONK: Thank you! Thank you.

Tweedly: You're welcome, I'm sure.

Freberg: :sings: Elderly Man River, that Elderly Man River,
he must know something but he doesn't say anything,
he just keeps rollin', rolling, he just keeps rolling along.
He don't :HONK: doesn't plant taters, potatoes, he doesn't plant cotton, cotting,
and them, these, those, that plants them are soon forgotting,
but Elderly Man River, he just keeps rolling along.

Tweedly: Excellent!

Freberg: :sings: You and me :HONK: :speaks: The tiny tots again was it?

Tweedly: Exactly.

Freberg: Sorry about that, here we go.
:sings: You and I, we sweat :HONK: perspire and strain,
bodies all achin' and racked with pain—
:speaks: Well, we got by that one.
:sings: Tote that barge! Lift that bale! You get a little—
:speaks: Take your finger off the button, Mr. Tweedly. We know when we're licked.
Well, that concludes "Elderly Man River." Now turning to the sports page here :HONK: Oh yes, and thank you for being with us, Mr. Tweedly.

Tweedly: You're welcome, I'm sure.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Wells, Hitler, and the World State" (excerpt), George Orwell (1941)

What has Wells to set against the ‘screaming little defective in Berlin’? The usual rigmarole about a World State, plus the Sankey Declaration, which is an attempted definition of fundamental human rights, of anti-totalitarian tendency. Except that he is now especially concerned with federal world control of air power, it is the same gospel as he has been preaching almost without interruption for the past forty years, always with an air of angry surprise at the human beings who can fail to grasp anything so obvious...
...What is the use of pointing out that a World State is desirable? What matters is that not one of the five great military powers would think of submitting to such a thing. All sensible men for decades past have been substantially in agreement with what Mr. Wells says; but the sensible men have no power and, in too many cases, no disposition to sacrifice themselves...
What has kept England on its feet during the past year? In part, no doubt, some vague idea about a better future, but chiefly the atavistic emotion of patriotism, the ingrained feeling of the English-speaking peoples that they are superior to foreigners. For the last twenty years the main object of English left-wing intellectuals has been to break this feeling down, and if they had succeeded, we might be watching the S.S. men patrolling the London streets at this moment...
The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions — racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war — which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms, and which they have usually destroyed so completely in themselves as to have lost all power of action.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Jane Austen on nice people

I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.
letter to her sister Cassandra (1798-12-24)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Severn Darden - Oedipus (Oedipus Rex) - transcript

Professor: Good evening, students.

I see there are a great many of you here this evening, which most probably means that you are missing Dr. Bettelheim's lecture, which is entitled "Some Positive Aspects of Anti-Semitism". And it's a good thing that you're missing it, too.

Now, this evening, if you will remember, we are to discuss eleftheros [ἐλεύθερος eleutheros] and ananke [ἀνάγκη anangke]: free will and necessity.

Now necessity is when you want to do something very, very, much, and the way is open so you can do it and nothing stands in your way, you couldn't do it. Whereas free will is where you want to do something, and everything in the entire universe makes it impossible for you to do it, you do it anyhow.

Now this evening we are going to examine free will and necessity in the light of the play that you were to have read, which is entitled "Oedipus Rex", which means "Oedipus the King". Now for those of you who may not have read it, the plot is a very simple one (in a confused way).

Oedipus is an orphan who doesn't know who his parents are. And one day for some or other reason, God knows why, he sets out on a journey. And in the road, on the journey, he meets a king. And the king says, "Move over, Oedipus, so I can get by!" (it was obviously a very narrow road or something). And Oedipus says "No!" (for some reason of his own). And the king says, "Move!" And Oedipus kills him in a fit of pique. And the king, being killed, dies.

And Oedipus goes on down the road, and he meets up there with a Sphinx. Now a Sphinx is an animal which is part lion, part woman, and very, very neurotic, heh! And who wouldn't be in such a situation! And so she proceeds to ask him the riddle of the Sphinx, which is, "What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?" And Oedipus answers, quite simply, Man. Because as a child you walk on all fours, and as a man you walk on two legs, and as an old man, you walk with a cane. So the Sphinx, hearing this, leaps over the cliff and destroys herself (for some neurotic reason of her own).

And then he goes into the town of Thebes where the townspeople meet him. And they say, "Oedipus, you have killed the Sphinx, therefore you must marry the queen." Cause and effect. [unintelligible] Anyhow, he marries the queen and he has four lovely little children.

And suddenly a pestilence falls on the land and people are getting sick and then there is a drought and the crops are failing. And out from the crowd steps a blind seer—another anomaly—whose name is Tiresias. And he says, Oedipus, that man that you killed, that king, that was your father, that woman that you married, that was your mother, and these four lovely children, God knows what relation they are to you.

And at this point from offstage is heard a scream. And he learns that Jocasta, the queen, has hanged herself in her own garments. And Oedipus, knowing this, rushes and he takes the pins from the garments and plucks out his own eyes and lives happily ever after in the garden.

Now, keeping in mind free will and necessity, we are going to see what would have happened to Oedipus if he had read the book before going on the journey. Free will and necessity, ja? Watch.

King: Make way for the king!

Professor: Certainly, your majesty! Go right past. Aha!

King: Not so fast.

Professor: What?

King: Why are you trying to curry favor with me, hah?

Professor: I wouldn't curry you.

King: Oh yeah? Why are you trying to butter me up?

Professor: I wouldn't butter you. What am I, a cook? What is this?

King: Why did you get out of the way so fast, then?

Professor: Well, I'll move back. I was [unintelligible]

King: Ah, just a minute now. I'm surrounded by two types of people, plotters and people who are trying to get in tight with me and get some—

Professor: [unintelligible] I happen to be a teacher.

King: I have a bad heart and I'm a very old man and if you excite me, I'm liable to go at any mo—oh—

Professor: Take an aspirin!

King: oh dear—oh, my heart—

Professor: Oh no! Please! He died of a heart attack! It wasn't my fault! I didn't do it! You see that!

Sphinx: Oedipus, you've come!

Professor: Good grief, a Sphinx!

Sphinx: All hail, great Oedipus!

Professor: Hello, schatzie, what can I do for you? What's happening?

Sphinx: Answer my riddle and you will marry the queen and become king of all Thebes!

Professor: Ah, I don't want to answer the riddle!

Sphinx: Oh, Oedipus, please? What walks on four legs in the morning—

Professor: four legs in the morning—

Sphinx: two in the afternoon—

Professor: two in the afternoon—

Sphinx: And three in the evening?

Professor: Three in the evening. Some sort of hideous monster, ha ha ha ha!

Sphinx: Oh, Oedipus—

Professor: What?

Sphinx: think of the power—of the glory—

Professor: I don't need power and glory, I'm a full professor. What do I need power and glory for? Ridiculous. What is it?

Sphinx: Yes, you are, yes, and you're a smart—man. MAN.

Professor: Oh, I'm a full professor but I'm not a real smart man.

Sphinx: MAN! You've guessed the magic word! [exits shrieking]

Professor: No, I said it by accident! I didn't mean to say that! Good grief, what a mess that Sphinx made of herself down there!

Chorus leader: Hail Oedipus!

Chorus: Hail Oedipus!

Professor: Hello there. What can I do for you?

Chorus leader: You've killed the Sphinx!

Chorus: the Sphinx!

Professor: the Sphinx.

Chorus leader: You must marry the queen!

Chorus: The queen!

Professor: The queen, ja, cause and effect, I know. I wouldn't do it, ha ha ha!

Chorus leader: You must marry the queen!

Chorus: the queen!

Professor: I won't marry the queen.

Chorus leader: If you don't marry the queen, we'll kill you!

Chorus: kill you!

Professor: [subdued] I'll marry the queen.

Chorus leader: Jocasta! The queen!

Jocasta: You have a lovely smile, Oedipus.

Professor: You know, by all rights, this should be my mother, but my mother's at home in Barbaria. Besides, she's a dwarf.

Crowd: [moaning] Oh! Oh! Oedipus!

Professor: Ja? What is it?

Chorus leader: the drought is on the land!

Chorus: the land!

Professor: It didn't rain. Cause and effect.

Chorus leader: The people are dying of the plague!

Chorus: the plague!

Professor: You didn't inoculate them.

Chorus leader: The crops have failed!

Chorus: have failed!

Professor: You didn't rotate them.

Tiresias: Oedipus!

Professor: Heavens, a seer!

Chorus leader: Tiresias!

Tiresias: Oedipus, I have a message for you. Come here.

Professor: What is it you want to say?

Tiresias: [whispers to Oedipus]

Professor: I'm a what?? What did you call me?? I'll hit you, that's what I'll do!

[Jocasta screams offstage]

Professor: What was that scream?

Chorus leader: The queen has hanged herself! Here are her pins. Put out your eyes.

Chorus: Your eyes.

Professor: My eyes. [increasingly dramatic music] Wait a minute. [music stops] I told you I was going down the road, the old man died of a heart attack, you knew he had heart trouble, only likely. That Sphinx was a twisty character, she tricked me into saying it. And then you forced me to marry the queen.

Chorus leader: That's true.

Professor: It's not my fault!

[crowd mutters]

Crowd: [shouting] It's not his fault!

Professor: [shouting] It's not my fault!

Crowd: It's not his fault!

Professor: It's not my fault!

Professor: So you see, my dear students, the lesson that we learn from this is that Man has free will, but tragic poets do not, and Art is not Nature.