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Past Quotes of the Month






















These the quotes that appeared as quote of the month at Earl’s Web Page. My more serious quote collection may be found at Collected Quotes.

May 2021

Well, [a] historian should be like that: fearless, incorruptible, frank, a friend of free speech and the truth, determined, as the comic poet puts it, to call figs figs and a tub a tub, indulging neither hatred nor friendship, sparing nobody, not showing pity or shame or diffidence, an unbiased judge, kindly to everyone up to the point of not allowing one side more than it deserves, a stranger without a state in his writings, independent, serving no king, not taking into account what any man will think, but simply saying what happened. Most important, he must apply his mind like a mirror which is clear, gleaming, and sharply focused, he must display the facts in accordance with the form of them he receives, and with no trace of distortion, false colours, or alteration.

Lucian of Samosata, How to Write History, circa 166 CE, as quoted at Episode 87: Lucian of Samosata, quoting the Oxford C.D.N. Costa translation

April 2021

We investigated the differential diffusion of all of the verified true and false news stories distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. The data comprise ~126,000 stories tweeted by ~3 million people more than 4.5 million times. We classified news as true or false using information from six independent fact-checking organizations that exhibited 95 to 98% agreement on the classifications. Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information. We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information. Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust. Contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.

Soroush Vosoughi et al., The spread of true and false news online

(There were no monthly quotes for February or March 2021.)

January 2021

On January 6, 2021, pursuant to the 12th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, the House of Representatives, and the Senate met at the United States Capitol for a Joint Session of Congress to count the votes of the Electoral College. In the months preceding the Joint Session, President Trump repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials. Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, President Trump, addressed a crowd at the Ellipse in Washington, DC. There, he reiterated false claims that we won this election, and we won it by a landslide. He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged—and foreseeably resulted in—lawless action at the Capitol, such as: if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore. Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.

President Trump’s conduct on January 6, 2021, followed his prior efforts to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential election. Those prior efforts included a phone call on January 2, 2021, during which President Trump urged the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, to find enough votes to overturn the Georgia Presidential election results and threatened Secretary Raffensperger if he failed to do so.

In all this, President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore, Donald John Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. Donald John Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

House of Representatives, January 13, 2021

December 2020

We’ve got a vaccine out in less than a year. It’s amazing. And it shouldn’t take too long for other vaccines to come out because the epidemic is raging so fast right now that the phase III trials of other vaccines ought to go quite quickly.

I think we are in the valley of the shadow of death. It is really dark. We know the sun is going to come up over a mountain at the other side of the valley, but it can’t rise fast enough.

Donald G. Mcneil Jr., 2020-12-14 Interview on The Daily

November 2020

Meanwhile, three hundred miles north of Babylon, another civilization had appeared. Forced to maintain a hard military life by the mountain tribes always threatening it on every side, it had in time overcome its assailants, had conquered its parent cities in Elam, Sumeria, Akkad and Babylonia, had mastered Phoenicia and Egypt, and had for two centuries dominated the Near East with brutal power. Sumeria was to Babylonia, and Babylonia to Assyria, what Crete was to Greece, and Greece to Rome: the first created a civilization, the second developed it to its height, the third inherited it, added little to it, protected it, and transmitted it as a dying gift to the encompassing and victorious barbarians. For barbarism is always around civilization, amid it and beneath it, ready to engulf it by arms, or mass migration, or unchecked fertility. Barbarism is like the jungle; it never admits its defeat; it waits patiently for centuries to recover the territory it has lost.

Will and Ariel Durant, The Story of Civilization, Volume One, Our Oriental Heritage, 1935

October 2020

To be fair, I don’t have any views on climate change either. Just like I don’t have any views on gravity, the fact that the earth is round, photosynthesis nor evolution…

But understanding and knowing their existence really makes life in the 21st century so much easier.

— Greta Thunberg, responding to Amy Coney Barrett on Twitter

September 2020

Let us, in our stories and novels, construct that fair and egalitarian world. Let us offer up clear-eyed alternatives to despair. Let us make the most of literature’s expansive reach, its prophetic possibilities, its power to shape the broader cultural consciousness. Facing the future means facing darkness, but it also means dreaming, giving weight and respect to the imagination. It means writing our way toward hope.

Allegra Hyde, Imagine All the People: The Case for Utopian Writing in the Age of Trump

August 2020

I think [Trump] did’t commit a criminal offense. What he did commit was an impeachable offense. If you look at the history of impeachment, what the framers were most concerned about was not whether a president violated some specific federal statute, because there were none at the time of the [framing], but what they cared about was abuse of power. That was the core issue that Madison, Hamilton, Jay, the Federalist Papers were all talking about, and if you look at what Trump did with regard to Ukraine, he took what is perhaps the most important power that a President has, which is conduct of foreign policy, and he put it to use entirely for the benefit of his reelection campaign, and that to me was the definition of an impeachable offense.

Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker interview: Donald Trump’s True Crimes and Misdemeanors

July 202

We have two pandemics in our country right now: COVID-19 and racism. One is six months old, the other is 400 years old. Both are lethal, especially for black and brown people.

Levar Stoney (mayor of Richmond, Virginia), NBC News

June 2020

Finally, a message for any government employee or contractor who believes they have learned of or observed unethical, wasteful, or illegal behavior in the federal government. The American people deserve an honest and effective government. They are counting on you to use authorized channels to bravely speak up — there is no disgrace in doing so. It is important to remember, as others have said, that the need for secrecy in the United States Intelligence Community is not a grant of power, but a grant of trust. Our government benefits when individuals are encouraged to report suspected fraud, waste, and abuse. I have faith that my colleagues in Inspectors General Offices throughout the federal government will continue to operate effective and independent whistleblower programs, and that they will continue to do everything in their power to protect the rights of whistleblowers. Please do not allow recent events to silence your voices.

Michael K. Atkinson, Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, on His Removal from Office

May 2020

And now be it said, I have visions for the future that are rosy, and that keeps me going too. … If you look at the periods after World War I and after World War II, not only did the economy come back after both those periods. Remember, after the one-two punch of World War I plus the Spanish influenza, we had the roaring '20s. After World War II, we had a period in which, in Europe, the war widows and pensions fund became the European welfare state. War profiteers suddenly faced higher taxes and a lot of scrutiny. People had pretty much had it with the rich by that time, and they wanted more. They wanted the G.I. Bill. They wanted federally-sponsored mortgages for housing. They wanted better health care. And to some extent, they got it. I was born in 1954, and my parents were of the generation that had made it through the Great Depression and through the Second World War. And they had a different attitude on life. They had a sense of, hey, we did this incredible thing. We did it all together. We got through it. I hope that sort of era comes again, that people will take more pleasure in small things in life. And that we will do more to make sure that we take care of each other, and that that’ll go through all levels of society. And like I said, I try not to predict the future, but maybe something like that will emerge from this.

Donald G. McNeil Jr., interviewed on The Daily (a podcast)
transcript: The Next Year (or Two) of the Pandemic

April 2020

[On the war metaphor] Viruses don’t have nationality. They don’t have politics. This virus does not have intent. It can’t be negotiated with. There will be no truce. This is part of why it’s a bad metaphor. None of the situations that we would expect from war translate.

Eula Bliss, On The Media Interview

March 2020

Without equity, pandemic battles will fail. Viruses will simply recirculate, and perhaps undergo mutations or changes that render vaccines useless, passing through the unprotected populations of the planet.

Laurie Garrett, 'Contagion' is part reality, part fantasy, totally possible

February 2020

I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam, April 4, 1967

January 2020

Few Lies carry the Inventor’s Mark; and the most prostitute Enemy to Truth may spread a thousand without being known for the Author. Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect : Like a Man who has thought of a good Reparteé, when the Discourse is chang’d, or the Company parted : Or, like a Physician who has found out an infallible Medicine, after the Patient is dead.

Jonathan Swift, The Examiner, Number 15, 1710 November 2 to November 9

December 2019

Republican faith in the magic of tax cuts — and, correspondingly, belief that tax increases will doom the economy — is the ultimate policy zombie, a view that should have been killed by evidence decades ago but keeps shambling along, eating G.O.P. brains.

Paul Krugman, Why Was Trumponomics a Flop?

November 2019

If the parties will have judgment, fiat justitia, ruat coelum
(Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall.)

Lord Mansfield, Somerset v. Stewart

October 2019

Government, on the old system, is an assumption of power, for the aggrandisement of itself; on the new, a delegation of power for the common benefit of society. The former supports itself by keeping up a system of war; the latter promotes a system of peace, as the true means of enriching a nation. The one encourages national prejudices; the other promotes universal society, as the means of universal commerce. The one measures its prosperity, by the quantity of revenue it extorts; the other proves its excellence, by the small quantity of taxes it requires.

Thomas Paine The Rights of Man, Chapter 3

September 2019

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.

The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

Fifty percent may be acceptable to you. But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist.

So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us — we who have to live with the consequences.

To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees global temperature rise — the best odds given by the IPCC — the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on January 1st, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons.

How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just business as usual and some technical solutions? With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than 8 1/2 years.

There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today, because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.

You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.

We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.

Greta Thunberg NPR Transcript: Greta Thunberg’s Speech At The U.N. Climate Action Summit

August 2019

Liberal democracy organizes society around respect for the dignity, equality and freedom of all human beings. Fascism, by contrast, organizes society around the vilification of outsiders. In this administration’s rhetoric toward undocumented immigrants from Central America and religious minorities, we have been subject to classic fascist tropes for some time. The obsessive focus on immigration and the representation of immigrants as invaders is particularly indicative of this ideology.

Jason Stanley, Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Fascism Claim Too Extreme?

July 2019

However, we must note some ironies here, due to the nature of political rhetoric as a secular variant of prayer. Imagine that you, as President, were about to put through Congress some measure that would strongly alienate some highly influential class. What would be the most natural way for you to present this matter to the public? Would you not try, as far as is stylistically possible, to soften the effects of the blow? You would try to be as reassuring as possible. Thus you might say: “Really, the proposed measure is not so drastic as it seems. Those men who are so afraid of it should look at things more calmly, and they’ll underdstand how it will actually benefit them in the end. It is really a measure of partial control, done for their own good.” And the more drastic the measure in actuality, the more natural it would be for the politician to present it in a way that would allay fears and resentment.

Imagine, on the other hand, that the public had been clamoring for such a measure, but you as President did not want to be so drastic. In fact, if the measure did what the public wanted it to do, it would alienate some very influential backers of your party. In this case, you would try to put through a more moderate measure—but you would make up the difference stylistically by thundering about its startling scope. One could hardly call this hypocrisy; it is the normally prayerful use of language, to sharpen up the pointless and blunt the too sharply pointed.

Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives, Part Three, Section 1, Political Rhetoric as Secular Prayer

June 2019

Some recent philosophers seem to have given their moral approval to these deplorable verdicts that affirm that the intelligence of an individual is a fixed quantity, a quantity that cannot be augmented. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism; we will try to demonstrate that it is founded on nothing.

Alfred Binet, Les idées modernes sur les enfants, 1909

May 2019

It turns out you can have intuitions for bad reasons. All it takes is a thought that comes to your mind automatically and with high confidence and you’ll think that its an intuition and you’ll trust it. But the correlation between confidence and accuracy is not high. That’s one of the saddest things about the human condition. You shouldn’t trust your confidence.

Daniel Kahneman, Making Sense #150 - The Map of Misunderstanding

April 2019

Do we really not think that there may be more out there than these two supposedly different alternatives, except that they deliver similarly bad results? … I find it like a virus of the human mind that we think in these binary opposites that very rarely match reality.

Daniele Bolelli, EP7 Hardcore History On Fire

March 2019

Surveillance Capitalism, n.

  1. A new economic order that claims human experience as free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction, and sales;
  2. A parasitic economic logic in which the production of goods and services is subordinated to a new global architecture of behavioral modification;
  3. A rouge mutation of capitalism marked by concentrations of wealth, knowledge, and power unprecedented in human history;
  4. A foundational framework of a surveillance economy;
  5. As significant a threat to human nature in the twenty-first century as industrial capitalism was to the natural world in the nineteenth and twentieth;
  6. The origin of a new instrumentarian power that asserts dominance over society and presents startling challenges to market democracy;
  7. A movement that aims to impose a new collective order based on total certainty;
  8. An expropriation of critical human rights that is best understood as a coup from above: an overthrow of the people’s sovereignty.

Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power

February 2019

Why do many British people not like Donald Trump?

A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace — all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing — not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility — for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is — his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults — he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a bully’s snivelling sidekick instead.

Nate White

January 2019

But whatever and however strong our conviction against the extension of governmental functions may be, we shall inevitably be swept farther toward socialism unless we can curb the excess of our financial magnates. The talk of the agitator alone does not advance socialism a step; but the formation of great trusts — the huge railroad consolidations — the insurance racers with the attendant rapacity or the dishonesty of their potent managers, and their frequent corruptions of councils and legislatures is hastening us almost irresistibly into socialistic measures. The great captains of industry and of finance, who profess the greatest horror of governmental functions, are the chief makers of socialism. Socialistic thinkers smile approvingly at the operations of Morgan, Perkins and Rockefeller, and of the Hydes, McCalls and McCurdys. They see approaching the glad day when monopoly shall have brought all industry and finance under a single head, so that with the cutting of a single neck, as Nero vainly wished for his Christain subjects, destruction of the enemy may be accomplished. Our great trust-building, trust-abusing capitalists have in their selfish shortsightedness become the makers of socialism, proclaiming by their acts, like the nobles of France, After us, the Deluge!

Louis D. Brandeis, Business — A Profession, 1914

December 2018

Mr. MADISON thought it indispensable that some provision should be made for defending the Community agst. the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate. The limitation of the period of his service, was not a sufficient security. He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers. The case of the Executive Magistracy was very distinguishable, from that of the Legislature or of any other public body, holding offices of limited duration. It could not be presumed that all or even a majority of the members of an Assembly would either lose their capacity for discharging, or be bribed to betray, their trust. Besides the restraints of their personal integrity & honor, the difficulty of acting in concert for purposes of corruption was a security to the public. And if one or a few members only should be seduced, the soundness of the remaining members, would maintain the integrity and fidelity of the body. In the case of the Executive Magistracy which was to be administered by a single man, loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic.

James Madison’s notes, Madison Debates July 20

November 2018

… the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; … a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers: No. 1

October 2018

We received a letter from the Writers’ War Board the other day asking for a statement on The Meaning of Democracy. It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure.

Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.

E. B. White, On the Meaning of Democracy, 1943

September 2018

I have little doubt that if we have the capacity to limit our birth rate, then we should consider doing that. We have a finite environment — the planet. Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.

Wherever women are literate and have political power, birth rates fall. That means those of us in developed countries should make sure those who don’t have those things get them. That is the one way population growth will slow in a serious way.

David Attenborough, Poorer countries are just as concerned about the environment

August 2018

There is looming up a new and dark power. I cannot dwell upon the signs and shocking omens of its advent. The accumulation of individual wealth seems to be greater than it ever has been since the downfall of the Roman Empire. And the enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marching, not for economic conquests only, but for political power. We see their colors, we hear their trumpets, we distinguish the sound of preparation in their camps. For the first time really in our politics, money is taking the field as an organized power. … Wealth has its rights. Industrious wealth has its honors. These it is the duty of the law to assert and protect, though wealth has great power of self-protection influence beyond the limits of integrity. But money, as a political influence, is essentially corrupt; is one of the most dangerous to free institutions; by far the most dangerous to the free and just administration of the law. An aristocracy of money is essentially the coarsest and rudest, the most ignoble and demoralizing, of all aristocracies. Here it comes, a competitor for social ascendancy. It is entitled to fear, if not to respect. The question will arise, and arise in your day, though perhaps not fully in mine, which shall rule—wealth or man; which shall lead—money or intellect; who shall fill public stations—educated and patriotic free men, or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?

Edward G. Ryan, Address to the Graduating Law Students of the University of Wisconsin, 1873

July 2018

And maybe most alarming, the majority has chosen the winners by turning the First Amendment into a sword, and using it against workaday economic and regulatory policy. Today is not the first time the Court has wielded the First Amendment in such an aggressive way. See, e.g., National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, ante, p. ___ (invalidating a law requiring medical and counseling facilities to provide relevant information to users); Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc., 564 U. S. 552 (2011) (striking down a law that restricted pharmacies from selling various data). And it threatens not to be the last. Speech is everywhere—a part of every human activity (employment, health care, securities trading, you name it). For that reason, almost all economic and regulatory policy affects or touches speech. So the majority’s road runs long. And at every stop are black-robed rulers overriding citizens’ choices. The First Amendment was meant for better things. It was meant not to undermine but to protect democratic governance—including over the role of public-sector unions.

Justice Elena Kagan, Dissent in Janus v. American Federation Of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, et al.

June 2018

Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia—the fruits of his genius for statesmanship—and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milošević.

Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour

May 2018

Simple logic dictates that if you cannot even conceive the possibility of leaving a negotiation, then it is preferable never to enter one.

Yanis Varoufakis

April 2018

Ingraham: Have we ever tried to meddle in other countries’ elections?
Woolsey: Oh probably, but it was for the good of the system to avoid communists taking over. For example, in Europe, in 47, 48, 49, the Greeks, and the Italians…
Ingraham: We don’t do that now though, we don’t mess around in other people’s elections Jim?
Woolsey: Well, num num num…
Ingraham: [laughs]
Woolsey: Only for a very good cause
Ingraham: Can you do that on a vine video on former CIA Director…
Woolsey: Only for a very good cause in the interests of democracy

Laura Ingraham interview of former CIA Director James Woolsey on Fox News, video

March 2018

The stag was a better fighter than the horse and used to drive him from the pasture they shared, until the loser in this lengthy contest begged the assistance of man and accepted the bit; but after he parted from his enemy in haughty triumph, he did not get rid of the rider from his back or the bit from his mouth.

Horace, Epistles, 1.10.35-42

February 2018

We live in dangerous times, but we are not the first generation of Americans to face threats to our security. Like those before us, we will be judged by future generations on how we react to this crisis. And by that I mean not just whether we win the war on terrorism, because I believe we will, but also whether, as we fight that war, we safeguard for our citizens the very liberties for which we are fighting.

Robert S. Mueller, III, American Civil Liberties Union 2003 Inaugural Membership Conference, June 13, 2003

January 2018

And now they’re selling water
I drank water from a creek
Someday they are gonna sell us
The very air that we breathe

Buddy Guy, Crazy World

December 2017

And as long as any survive who have had experience of oligarchical supremacy and domination, they regard their present constitution as a blessing, and hold equality and freedom as of the utmost value. But as soon as a new generation has arisen, and the democracy has descended to their children’s children, long association weakens their value for equality and freedom, and some seek to become more powerful than the ordinary citizens; and the most liable to this temptation are the rich.

So when they begin to be fond of office, and find themselves unable to obtain it by their own unassisted efforts and their own merits, they ruin their estates, while enticing and corrupting the common people in every possible way. By which means when, in their senseless mania for reputation, they have made the populace ready and greedy to receive bribes, the virtue of democracy is destroyed, and it is transformed into a government of violence and the strong hand.

Polybius, Histories

November 2017

It is this spirit which has commonly ruined great nations, when one party desires to triumph over another by any and every means and to avenge itself on the vanguished with excessive cruelty.

Sallust, The War with Jugurtha, p. 227

October 2017

A state of shock is produced when a story is ruptured, when we have no idea what’s going on. But in so many ways explored in these pages, Trump is not a rupture at all, but rather the culmination—the logical end point—of a great many dangerous stories our culture has been telling for a very long time. That greed is good. That the market rules. That money is what matters in life. That white men are better than the rest. That the natural world is there for us to pillage. That the vulnerable deserve their fate and the one percent deserve their golden towers. That anything public or commonly held is sinister and not worth protecting. That we are surrounded by danger and should only look after our own. That there is no alternative to any of this.

Given these stories are, for many of us, part of the very air we breathe, Trump really shouldn’t come as a shock. A billionaire president who boasts he can grab women by their genitals while calling Mexicans rapists and jeering at the disabled is the logical expression of a culture that grants indecent levels of impunity to the ultrarich, that is consumed with winner-take-all competition, and that is grounded in dominance-based logic at every level. We should have been expecting him, and indeed, many of those directly touched by the underbelly of Western racism and misogyny have been expecting him for a long time.

So maybe the emotion beneath what some have been calling shock is really, more accurately, horror. Specifically, the horror of recognition that we feel when we read effective dystopian fiction or watch good dystopian films. All stories of this genre take current trends and follow them to their obvious conclusion—and then use that conclusion to hold up a mirror and ask: Do you like what you see? Do you really want to continue down this road? These nightmare futures are horrifying precisely because they’re not shocking—not a break with our underlying stories, but their fulfillment. I’ve come to believe that we should see America’s first nuclear-armed reality-TV president in a similar fashion: as dystopian fiction come to life. Trump is a mirror, held up not only to the United States but to the world. If we don’t like what we see—and throngs of us clearly do not—then it is clear what we need to do.

We have to question not only Trump but the stories and systems that ineluctably produced him. It’s not enough to superficially challenge him as an individual, foul and alarmingly ignorant though he may be. We have to confront the deep-seated trends that rewarded him and exalted him until he became the most powerful person in the world. The values that have been sold to us through reality TV, get-rich-quick books, billionaire saviors, philanthrocapitalists. The same values that have been playing out in destroyed safety nets, exploding prison numbers, normalized rape culture, democracy-destroying trade deals, rising seas, and privatized disaster response.

At the same time, perhaps it’s OK—healthy, even—for us to be just a little bit shocked by Trump. Here’s why: Those stories that produced him were always contested. There were always other stories, ones that insisted that money is not all that’s valuable, and that all of our fates are intertwined with one another and with the health of the rest of the natural world. The forces Trump represents have always had to suppress those other, older, and self-evidently true stories, so that theirs could dominate against so much intuition and evidence.

The persistence of these other stories should remind us that, while Trump is the logical culmination of the current neoliberal system, the current neoliberal system is not the only logical culmination of the human story. Which is why part of our work now—a key part—is not just resistance, not just saying no. We have to do that, of course. But we also need to fiercely protect some space to dream and plan for a better world. This isn’t an indulgence. It’s an essential part of how we defeat Trumpism.

Naomi Klein, No Is Not Enough

September 2017

For the snark was a boojum, you see.

Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark

August 2017

When [Woody Guthrie] wrote his political songs it was always about lifting people up and giving them hope and making them feel a better life was possible. He said he hated songs that made people feel like they were born to lose. So what I learned from that — it’s something I’ve been feeling for a while, but I haven’t been able to articulate, and that is the biggest enemy of all of us who want to make the world a better place is not capitalism or conservatism. It’s actually cynicism. And not the cynicism of right-wing newspapers or news channels — the cynicism that is our greatest enemy is our own cynicism, our own sense that nothing will ever change, that nobody cares about this stuff, that all politicians are the same. If we’re gonna make a difference, we have to be able to overcome that. We have to be able to identify our cynicism — we all feel it, of course we all feel it — and we have to be able to curb it and put it to one side and go out every day and think the glass is half-full.

Billy Bragg, On Skiffle, The Movement That Brought Guitar To British Radio

July 2017

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

Edward Abbey, The Journey Home: Some Words in the Defense of the American West, p. 183

June 2017

EduNews has learned that a new form of digital manipulation was used on the netcast of the … speech. … The discrepancies are primarily enhancements to Ms. Boyer’s voice intonation, facial expressions, and body language. Viewers who watched the original version rate Ms. Boyer’s performance as good, while those who watched the edited version rate her performance as excellent, describing her as extraordinarily dynamic and persuasive. Based on their analysis, SemioTech Warriors believe Wyatt/Hayes have developed new software capable of fine-tuning paralinguistic cues in order to maximize the emotional response evoked in viewers. This dramatically increases the effectiveness of recorded presentations, especially when viewed through spex, and its use in the PEN netcast is likely what caused many supporters of the calliagnosia initiative to change their votes.

Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life

May 2017

The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or he could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend. He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could despatch his servant to the neighboring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference. But, most important of all, he regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant, scandalous, and avoidable. The projects and politics of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions, and exclusion, which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper, and appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of social and economic life, the internationalization of which was nearly complete in practice.

John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, 1920

April 2017

The most striking difference between ancient and modern sophists is the ancients were satisfied with a passing victory of the argument at the expense of truth, whereas the moderns want a more lasting victory at the expense of reality.

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

March 2017

The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.

— George Orwell, 1984

February 2017

Hannah Arendt in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism provides a helpful guide for interpreting the language of fascists. She noted how decent liberals of 1930s Germany would fact check the Nazis’ bizarre claims about Jews like they were meant to be factual. What they failed to understand, Arendt suggests, is that the Nazi Jew hating was not a statement of fact but a declaration of intent. So when someone would blame the Jews for Germany’s defeat in WW1, naïve people would counter by saying there’s no evidence of that. What the Nazis were doing was not describing what was true, but what would have to be true to justify what they planned to do next. Did 3 million illegals cast votes in this election? Clearly not. But fact checking is just a way of playing along with their game. What Trump is saying is not that 3m illegals voted. What he’s saying is: I’m going to steal the voting rights of millions of Americans.

— Elliott Lusztig (@ezlusztig), tweet thread

January 2017

Think of cocaine. In its natural form, as coca leaves, it’s appealing, but not to an extent that it usually becomes a problem. But refine it, purify it, and you get a compound that hits your pleasure receptors with an unnatural intensity. That’s when it becomes addictive.

Beauty has undergone a similar process, thanks to advertisers. Evolution gave us a circuit that responds to good looks—call it the pleasure receptor for our visual cortex—and in our natural environment, it was useful to have. But take a person with one-in-a-million skin and bone structure, add professional makeup and retouching, and you’re no longer looking at beauty in its natural form. You’ve got pharmaceutical-grade beauty, the cocaine of good looks.

Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life

December 2016

Freedom isn’t an illusion; it’s perfectly real in the context of sequential consciousness. Within the context of simultaneous consciousness, freedom is not meaningful, but neither is coercion; it’s simply a different context, neither more or less valid than the other. It’s like that famous optical illusion … There is no correct interpretation; both are equally valid. But you can’t see both at the same time.

Similarly, knowledge of the future is incompatible with free will. What made it possible for me to exercise freedom of choice also made it impossible for me to know the future. Conversely, now that I know the future, I would never act contrary to that future, including telling others what I know: those who know the future don’t talk about it. Those who have read the Book of Ages never admit to it.

Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life

November 2016

In conclusion: I expect Ms. Clinton to be elected and I’m currently taking no action to protect myself against the risks of a Trump presidency. The risks are real, but I think the odds of Trump winning are very low. If the unimaginable happens, I’ll be writing about when to head to the bunker.

Bill McBride, "How do I protect myself if Trump is elected?"

October 2016

This lost country composers do not actually remember, but each of them remains all his life somehow attuned to it; he is wild with joy when he is singing the airs of his native land, betrays it at times in his thirst for fame, but then, in seeking fame, turns his back upon it, and it is only when he despises it that he finds it when he utters, whatever the subject with which he is dealing, that peculiar strain the monotony of which—for whatever its subject it remains identical in itself—proves the permanence of the elements that compose his soul. But is it not the fact then that from those elements, all the real residuum which we are obliged to keep to ourselves, which cannot be transmitted in talk, even by friend to friend, by master to disciple, by lover to mistress, that ineffable something which makes a difference in quality between what each of us has felt and what he is obliged to leave behind at the threshold of the phrases in which he can communicate with his fellows only by limiting himself to external points common to us all and of no interest, art, the art of a Vinteuil like that of an Elstir, makes the man himself apparent, rendering externally visible in the colours of the spectrum that intimate composition of those worlds which we call individual persons and which, without the aid of art, we should never know? A pair of wings, a different mode of breathing, which would enable us to traverse infinite space, would in no way help us, for, if we visited Mars or Venus keeping the same senses, they would clothe in the same aspect as the things of the earth everything that we should be capable of seeing. The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is; and this we can contrive with an Elstir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from star to star.

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, Chapter 2, as quoted at What Marcel Proust Really Said about Seeing with New Eyes

September 2016

Extremism is the universal tuberculosis of modern society: a world infection of resentment and hatred generated by rapid change and the breakdown of old values. In the stabler nations the tubercles are sealed off in scar tissue, and these are the harmless lunatic movements. In times of social disorder, depression, war, or revolution, the germs can break forth and infect the nation. This has happened in Germany. It could happen anywhere, even in the United States.

Herman Wouk, War and Remembrance

August 2016

This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears above ground he is a protector.

Plato, The Republic, Book VIII

July 2016

The progress of science in furnishing the Government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wiretapping. Ways may someday be developed by which the Government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home.

Louis D. Brandeis, dissent in Olmstead v. United States, 1928

June 2016

There is a widespread belief that the existing unemployment is the result, in large part, of the gross inequality in the distribution of wealth and income which giant corporations have fostered; that by the control which the few have exerted through giant corporations, individual initiative and effort are being paralyzed, creative power impaired and human happiness lessened; that the true prosperity of our past came not from big business, but through the courage, the energy and the resourcefulness of small men; that only by releasing from corporate control the faculties of the unknown many, only by reopening to them the opportunities for leadership, can confidence in our future be restored and the existing misery be overcome; and that only through participation by the many in the responsibilities and determinations of business, can Americans secure the moral and intellectual development which is essential to the maintenance of liberty. If the citizens of Florida share that belief, I know of nothing in the Federal Constitution which precludes the State from endeavoring to give it effect and prevent domination in intrastate commerce by subjecting corporate chains to discriminatory license fees. To that extent, the citizens of each State are still masters of their destiny.

Louis D. Brandeis, dissent in Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee (U.S. 1933)

May 2016

We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable — but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

Ursula K Le Guin, speech at National Book Awards, November 2014

April 2016

There may be others of my complexion who learn better by counterexample than by example, by eschewing not pursuing. That was the sort of instruction which the Elder Cato was thinking of when he said that the wise have more to learn from the fools than do the fools from the wise, as also that lyre-player in antiquity who, Pausanias says, used to require his students to go and listen to some performer who lived across the street so that they would learn to loathe discords and faulty rhythms. My horror of cruelty thrusts me deeper into clemency than any example clemency ever could draw me. A good equerry does not make me sit up straight in the saddle as much as the sight of a lawyer or a Venetian out riding, and bad use of language corrects my own better than a good one. Every day I am warned and counselled by the stupid deportment of someone. What hits you affects you and wakes you up more than what pleases you.

Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays, Book III. 8. On Conversation

March 2016

And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind?

Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.

She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.

She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.

She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.

She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right.

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.

She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. …

She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit. …

[America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.

John Quincy Adams, 1821 July 4 Speech to House of Representatives

February 2016

The laws of conscience, which we pretend to be derived from nature, proceed from custom; every one, having an inward veneration for the opinions and manners approved and received amongst his own people, cannot, without very great reluctance, depart from them, nor apply himself to them without applause.

Michel de Montaigne, Chapter XXII—Of Custom, And That We Should Not Easily Change A Law Received

January 2016

You seem to have misapprehended my proposition for the choice of a Senate. I had two things in view: to get the wisest men chosen, & to make them perfectly independent when chosen. I have ever observed that a choice by the people themselves is not generally distinguished for its wisdom. This first secretion from them is usually crude & heterogeneous. But give to those so chosen by the people a second choice themselves, & they generally will chuse wise men. For this reason it was that I proposed the representatives (& not the people) should chuse the Senate, & thought I had notwithstanding that made the Senators (when chosen) perfectly independant of their electors. However I should have no objection to the mode of election proposed in the printed plan of your committee, to wit, that the people of each county should chuse twelve electors, who should meet those of the other counties in the same district & chuse a senator. I should prefer this too for another reason, that the upper as well as lower house should have an opportunity of superintending & judging of the situation of the whole state & be not all of one neighborhood as our upper house used to be. So much for the wisdom of the Senate. To make them independent, I had proposed that they should hold their places for nine years, & then go out (one third every three years) & be incapable for ever of being re-elected to that house. My idea was that if they might be re-elected, they would be casting their eye forward to the period of election (however distant) & be currying favor with the electors, & consequently dependant on them. My reason for fixing them in office for a term of years rather than for life, was that they might have in idea that they were at a certain period to return into the mass of the people & become the governed instead of the governor which might still keep alive that regard to the public good that otherwise they might perhaps be induced by their independance to forget. Yet I could submit, tho' not so willingly to an appointment for life, or to any thing rather than a mere creation by & dependance on the people. I think the present mode of election objectionable because the larger county will be able to send & will always send a man (less fit perhaps) of their own county to the exclusion of a fitter who may chance to live in a smaller county. — I wish experience may contradict my fears. — That the Senate as well as lower [or shall I speak truth & call it upper] house should hold no office of profit I am clear; but not that they should of necessity possess distinguished property. You have lived longer than I have and perhaps may have formed a different judgment on better grounds; but my observations do not enable me to say I think integrity the characteristic of wealth. In general I beleive the decisions of the people, in a body, will be more honest & more disinterested than those of wealthy men: & I can never doubt an attachment to his country in any man who has his family & peculium in it: — Now as to the representative house which ought to be so constructed as to answer that character truly. I was for extending the right of suffrage (or in other words the rights of a citizen) to all who had a permanent intention of living in the country. Take what circumstances you please as evidence of this, either the having resided a certain time, or having a family, or having property, any or all of them. Whoever intends to live in a country must wish that country well, & has a natural right of assisting in the preservation of it. I think you cannot distinguish between such a person residing in the country & having no fixed property, & one residing in a township whom you say you would admit to a vote. — The other point of equal representation I think capital & fundamental.

Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Edmund Pendleton, Philadelpha, August 26, 1776

December 2015

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it - It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

George Washington, Farewell Address 1796

November 2015

I see an innumerable crowd of men, all alike and equal, turned in upon themselves in a restless search for those petty, vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, living apart, is almost unaware of the destiny of all the rest. His children and personal friends are for him the whole of the human race; as for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he stands alongside them but does not see them; he touches them without feeling them; he exists only in himself and for himself; if he still retains his family circle, at any rate he may be said to have lost his country.

Above these men stands an immense and protective power which alone is responsible for looking after their enjoyments and watching over their destiny. It is absolute, meticulous, ordered, provident, and kindly disposed. It would be like a fatherly authority, if, fatherlike, its aims were to prepare men for manhood, but it seeks only to keep them in perpetual childhood; it prefers its citizens to enjoy themselves provided they have only enjoyment in mind. It works readily for their happiness but it wishes to be the only provider and judge of it. It provides their security, anticipates and guarantees their needs, supplies their pleasures, directs their principal concerns, manages their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances. Why can it not remove them entirely from the bother of thinking and the troubles of life?

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1831

October 2015

In ancient times the State absorbed authorities not its own, and intruded on the domain of personal freedom. In the Middle Ages it possessed too little authority, and suffered others to intrude. Modern States fall habitually into both excesses. The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.

John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity (1877)

September 2015

I shall never again enjoy the opportunity of speaking my thoughts to an audience such as this, and on so privileged an occasion a lecturer may well be tempted to bethink himself whether he knows of any neglected truth, any cardinal proposition, that might server as his selected epigraph, as a last signal, perhaps even as a target. I am not thinking of those shining precepts which are the registered property of every school; that is to say — Learn as much by writing as by reading; be not content with the best book; seek sidelights from the others; have no favourites; keep men and things apart; guard against the prestige of great names; see that your judgments are your own; and do not shrink from disagreement; no trusting without testing; be more severe to ideas than to actions; do not overlook the strength of the bad cause of the weakness of the good; never be surprised by the crumbling of an idol or the disclosure of a skeleton; judge talent at its best and character at its worst; suspect power more than vice, and study problems in preference to periods; …. Most of this, I suppose, is undisputed, and calls for no enlargement. But the weight of opinion is against me when I exhort you never to debase the moral currency or to lower the standard of rectitude, but to try others by the final maxim that governs your own lives, and to suffer no man and no cause to escape the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict on wrong. The plea in extenuation of guilt and mitigation of punishment is perpetual. At every step we are met by arguments which to to excuse, to palliate, to confound right and wrong, and reduce the just man to the level of the reprobate. The men who plot to baffle and resist us are, first of all, those who made history what it has become. They set up the principle that only a foolish Conservative judges the present time with the ideas of the past; that only a foolish Liberal judges the past with the ideas of the present.

John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, The Study of History (1895), pages 23-24

August 2015

Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.

John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, Letter (23 January 1861), published in Lord Acton and his Circle (1906) edited by Abbot Gasquet, Letter 74, page 166

July 2015

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it, and labored with it. It deserved well of its country. It was very like the present, but without the experience of the present; and forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book-reading; and this they would say themselves, were they to rise from the dead. I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors. It is this preposterous idea which has lately deluged Europe in blood. Their monarchs, instead of wisely yielding to the gradual change of circumstances, of favoring progressive accommodation to progressive improvement, have clung to old abuses, entrenched themselves behind steady habits, and obliged their subjects to seek through blood and violence rash and ruinous innovations, which, had they been referred to the peaceful deliberations and collected wisdom of the nation, would have been put into acceptable and salutary forms. Let us follow no such examples, nor weakly believe that one generation is not as capable as another of taking care of itself, and of ordering its own affairs.

Thomas Jefferson, to Samuel Kercheval, Monticello, July 12, 1816

June 2015

Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.

Daniel Davies, D-Squared Digest

May 2015

The Republican Party has become a radical insurgency — ideologically extreme, scornful of facts and compromise, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. Securing the common good in the face of these developments will require structural changes but also an informed and strategically focused citizenry.

Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein, Finding the Common Good in an Era of Dysfunctional Governance

April 2015

The slaughter of innocent straw men is appalling.

Steven Blough, Tweet

March 2015

It is a natural human instinct to turn our fears into symbols, and destroy the symbols, in the hope that it will destroy the fear. It is a logic that keeps recurring throughout human history, from the Crusades to the witch hunts to the present day. It’s hard to sit with a complex problem, such as the human urge to get intoxicated, and accept that it will always be with us, and will always cause some problems (as well as some pleasures). It is much more appealing to be told a different message—that it can be ended. That all these problems can be over, if only we listen, and follow.

Johann Hari, Chasing The Stream, pages 44-45

February 2015

… I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means. You would hang a man of no position, like Ravaillac; but if what one hears is true, then Elizabeth asked the gaoler to murder Mary, and William III ordered his Scots minister to extirpate a clan. Here are the greater names coupled with the greater crimes. You would spare these criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them, higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice; still more, still higher, for the sake of historical science.

John Emerich Edward Dalberg (Lord Acton), Letter to Archbishop Mandell Creighton, April 5, 1887

January 2015

                                    PART I

                                  Article 1
    1.   For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any
act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is
intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or
a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a
third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or
intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on
discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at
the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or
other person acting in an official capacity.  It does not include pain or
suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

     2.   This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or
national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider

                                  Article 2
     1.   Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative,
judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under
its jurisdiction.

     2.   No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a
threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency,
may be invoked as a justification of torture.

     3.   An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be
invoked as a justification of torture.


                                  Article 5
     1.   Each State Party shall take such measures as may be necessary to
establish its jurisdiction over the offences referred to in article 4 in the
following cases:

     (a)  When the offences are committed in any territory under its
jurisdiction or on board a ship or aircraft registered in that State;

     (b)  When the alleged offender is a national of that State;

     (c)  When the victim is a national of that State if that State considers
it appropriate.


                                  Article 16
     1.   Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under
its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article 1, when such
acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or
acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official
capacity.  In particular, the obligations contained in articles 10, 11, 12 and
13 shall apply with the substitution for references to torture of references
to other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (signed by Ronald Reagan for the U.S. 18 April 1988, ratified by the U.S. Senate 21 October 1994)

December 2014

If our handling of the problem of Communist influence in our midst is not carefully moderated—if we permit it, that is, to become an emotional preoccupation and to blind us to the more important positive tasks before us—we can do a damage to our national purpose beyond comparison greater than anything that threatens us today from the Communist side. The American Communist party is today, by and large, an external danger. It represents a tiny minority in our country; it has no real contact with the feelings of the mass of our people; and its position as the agency of a hostile foreign power is clearly recognized by the overwhelming mass of our citizens.

But the subjective emotional stresses and temptations to which we are exposed in our attempt to deal with this domestic problem are not an external danger: they represent a danger within ourselves—a danger that something may occur in our own minds and souls which will make us no longer like the persons by whose efforts this republic was founded and held together, but rather like the representatives of that very power we are trying to combat: intolerant, secretive, suspicious, cruel and terrified of internal dissension because we have lost our own belief in ourselves and in the power of our ideals. The worst thing that our Communists could do to us, and the thing we have most to fear from their activities, is that we should become like them.

George F. Kennan, Where Do You Stand on Communism?, New York Times Magazine, May 27, 1951

November 2014

This was what they had raised from the scraps of communism. This was what the struggle for freedom and democracy had delivered. Bread and circuses. Mostly circuses. From one grand deception to another was their lot. First the Soviet sham, then the capitalist. For the ordinary citizen, these were just two different varieties of poison. The current variety served in a nicer bottle.

David Bezmozgis, The Betrayers

October 2014

George Orwell introduced the dictator Big Brother in his novel 1984, as I’m sure you know. The book was an allegorical treatment of Stalinism, of course. And ever since then, the term ‘Big Brother’ has functioned as a social icon. That was Orwell’s great accomplishment. But now, in the real year 1984, Big Brother is all too famous, and all too obvious. If Big Brother were to appear before us now, we’d point to him and say, ‘Watch out! He’s Big Brother!’ There’s no longer any place for Big Brother in this real world of ours. Instead, these so-called Little People have come on the scene. Interesting verbal contrast, don’t you think?

Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

September 2014

In a lot of ways, we’re worse off today than we were under George W. Bush.

Back then, Bush’s extremist assault on civil liberties, human rights and other core American values in the name of fighting terror felt like an aberration.

The expectation was that those policies would be quickly reversed, discredited — and explicitly outlawed — once he was no longer in power.

Instead, under President Barack Obama, they’ve become institutionalized.

There will be no snapping back to a pre-Bush-era respect for basic human dignity and civil rights. Thanks to Obama, it’s going to be a hard, long fight.

In some cases, Obama has set even darker precedents than his predecessor. Massively invasive bulk surveillance of Americans and others has been expanded, not constrained. This president secretly condemns people to death without any checks or balances, and shrugs as his errant drones massacre innocent civilians. Whistleblowers and journalists who expose national security wrongdoing face unprecedented criminal prosecution.

Dan Froomkin, Froomkin Blogs Again: Obama Makes Bushism the New Normal

August 2014

A comfortably plump dog happened to run into a wolf. The wolf asked the dog where he had been finding enough food to get so big and fat. It is a man, said the dog, who gives me all this food to eat. The wolf then asked him, And what about that bare spot there on your neck? The dog replied, My skin has been rubbed bare by the iron collar which my master forged and placed upon my neck. The wolf then jeered at the dog and said, Keep your luxury to yourself then! I don’t want anything to do with it, if my neck will have to chafe against a chain of iron!

Aesop, translated by Laura Gibbs

July 2014

Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people. From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare they have become the tools of corrupt interests, which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., The Progressive Covenant With The People speech (August 1912).

June 2014

To be exact, our economic leadership does not seem to be aware that the normal functioning of our economy leads to be financial trauma crises, inflation, currency depreciations, unemployment, and poverty in the midst of what could be virtually universal affluence—in short, that financially complex capitalism is inherently flawed.

Economic advisers, whether liberal or conservative, believe in the fundamental soundness of the economy. … The truth of the matter is that something is fundamentally wrong with our economy. As we have shown, a capitalist economy is inherently flawed because its investment and financing processes introduce endogenous destabilizing forces. The markets of a capitalist economy are not well suited to accommodate specialized, long-lived, expensive capital assets. In fact, the underlying economic theory of the policy establishment does not allow for capital assets and financial relations such as exist.

Hyman P. Minsky, Stabilizing An Unstable Economy, 1986, Chapter 12

May 2014

If any one owe a debt for a loan, and a storm prostrates the grain, or the harvest fail, or the grain does not growth for lack of water, in that year he need not give his creditor any grain, he washes his debt-tablet in water and pays no rent for this year.

Section 48 of the Code of Hammurabi (translated by Leonard William King, 1910)

April 2014

How plain that death is only the phenomenon of the individual or class! Nature does not recognize it; she finds her own again under new forms without loss. Yet death is beautiful when seen to be a law and not an accident. It is as common as life. … When we look over the fields we are not saddened because these particular flowers or grasses will wither; for the law of their death is the law of new life. Will not the land be in good heart because the crops die down from year to year? The herbage cheerfully consents to bloom, and wither, and give place to a new. So it is with the human plant. We are partial and selfish when we lament the death of the individual, unless our plaint be a pæan to the departed soul, and a sigh, as the wind sighs over the fields, which no shrub interprets into its private grief.

Henry David Thoreau, letter to Emerson, Concord, March 11th, 1842, as quoted at Thoreau’s Poems of Nature, pages 352-353

March 2014

Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: (1) It’s completely impossible. (2) It’s possible, but it’s not worth doing. (3) I said it was a good idea all along.

Arthur C. Clarke

February 2014

As you walk from the terminal toward your airliner, you notice a man on a ladder busily prying rivets out of its wing. Somewhat concerned, you saunter over to the rivet popper and ask him just what the hell he’s doing.

I work for the airline—Growthmania Intercontinental, the man informs you, and the airline has discovered that it can sell these rivets for two dollars apiece.

But how do you know you won’t fatally weaken the wing doing that? you inquire.

Don’t worry, he assures you. I’m certain the manufacturer made this plane much stronger than it needs to be, so no harm’s done. Besides, I’ve taken lots of rivets from this wing and it hasn’t fallen off yet. Growthmania Airlines needs the money; if we didn’t pop the rivets, Growthmania wouldn’t be able to continue expanding. And I need the commission they pay me—fifty cents a rivet!

You must be out of your mind!

I told you not to worry; I know what I’m doing. As a matter of fact, I’m going to fly on this flight also, so you can see there’s absolutely nothing to be concerned about.

Any sane person would, of course, go back into the terminal, report the gibbering idiot and Growthmania Airlines to the FAA, and make reservations on another carrier. You never have to fly on an airliner. But unfortunately all of us are passengers on a very large spacecraft—one on which we have no option but to fly. And, frighteningly, it is swarming with rivet poppers behaving in ways analogous that just described.

Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species

January 2014

But I’ve loitered long enough. The Lord bless your life and bestow on you such honor as you surely deserve. And mind you commend me to your mannerly wife, both to her and the other, those honorable ladies who kidded me so cleverly with their cunning tricks. But no wonder if a fool should fall for a female and be wiped of his wits by womanly guile—it’s the way of the world. Adam fell for of a woman, and Solomon for several, and as for Samson, Delilah was his downfall, and afterwards David was bamboozled by Bathsheba and bore the grief. All wrecked and ruined by their wrongs; if only we could love our ladies without believing their lies.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated by Simon Armitage, narrated by Bill Wallis.

December 2013

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

Tao Te Ching, translated by S. Mitchell

November 2013

Vercotti: …one night Dinsdale walks with a couple of big lads, one of whom was carrying a tactical nuclear missile. They said I bought one of their fruit machines and would I pay for it?

Interviewer: How much did they want?

Vercotti: Uh, Three quarters of a million pounds, and they went out.

Interviewer: Why didn’t you call for the police?

Vercotti: Well, I noticed the lad with the thermonuclear device was the chief constable for the area. Anyway, a week later, they come back and said the cheque had bounced and that I had to see Doug.

Interviewer: Doug?

Vercotti: Doug. (takes a drink) I was terrified of him. Everyone was terrified of Doug. I’ve seen grown men pull their own heads off rather than see Doug. Even Dinsdale was frightened of Doug.

Interviewer: What did he do?

Vercotti: He used sarcasm. He knew all the tricks: dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire.

Monty Python, Piranha Brothers

October 2013

What I cannot create, I do not understand.

Richard Feynman (On his blackboard at time of death in 1988)

September 2013

There seems to be no limit to the violations to their hard-won liberties that Americans will put up with in the catchall name of counter terror.

John le Carré (David Cornwell), Conversations with John le Carré

August 2013

How is the world ruled and how do wars start? Diplomats tell lies to journalists and then believe what they read.

Karl Kraus

July 2013

We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?

Tom Stoppard, Arcadia

June 2013

The girl and the woman, in their new, individual unfolding, will only in passing be imitators of male behavior and misbehavior and repeaters of male professions. After the uncertainty of such transitions, it will become obvious that women were going through the abundance and variation of those (often ridiculous) disguises just so that they could purify their own essential nature and wash out the deforming influences of the other sex. Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately, more fruitfully, and more confidently, must surely have become riper and more human in their depths than light, easygoing man, who is not pulled down beneath the surface of life by the weight of any bodily fruit and who, arrogant and hasty, undervalues what he thinks he loves. This humanity of woman, carried in her womb through all her suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she has stripped off the conventions of mere femaleness in the transformations of her outward status, and those men who do not yet feel it approaching will be astonished by it. Someday (and even now, especially in the countries of northern Europe, trustworthy signs are already speaking and shining), someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only of life and reality: the female human being.

This advance (at first very much against the will of the outdistanced men) will transform the love experience, which is now filled with error, will change it from the ground up, and reshape it into a relationship that is meant to be between one human being and another, no longer one that flows from man to woman. And this more human love (which will fulfill itself with infinite consideration and gentleness, and kindness and clarity in binding and releasing) will resemble what we are now preparing painfully and with great struggle: the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Letter 7

May 2013

I’ve thought about modern American politics recently, and I thought, Why can’t these guys comes to a reasonable compromise on issues that affect everybody? Then I realized they don’t want to compromise … because their primary pleasure in doing this is to generate a sense of purpose in their lives that might arise out of some negative emotional attribute such as vengeance, retribution, or just ventilation of anger. … the Tea Party, for example, what if that is their purpose to life? Well, that’s quite different than thinking they’re trying to be reasonable and rational. Rationality takes second place to the feeling of whatever gives them real meaning. This is true on all sides; I don’t mean to single out one group of people.

It’s allowed me to understand that these mechanisms—these mental sensations— probably drive the majority of modern discourse; it’s not reason.

Most of modern discourse is not about arriving at the best answer; it’s about arriving at the answer that gives the individual participants the greatest sense of pleasure and purpose. That’s quite different. And until you can see that … we’re sort of stuck.

Robert Burton, MD, Brain Science Podcast 96

April 2013

The war tried to kill us in spring. As grass greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer. When we pressed onward through exhaustion, its eyes were white and open in the dark. While we ate, the war fasted, fed by its own deprivation. It made love and gave birth and spread through fire.

Then, in summer, the war tried to kill us as the heat blanched all color from the plains. The sun pressed into our skin, and the war sent its citizens rustling into the shade of white buildings. It cast a white shade on everything, like veil over our eyes. It tried to kill us every day, but it had not succeeded. Not that our safety was preordained. We were not destined to survive. The fact is, were were not destined at all. The war would take what it could get. It was patient. It didn’t care about objectives, or boundaries, whether you were loved by many or not at all. While I slept that summer, the war came to me in my dreams and showed me its sole purpose: to go on, only to go on. And I knew the war would have its way.

Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds, p. 3

March 2013

Both liberty and equality are among the primary goals pursued by human beings throughout many centuries; but total liberty for wolves is death to the lambs, total liberty of the powerful, the gifted, is not compatible with the rights to a decent existence of the weak and the less gifted.

Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas, p. 12

February 2013

But what about the other side [literary intellectuals]? They are impoverished too—perhaps more seriously, because they are vainer about it. They still like to pretend that the traditional culture is the whole of ‘culture’, as though the natural order did not exist. As though the exploration of the natural order was of no interest either in its own value or its consequences. As though the scientific edifice of the physical world was not, in its intellectual depth, complexity and articulation, the most beautiful and wonderful collective work of the mind of man. Yet most non-scientists have no conception of that edifice at all. Even if they want to have it, they can’t. It is rather as though, over an immense range of intellectual experience, a whole group was tone-deaf. Except that this tone-deafness doesn’t come by nature, but by training, or rather the absence of training.

As with the tone-deaf, they don’t know what they miss. They give a pitying chuckle at the news of scientists who have never read a major work of English literature. They dismiss them as ignorant specialists. Yet their own ignorance and their own specialization is just as startling. A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?

I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question—such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read?—not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.

Just one more of those quesions, that my non-scientific friends regard as being in the worst of taste. Cambridge is a university where scientists and non-scientists meet every night at dinner. About two years ago, one of the most astonishing experiments in the whole history of science was brought off. I don’t mean sputnik—that was admirable for quite different reasons, as feat of organisation and thriumphant use of existing knowledge. No I mean the experiment at Columbia by Yang and Lee. It is an experiment of the greatest beauty and originality, but the result is so startling that one forgets how beautiful the experiment is. It makes us think again about some of the fundamentals of the physical world. Intuition, common sense—they are neatly stood on their heads. The result is usually known as the contradiction of parity. If there were any serious communication between the two cultures, this experiment would have been talked about at every High Table in Cambridge. Was it? I wasn’t here: but I should like to ask the question.

C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures and The Scientific Revolution, The Rede Lecture 1959

January 2013

I am an old man now, and when I die and go to heaven there are two matters on which I hope for enlightenment. One is quantum electrodynamics, and the other is the turbulent motion of fluids. And about the former I am rather optimistic.

Horace Lamb, 1932 address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science

December 2012

To calibrate the unit to your specifications, follow these steps:

  1. Attach the sensors to your fingertips.
  2. Put on the percepto-visual mind-output capture goggles.
  3. Lie back.
  4. Look at the world.

The process takes forty-three to forty-four seconds, depending on factors such as body mass, natural hair color, and degree of self-knowledge.

When the calibration is complete, your vehicle will have the same limits that you do.

You can’t build a car that violates the laws of physics. Same goes for a time machine. You can’t go anywhere, only to places it will let you go. You can only go to places that you will let yourself go.

Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in A Science Fictional Universe, page 166

November 2012

If elections could change things, they’d be illegal.

old anarchist slogan, as recounted by Nikolas Kosmatopoulos

October 2012

The Republican vision is that 20 white male billionaires will own everything and rule the world with an iron whip. The Democratic vision is completely different, in that not all the billionaires will be white men.

Jonathan Schwarz, Jokes About the Democratic Party

September 2012

Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow. I call this process belief-dependent realism, where our perceptions about reality are dependent on the beliefs that we hold about it. Reality exists independent of human minds, but our understanding of it depends upon the beliefs we hold at any given time.

Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain

August 2012

My confidence is unshaken that we are taking all the precautions which legislation can prudently take against the recurrence of a monetary crisis. It may occur in spite of our precautions, and if it does, and if it be necessary to assume a grave responsibility for the purpose of meeting it, I dare say men will be found willing to assume such a responsibility.

I would rather trust to this than impair the efficacy and probable success of those measures by which one hopes to control evil tendencies in their beginning, and to diminish the risk that extraordinary measures may be necessary.

Robert Peel, letter To the Governor of the Bank, Sir Robert Peel: from his private papers, Volume 3, page 139-140

July 2012

Don’t submit to stupid rules
Be yourself and not a fool
Don’t accept average habits
Open your heart and push the limits

Enigma, Push The Limits, from The Screen Behind The Mirror

June 2012

Before [the French revolution], a privileged class that made the rules — rules favouring itself — overspent on a foreign war and then tried to stabilise the nation by overtaxing the already ruinously taxed populace. Confronted with protest, the aristocrats responded with inflexibility and prevarication, and dedicated themselves to preserving their own advantages at the expense of everyone else. If this sounds in any way familiar, it may be bracing to recall that before long, heads were being sliced from necks, blood was running in the streets…

Margaret Atwood, Our faith is fraying in the god of money

May 2012

A common myth most of us intuitively accept is that there is a negative correlation between intelligence and belief: as intelligence goes up belief in superstition or magic goes down. This, in fact, turns out not to be the case, especially as you move up the IQ spectrum. In professions in which everyone is above average in IQ (doctors, lawyers, engineers, and so forth), there is no relationship between intelligence and success because at that level other variables come into play that determine career outcomes (ambition, time allocation, social skills, networking, luck, and so on). Similarly, when people encounter claims that they know little about (which is most claims for most of us), intelligence is usually not a factor in belief, with one exception: once people commit to a belief, the smarter they are the better they are at rationalizing those beliefs. Thus: smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons.

Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain

April 2012

The April night is still and sweet
With flowers on every tree;
Peace comes to them on quiet feet,
    But not to me.

My peace is hidden in his breast
Where I shall never be;
Love comes to-night to all the rest,
    But not to me.

Sara Teasdale, Love Songs

March 2012

To sum up, in five days the New York Times, the Herald Tribune, the American, the Evening Journal, the Sun, and the World-Telegram—all those great molders of public opinion—have had no opinion on the largest bank scandal under their noses since the failure of the Bank of United States. It all recalls that ancient music-hall quip: If you steal $25, you’re a thief. If you steal $250,000, you’re an embezzler. If you steal $2,500,000, you’re a financier.

The Nation magazine, 8 March 1933, The National City Bank Scandal

February 2012

The first language humans had was gestures. There was nothing primitive about this language that flowed from people’s hands, nothing we say now that could not be said in the endless array of movements possible with the fine bones of the fingers and wrists. The gestures were complex and subtle, involving a delicacy of motion that has since been lost completely.

During the Age of Silence, people communicated more, not less. Basic survival demanded that the hands were almost never still, and so it was only during sleep (and sometimes not even then) that people were not saying something or other. No distinction was made between the gestures of language and the gestures of life. The labor of building a house, say, or preparing a meal was no less an expression than making the sign for I love you or I feel serious. When a hand was used to shield one’s face when frightened by a loud noise something was being said, and when fingers were used to pick up what someone had dropped something was being said; and even when the hands were at rest, that, too, was saying something. Naturally, there were misunderstandings. There were times when a finger might have been lifted to scratch a nose, and if casual eye contact was made with one’s lover just then, the lover might accidentally take it to be the gesture, not at all dissimilar, for Now I realize I was wrong to love you. These mistakes were heart-breaking. And yet, because people knew how easily they could happen, because they didn’t go around with the illusion that they understood perfectly the things other people said, they were used to interrupting each other to ask if they’d understood correctly. Sometimes these misunderstandings were even desirable, since they gave people a reason to say, Forgive me, I was only scratching my nose. Of course I know I’ve always been right to love you. Because of the frequency of these mistakes, over time the gesture for asking forgiveness evolved into the simplest form. Just open your palm was to say: Forgive me.

Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

January 2012

I found him just as he was about to drift into a black hole. He had a face like soft clay, and haunches that were bald in spots where he’d been chewing off his own fur. I don’t think anyone has ever been as happy to see anything as this dog was to see me. He licked my face and that was that. I asked him what he wanted his name to be. He didn’t say anything, so I named him Ed.

The smell of Ed is pretty powerful in here, but I’m okay with that. He’s a good dog, sleeps a lot, sometimes licks his paw to comfort himself. Doesn’t need food or water. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even know that he doesn’t exist. Ed is just this weird ontological entity that produces unconditional slobbery loyal affection. Superfluous. Gratuitous. He must violate some sort of coservation law. Something from nothing: all of this saliva. And, I guess, love. Love from the abandoned heart of a nonexistant dog.

Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in A Science Fictional Universe, page 5

December 2011

Not everyone is born a witch or a saint. Not everyone is born talented, or crooked, or blessed; some are born definite in no particular at all. We are a fountain of shimmering contradictions, most of us. Beautiful in the concept, if we’re lucky, but frequently tedious or regrettable as we flesh ourselves out.

The governesses of the monied classes often held that a child ought to be kept from witnessing cruelty and ugliness, the better to preserve some ounce of innocence. Rural grannies and spinster aunts—like the Nanny who had helped raise Elphaba—neither mollified nor coddled. They believed it was better for a child to know what befalls a chicken when the feast of Lurlinemas rolls around. Better to learn—from a distance—the tricks perpetrated on the weak, the distractible, the unlucky.

Both pedagogical stances, however, relied on a common assumption. Growth and change were viewed as a reaction to conditions met. One might as easily argue, however, that it is the world’s obligation to respond to children. By force of personality, by dint of their vicious beauty and untamed ways, children tromp into the world ready to disfigure it. Children surrender nothing when faced with the world: it is the world that gives up, over and over again. By so giving up, of course, it renews itself—that is the secret. Dying in order to live, that sort of thing.

Gregory Maguire, Son of a Witch

November 2011

To be precise, the most important concern in court politics is access to the mind of the prince. And if economics is too important to be left to the economists, it is certainly too important to be left to economist-courtiers.

Hyman P. Minsky, Stabilizing An Unstable Economy, 1986, Chapter 12

October 2011

Ok, let me give you some background now. We have come to believe that growth is the very definition of progress. You talk to any businessperson or politician and say, How well did you do last year? And, within a picosecond, they will talk about growth in the GDP and the economy in profit, jobs or market share. And, anything in a finite world cannot grow forever. We live within the biosphere, that cannot grow—it’s fixed.

And, I use the analogy of the bacteria in the test tube for why it’s suicidal to look for steady endless growth. Anything growing exponentially has a predictable doubling time. I give you a test tube full of food for bacteria—that’s an analogy with the planet—and I put one bacterial cell in and it is us. It’s going to go into exponential growth and divide every minute. So, at time zero, at the beginning, there is one bacterium. One minute, there are two. Two minutes, four. Three minutes, eight. Four minutes, 16. That’s exponential growth.

And at 60 minutes, the test tube is completely packed with bacteria, and there’s no food left. When is the test tube only half full? And the answer of course, is at 59 minutes. So, at 58 minutes it’s 25 percent full, 57 minutes, 12 and a half percent full. At 55 minutes of the 60-minute cycle, it’s three percent full. So, if at 55 minutes, one of the bacteria looks around and says, Hey guys, I’ve been thinking, we’ve got a population problem. The other bacteria would say, Jack, what the hell have you been drinking, man? 97 percent of the test tube is empty, and we’ve been around for 55 minutes! And, they’d be five minutes away from filling it.

So, the bacteria are no smarter than humans. At 59 minutes they go, Oh my god! Jack was right! What the hell are we going to do, we’ve got one minute left! Well, don’t give any money to those economists, but why don’t you give it to those scientists? And, by God, somehow those bacterial scientists in less than a minute, they invent three tests tubes full of food for bacteria. Now, that would be like us discovering three more planet Earths that we could start using immediately. So, they’re saved, right, they’ve quadrupled the amount of food in space. So what happens? Well, at 60 minutes, the first test tube is full. At 61 minutes, the second is full, and at 62 minutes, all four are full. By quadrupling the amount of food in space, you buy two extra minutes. And, how do you add any more air, water, soil or biodiversity to the biosphere. You can’t, it’s fixed! And, every scientist I’ve talked to agrees with me. We’re already past the 59th minute.

David Suzuki, Living on Earth: The Legacy of David Suzuki

September 2011

In all disciplines theory plays a double role: it is both an lens and a blinder. As a lens, it focuses the mind upon specific problems, enabling conditional statements to be made about causal relations for a well-defined but limited set of phenomena. But as a blinder, theory narrows the field of vision. Questions that are meaningful in the world are often nonsense questions within a theory. If such nonsense questions are often posed by developments in the world, then the discipline is ripe for a revolution in theory. Such a revolution, however, requires the development of new instruments of thought. This is a difficult intellectual process.

Hyman P. Minsky, Stabilizing An Unstable Economy, 1986, Chapter 5

August 2011

Unfortunately, the economic theory that is taught in colleges and graduate schools—the equipment of students and practitioners of economics over the past thirty years and the intellectual basis of economic policy in capitalist democracies—is seriously flawed. The conclusions based on the models derived from standard theoretical economics cannot be applied to the formulation of policy for our type of economy. Established economic theory, especially the highly mathematical theory largely developed after World War II, can demonstrate that an abstractly defined exchange mechanism will lead to a coherent, if not optimum, result. However, this mathematical result is proven for models that abstract from corporate boardrooms and Wall Street. The model does not deal with time, money, uncertainty, financing of ownership of capital assets, and investment. … In fact, the Wall Streets of the world are important; they generate destabilizing forces, and from time to time the financial processes of our economy lead to serious threats of financial and economic instability, that is, the behavior of the economy becomes incoherent.

Hyman P. Minsky, Stabilizing An Unstable Economy, 1986 (emphasis added)

July 2011

The population problem has no technical solution; it requires a fundamental extension in morality.

A technical solution may be defined as one that requires a change only in the techniques of the natural sciences, demanding little or nothing in the way of change in human values or ideas of morality.

Garrett Hardin, The Tragedy of the Commons, 1968

June 2011

  1. People read their own meanings into situations that are unclear or provocative of emotion.
  2. It is characteristic of large numbers of people in our society that they see and think in terms of stereotypes, personalization, and oversimplifications, that they cannot recognize or tolerate ambiguous and complex situations, and that they accordingly respond chiefly to symbols that oversimplify and distort.
  3. Emotional commitment to a symbol is associated with contentment and quiescence regarding problems that would otherwise arouse concern.
  4. An active demand for increased economic resources or fewer political restrictions on actions is not always operative. It is, rather, a function of the comparison and contrast with reference groups, usually those not far removed in socioeconomic status.
  5. The phenomena discussed above (the supplying of meaning in vague situations, sterotypes, oversimplification, political quiescence) are in large measure associated with social, economic, or cultural factors affecting large segments of the population. They acquire political meaning as group phenomena.

Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics, 1964

May 2011

I’d gladly lose me to find you, I’d gladly give up all I had
To find you I’d suffer anything and be glad
I’d pay any price just to get you, I’d work all my life and I will
To win you I’d stand naked, stoned and stabbed
I’d call that a bargain, the best I ever had/The best I ever had
I’d gladly lose me to find you, I’d gladly give up all I got
To catch you I’m gonna run and never stop
I’d pay any price just to win you, surrender my good life for bad
To find you I’m gonna drown an unsung man
I’d call that a bargain, the best I ever had/The best I ever had
I sit looking ’round, I look at my face in the mirror
I know I’m worth nothing without you
And like one and one don’t make two, one and one make one
And I’m looking for that free ride to me, I’m looking for you.

The Who, Bargain, Who’s Next

April 2011

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us,
we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven,
we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

March 2011

We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
And I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
No, no!

Change it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fall that’s all
But the world looks just the same
And history ain’t changed
’Cause the banners, they all flown in the last war

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
And I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
No, no!

I’ll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I’ll get all my papers and smile at the sky
For I know that the hypnotized never lie

Do ya?

There’s nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again
No, no!


Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

Pete Townsend, Won’t Get Fooled Again, from The Who’s album Who’s Next, 1971

February 2011

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

January 2011

It should not be hastily assumed that because a particular set of controversies passes out of the public mind that the implied problems were solved in any fundamental sense. Quite often a solution is a magical solution which changes nothing in the conditions affecting the tension level of the community, and which merely permits the community to distract its attention to another set of equally irrelevant symbols. The number of statutes which pass the legislature, or the number of decrees which are handed down by the executive, but which change nothing in the permanent practices of society, is a rough index of the role of magic politics.

Harold Lasswell, Psychopathology and Politics, 1930

December 2010

As mass production has to be accompanied by mass consumption, mass consumption, in turn, implies a distribution of wealth — not of existing wealth, but of wealth as it is currently produced — to provide men with buying power equal to the amount of goods and services offered by the nation’s economic machinery.

Instead of achieving that kind of distribution, a giant suction pump had by 1929-30 drawn into a few hands an increasing portion of currently produced wealth. This served them as capital accumulations. But by taking purchasing power out of the hands of mass consumers, the savers denied to themselves the kind of effective demand for their products that would justify a reinvestment of their capital accumulations in new plants. In consequence, as in a poker game where the chips were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When their credit ran out, the game stopped.

That is what happened to us in the twenties. We sustained high levels of employment in that period with the aid of an exceptional expansion of debt outside of the banking system. This debt was provided by the large growth of business savings as well as savings by individuals, particularly in the upper-income groups where taxes were relatively low. Private debt outside of the banking system increased about fifty per cent. This debt, which was at high interest rates, largely took the form of mortgage debt on housing, office, and hotel structures, consumer installment debt, brokers’ loans, and foreign debt. The stimulation to spending by debt-creation of this sort was short-lived and could not be counted on to sustain high levels of employment for long periods of time. Had there been a better distribution of the current income from the national product — in other words, had there been less savings by business and the higher-income groups and more income in the lower groups — we should have had far greater stability in our economy. Had the six billion dollars, for instance, that were loaned by corporations and wealthy individuals for stock-market speculation been distributed to the public as lower prices or higher wages and with less profits to the corporations and the well-to-do, it would have prevented or greatly moderated the economic collapse that began at the end of 1929.

The time came when there were no more poker chips to be loaned on credit. Debtors thereupon were forced to curtail their consumption in an effort to create a margin that could be applied to the reduction of outstanding debts. This naturally reduced the demand for goods of all kinds and brought on what seemed to be overproduction, but was in reality underconsumption when judged in terms of the real world instead of the money world. This, in turn, brought about a fall in prices and employment.

Unemployment further decreased the consumption of goods, which further increased unemployment, thus closing the circle in a continuing decline of prices. Earnings began to disappear, requiring economies of all kinds in the wages, salaries, and time of those employed. And thus again the vicious circle of deflation was closed until one third of the entire working population was unemployed, with our national income reduced by fifty per cent, and with the aggregate debt burden greater than ever before, not in dollars, but measured by current values and income that represented the ability to pay. Fixed charges, such as taxes, railroad and other utility rates, insurance and interest charges, clung close to the 1929 level and required such a portion of the national income to meet them that the amount left for consumption of goods was not sufficient to support the population.

This then, was my reading of what brought on the depression.

Marriner S. Eccles, Beckoning Frontiers, 1951 (Chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1934 to 1948)

November 2010

Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.

A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness, and meaninglessness of an individual existence. It cures the poignantly frustrated not by conferring on them an absolute truth or by remedying the difficulties and abuses which made their lives miserable, but by freeing them from their ineffectual selves—and it does this by enfolding and absorbing them into a closely knit and exultant corporate whole.

Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

October 2010

I took that opportunity to tell him [Kissinger] something that I had long thought to tell someone who was about to enter the world of really high secrecy. And I said, Henry, you are about to get a lot of clearances higher than top secret that you did not know existed. That is going to have a sequence of effects on you. First, a great exileration that you are getting all this amazing information that you didn’t even know existed. And the next phase is that you’ll feel like a fool for not having known of any of this. But that won’t last long. Fairly soon you’ll come to think that everyone else is foolish. What would this expert be telling me if he knew what I knew. So in the end you stop listening to them.

Daniel Ellsberg, The Most Dangerous Man in America, 29:00

September 2010

[T]he historical record suggests that there is a very clear connection in the long run between an individual Great Power’s economic rise and fall and its growth and decline as an important military power (or world empire). This, too, is hardly surprising, as it follows from two related facts. The first is that economic resources are necessary to support a large-scale military establishment. The second is that, so far as the international system is concerned, both power and wealth are always relative and should be seen as such. Three hundred years ago the mercantilist writer von Hornigk observed that

whether a nation be today mighty and rich or not depends not on the abundance or security of its power and riches, but principally on whether its neighbors possess more or less of it.

In the chapters that follow this observation will be borne out time and again. The Netherlands in the mid-eighteenth century was richer in absolute terms than a hundred years earlier, but by that stage was much less of a Great Power because neighbors like France and Britain had more . . . of it (that is, more power and riches). The France of 1914 was, absolutely, more powerful than that of 1850—but this was little consolation when France was being eclipsed by a much stronger Germany. Britain today has far greater wealth, and its armed forces possess far more powerful weapons, than in its mid-Victorian prime; that avails it little when its share of the world product has shrunk from about 25 percents to about 3 percent. If a nation as more . . . of it, things are fine; if less of it, there are problems.

This does not mean, however, that a nation’s relative economic and military power will rise and fall in parallel. Most of the historical examples covered here suggest that there is a noticeable lag time between the trajectory of a state’s relative economic strength and the trajectory of its military/territorial influence. Once again, the reason for this is not difficult to grasp. An economically expanding Power—Britain in the 1860s, the United States in the 1890s, Japan today—may well prefer to become rich rather than to spend heavily on armaments. A half-century later, priorities may well have altered. The earlier economic expansion has brought with it overseas obligations (dependence upon foreign markets and raw materials, military alliances, perhaps bases and colonies). Other, rival Powers are now economically expanding at a faster rate, and wish in turn to extend their influence abroad. The world has become a more competitive place, and market shares are being eroded. Pessimistic observers talk of decline; patriotic statesmen will call for renewal.

In these more troubled circumstances, the Great Power is likely to find itself spending much more on defense than it did two generations earlier, and yet still discover that the world is a less secure environment—simply because other Powers have grown faster, and are becoming stronger. Imperial Spain spent much more on its army in the troubled 1630s and 1640s than it did in the 1580s, when the Castilian economy was healthier. Edwardian Britain’s defense expenditures were far greater in 1910 than they were at, say, the time of Palmerston’s death in 1865, when the British economy was relatively at its peak; but which Britons by the later date felt more secure? The same problem, it will be argued below, appears to be facing both the United States and the USSR today. Great Powers in relative decline instinctively respond by spending more on security, and thereby divert potential resources from investment and compound their long-term dilemma.

[T]he history of the past five hundred years of international rivalry demonstrates that military security is never enough. It may, over the shorter term, deter or defeat rival states (and that, for most political leaders and their publics, is perfectly satisfactory). But if, by such victories, the nation overextends itself geographically and strategically; if, even at a less imperial level, it chooses to devote a large proportion of its total income to protection, leaving less for productive investment, it is likely to find its economic output slowing down, with dire implications for its long-term capacity to maintain both its citizens’ consumption demands and its international position. Already this is happening in the case of the USSR, the United States, and Britain; …

Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000, 1987

August 2010

The lunatic is in the hall.
The lunatics are in my hall.
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more.

Roger Waters, Brain Damage from the album Dark Side of the Moon

July 2010

The second aspect of the ideological challenge to the Soviet Union was the development and propagation of an American economic ideology that might counter the promise of Marxism—what today we call neoclassical economics, which has gained an intellectual status in American economic activities and governmental affairs similar to that of Marxism-Leninism in the former USSR. Needless to say, Soviet citizens never understood Marxism-Leninism as an ideology until after it had collapsed, just as Americans like to think (or pretend) that their economics is a branch of science, not a fighting doctrine to defend and advance their interests against those of others. They may consider most economists to be untrustworthy witch doctors, but they regard the tenets of a laissez-faire economy—with its cutthroat competition, casino stock exchange, massive inequalities of wealth, and a minor, regulatory role for government—as self-evident truths.

Its propositions were now expressed less in words than in simultaneous equations, the old ideas of Adam Smith reappearing as fully mathematical axioms, increasingly divorced from empirical research. Its data were said to be stylized facts, and ecnomists set out to demonstrate through deductive reasoning expressed in mathematical formulas that resources could be allocated efficiently only through an unfettered market. By now all these terms (resources, efficiency, markets) had been transformed into abstractions, not unlike the abstract formulations (the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, class conflict) of its Soviet opponents. English-speaking economics became such a hard science that in 1969 the central bank of Sweden started giving Nobel Prizes to its adepts, virtually all of them American academicians. This ensured that virtually all aspiring economists would in the future try to do so-called theoretical economics—that is the algebraic modeling of markets—rather than old-fashioned empirical and inductive research into real-world economics.

Chalmers Johnson, Blowback

June 2010

If I were to ask you where the money in your savings deposit account is, you might say at the bank. That is not quite right. In truth, your money is in several places simultaneously. In this sense, finance is like quantum mechanics. Money is like Schrodinger’s cat — you never know where it is until you actually observe it. (And if everyone tries to observe their money at the same time, that’s called a bank run.)

StatsGuy, The Discount Rate Mismatch

May 2010

The switching allegiance of tribes in Anbar province and in some other provinces away from Al Qaeda and at least temporarily arriving at deals of convenience with the Americans and fighting alongside the Americans, and this includes people who have killed American troops. That’s a significant change. It actually is what you need in almost every counter insurgency, is that kind of deal. That’s how you put down the insurgency. There are real questions though about how sustainable that trend is. And also whether it might end up simply adding fuel to the fire of the future full blown civil war. The Shiite politicians are profoundly worried about this that we are cutting deals with their enemies. One Shiite politician recently said, Baby crocodiles are cute, but you can’t keep adult crocodiles in your house. And they worry that these deals we are cutting with insurgent groups and tribes is creating a whole bunch of baby alligators out there, that are going to grow up and start biting each other as the US draws down its presence in Iraq.

Thomas Ricks, The American Military ‘Fiasco’ in Iraq, August 2007

April 2010

[Republican] language implies that the current generation borrows and future generations pay. But borrowing creates assets as well as liabilities — and future generations will inherit both. It’s the relationship between assets and liabilities that matters most.

… [G]enerational accounting typically ignores the value of the government services children will receive as well as the important nonmarket assets they will inherit. The president’s proposed budget features investments in health, education and environmental sustainability that promise important future benefits.

Think of the United States economy as a family farm in need of modernization. Energy prices are going up, but all the tractors are gas guzzlers. Some of our fields have accumulated toxic levels of pesticide, and we need to develop new and better technologies of sustainable production. Our grandchildren want to run the farm, but will need good health and a college education to do it well.

Spending money on increased energy efficiency, research and development, health, and education could increase the value of their assets, helping them repay debt.

Nancy Folbre, The Granddaddy State

March 2010

The abuse of buying and selling votes crept in, and money began to play an important part in determining elections. Later on, this process of corruption spread to the law courts and then to the army. And finally, the Republic was subjected to the rule of emperors.

Plutarch, The Roman Republic

February 2010

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, address announcing the second new deal, October 31, 1936

January 2010

The pilgrim fathers of the scientific imagination as it exists today are the great tragedians of ancient Athens, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. Their vision of fate, remorseless and indifferent, urging a tragic incident to its inevitable issue, is the vision possessed by science. Fate in Greek Tragedy becomes the order of nature in modern thought. …

… [Let me remind you that] the essense of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things. The inevitableness of destiny can only be illustrated in terms of human life by incidents which in fact involve unhappiness. For it is only by them that the futility of escape can be made evident in the drama. This remorseless inevitableness is what prevades scientific thought. The laws of physics are the decrees of fate.

Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World

December 2009

Ressentiment is a reassignment of the pain that accompanies a sense of one’s own inferiority/failure onto an external scapegoat. The ego creates the illusion of an enemy, a cause that can be blamed for one’s own inferiority/failure. Thus, one was thwarted not by a failure in oneself, but rather by an external evil. This issuing of blame leads one to desire revenge, or at least believe in the possibility of revenge; this lust for revenge may take many forms, as in the Christian conception of the Last Judgment, or the socialist conception of revolution. In each case, a sense of powerlessness creates the illusion of an enemy; one suddenly conceives oneself to be oppressed rather than merely weak, a phenomenon that spawns externally-directed bitterness (lust for a perceived revenge).


November 2009

In the standard interpretations, Keynes has been integrated with classical theory … to form what is called the neoclassical synthesis. Whereas Keynes in The General Theory proposed that economists look at the economy in quite a different way from the way they had, only those parts of The General Theory that could be readily integrated into the old way of looking at things survive in today’s standard theory. What was lost was a view of an economy always in transit because it accumulates in response to disequilibrating forces that are internal to the economy. As a result of the way accumulation takes place in a capitalist economy, Keynes’s 1935 theory showed that success in operating the economy can only be transitory; instability is an inherent and inescapable flaw of capitalism.

The view that survived is that a number of special things went wrong, which led the economy into the Great Depression. In this view, apt policy can assure that it cannot happen again. The standard theory of the 1950s and 1960s seemed to assert that if policy were apt, then full employment at stable prices could be attained and sustained. The existence of internally disruptive forces was ignored; the neoclassical synthesis became the economics of capitalism without capitalists, capital assets, and financial markets. As a result, very little of Keynes has survived today in standard economics.

Hyman P. Minsky, Stabilizing an unstable economy

October 2009

But if the ideas are correct — an hypothesis on which the author himself must necessarily base what he writes — it would be a mistake, I predict, to dispute their potency over a period of time. At the present moment people are unusually expectant of a more fundamental diagnosis; more particularly ready to receive it; eager to try it out, if it should be even plausible. But apart from this contemporary mood, the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.

John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, ch. 24 (1936).

September 2009

… professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case choosing those, which to the best of one’s judgement, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practise the fourth, fifth, and higher degrees.

… Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation. When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. …

John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, 1936

August 2009

Up to now, Democrats have been acting like sheep being herded by the Republican minority. They need to show courage and stand up for what they believe. That’s what the voters are waiting for.

George Lakoff, California Voters Set the Democrats Free: Will They Act?

July 2009

All are prisoners at Guantánamo today. As we approach Boumediene’s anniversary, many prisoners have won their habeas cases, but few have been released. The Judicial Branch may hold hearings; it may even issue vague and unenforceable exhortations to diplomacy. But that is all. It has become the hortatory branch.

Something has gone awry.

In habeas the Judicial Branch exerts a real check over the Executive Branch. The decision below held, and the Executive now argues that, by locating its prison offshore, the Executive deprived the judiciary of any check at all, and that a prisoner within the court’s jurisdiction and unlawfully held by the Executive may be released only by diplomatic order of the Executive.

This argument misreads the judicial function, of which cheerleading for diplomacy forms no part. Petitioners know of no previous habeas decision insulating from judicial remedy the indefinite and unlawful executive imprisonment of a prisoner within the court’s jurisdiction. To the contrary, the Great Writ was mortared into the Constitution as a constraint upon the power of the political branches. Boumediene, 128 S. Ct. at 2259 (habeas corpus was designed to restrain the political branches and is an indispensable mechanism for monitoring the separation of powers). At issue now is whether that constraint may unilaterally be dislodged by the Executive.

Thus the Executive’s assurances that diplomatic efforts continue are like assurances that efforts to cure the common cold continue. No one doubts them. But the imprisonment continues too, and that is what matters in habeas.

But it is the Third Branch, confined by the decision below to exhortations, whose historic role most urgently needs this Court’s review. The significance of Boumediene—of which both the majority and the dissenting Justices were well aware—lies in its reaffirmation that the historic role of the Judicial Branch is to demand the release of prisoners precisely when the political branches find release inconvenient. For this reason the decision was welcomed at home and abroad as a vindication of the Great Writ. Yet the decision below holds, and the Executive now argues, that the prisoners’ position on the day the Court announced its decision was no different than it had been for six years before. They would remain jailed until the Executive chose to release them. This Court might wonder today why every Justice thought so much was at stake in Boumediene.

At bottom, the decision below posits a hollow writ and a hobbled judiciary. Should this petition for certiorari fail, the federal courts will have sanctioned, within their jurisdiction, unlawful executive imprisonment that may yet extend the indefinite to the infinite.

Petition For Writ Of Certiorari, in regard Jamal Kiyemba v. Barack H. Obama

June 2009

Much has been written about panics and manias, much more than with the most outstretched intellect we are able to follow or conceive; but one thing is certain, that at particular times a great deal of stupid people have a great deal of stupid money…. At intervals, from causes which are not to the present purpose, the money of these people—the blind capital, as we call it, of the country—is particularly large and craving; it seeks for someone to devour it, there is a plethora; it finds someone, and there is speculation; it is devoured, and there is panic.

Walter Bagehot, Essays on Edward Gibbon

May 2009

As with all analogies, the comparisons are never exact. Nevertheless, they illustrate the scale of the economic whirlwind of 1929-32—a crisis equivalent in scope to the combined effects and more of the 1994 Mexican peso crises, the 1997-98 Asian and Russian crises, the 2000 collapse in the stock market bubble, and the 2007/8 world financial crisis, all cascading upon one and other in a single concentrated two-year period. The world has been saved in part from anything approaching the Great Depression because the crises that have buffeted the world economy over the past decade have conveniently struck one by one, with decent intervals in between.

Liaquat Ahamed, Lords of Finance

April 2009

If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am), reading Krugman makes you uneasy. You hope he’s wrong, and you sense he’s being a little harsh (especially about Geithner), but you have a creeping feeling that he knows something that others cannot, or will not, see. By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring. But sometimes, beneath the pleasant murmur and tinkle of cocktails, the old guard cannot hear the sound of ice cracking. The in crowd of any age can be deceived by self-confidence, as Liaquat Ahamed has shown in Lords of Finance, his new book about the folly of central bankers before the Great Depression, and David Halberstam revealed in his Vietnam War classic, The Best and the Brightest. Krugman may be exaggerating the decay of the financial system or the devotion of Obama’s team to preserving it. But what if he’s right, or part right? What if President Obama is squandering his only chance to step in and nationalize—well, maybe not nationalize, that loaded word—but restructure the banks before they collapse altogether?

Evan Thomas, Obama’s Nobel Headache

March 2009

A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.

James Madison, The Federalist Papers: No. 10

February 2009

Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all His laws.

John Adams, letter to Jefferson, 1816

December 2008, January 2009

We’re standing at the precipice of hell. The Western model of growth is inherently toxic. It’s highly capital intensive, and highly resource intensive, uses a lot of a materials, uses a lot of energy, and generates a lot of waste. If every Indian wants to live like an American, then the planet is doomed.

Sunita Nurain, interviewed in PBS’ Heat Chapter 2

November 2008

Every thing that’s happened wrong in energy in the United States has happened because there was a group of voters that put their own parochial needs ahead of our nation. West Virgina coal miners, Michigan auto workers, farmers from Iowa: none of these groups have thought about our nation. They’re thinking about their small local community. We have to think as a nation. We need a leader who is going to stand up and say, we need to do this together. And it’s doable.

Amy Myers Jaffe, interviewed in PBS’ Heat, Chapter 7

October 2008

TIME WAS, we thought that a conclusive demonstration that the emperor had no clothes would be sufficient to overturn his reign. No leader could take power without media support; no ruler could keep his throne without the cooperation of the press. But the consolidation of media in recent years — a series of intermarriages consecrated by the FCC — has created a panic among tube-feeding activists like myself. Increasingly, the opportunity to define the "truth" has been concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. What’s more, the new Media Hyperbarons are corporations of such colossal wealth and power that they are guaranteed to support the status quo that gave rise to them.

Cory Doctorow, First came information, then opinion. The Internet’s next step may be electing a president

August-September 2008

We are left to shout abuse, to hurl ourselves against the lines of police, to seek to smash the fences which stand between us and the decisions being made on our behalf. When — they emerge, clothed in the serenity of power, to announce that it is done, our howls of execration serve only to enhance the graciousness of their detachment. They are the actors, we the audience, and for all our catcalls and imprecations, we can no more change the script to which they play than the patrons of a cinema can change the course of the film they watch.

George Monbiot, Manifesto for a New World Order, p. 84

June-August 2008

Any group of people that perceives itself as a distinct group, and which is so perceived by the outside world, may be called a tribe. The group might be a race, as ordinarily defined, but it need not be; it can just as well be a religious sect, a political group, or an occupational group. The essential characteristic of a tribe is that it should follow a double standard of morality—one kind of behavior of in-group relations, another for out-group.

It is one of the unfortunate and inescapable characteristics of tribalism that it eventually evokes counter-tribalism (or, to use a different figure of speech, it polarizes society).

Garrett Hardin, Journal of Urban Law, April 1971

May 2008

The fairness of taxing more lightly income from wages, salaries or from investments is beyond question. In the first case, the income is uncertain and limited in duration; sickness or death destroys it and old age diminishes it; in the other, the source of income continues; the income may be disposed of during a mans life and it descends to his heirs. Surely we can afford to make a distinction between the people whose only capital is their mettle and physical energy and the people whose income is derived from investments. Such a distinction would mean much to millions of American workers and would be an added inspiration to the man who must provide a competence during his few productive years to care for himself and his family when his earnings capacity is at an end.

Andrew W. Mellon, Taxation: The People’s Business, 1924

April 2008

It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream—making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams. …

Marlow, in Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

March 2008

Shall I then rank with gods? Too well I feel
My kinship with the worm, who bores the soil,
Who feeds on dust until the wanderer’s heel
Gives sepulture to all his care and toil.

Is it not dust, that fills my hundred shelves,
And walls me in like any pedant hack?
Fellow of moth that flits and worm that delves,
I drag my life through bric-a-brac.
And shall I discover what I lack,
And learn, by reading countless volumes through,
That mortals mostly live on misery’s rack,
That happiness is known to just a few?
You hollow skull, what has your grin to say,
But that a mortal brain, with trouble tossed,
Sought once, like mine, the sweetness of the day,
And strove for truth, and in the gloam was lost.
You instruments, you mock me to my face,
With wheel and gimbal, cylinder and cog;
You were my key to unlock the secret place:
The wards are cunning, but the levers clog.
For Nature keeps her veil inviolate,
Mysterious still in open light of day,
And where the spirit cannot penetrate
Your screws and irons will never make a way.
Here stands the gear that I have never touched,
My father’s stuff, bequeathed to be my prison,
With scrolls of vellum, blackened and besmutched,
Where still the desk-lamp’s dismal smoke has risen.
Better have spent what little was my own,
Than sweat for petty gains by midnight oil.
The things that man inherit come alone
To true possession by the spirit’s toil.
What can’t be used is trash; what can, a prize
Begotten from the moment as it flies.

Faust, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, translated by Philip Wayne

February 2008

Ordinary Americans have been manipulated into imagining they are a people under siege whose sole refuge and protector is their government. If it isn’t the Communists, it’s al-Qaeda. If it isn’t Cuba, it’s Nicaragua. As a result, this, the most powerful nation in the world — with its unmatchable arsenal of weapons, its history of having waged and sponsored endless wars, and the only nation in history to have actually used nuclear bombs — is peopled by a terrified citizenry, jumping at shadows. A people bonded to the state not by social services, or public health care, or employment guarantees, but by fear.

Arundhati Roy, Public Power in the Age of Empire, San Francisco, 16 August 2004, ZNet transcript CD

January 2008

Capitalism survives by forcing the majority, whom it exploits, to define their own interests as narrowly as possible. This was once achieved by extensive deprivation. Today in the developed countries it is being achieved by imposing a false standard of what is and what is not desirable.

John Berger, Ways of Seeing, excerpted at Northern Arizona University HUM355 Reading

October, November, December 2007

That Schwartz’s result is heralded as the death-knell of global warming by denialist blogs and Sen. Inhofe, even before it has been officially published (let alone before the scientific community has responded) says more about the denialist movement than about the sensitivity of earth’s climate system. But, that’s how politics works.

Tamino, Climate Insensitivity

September 2007

Everything has been globalized except our consent. Democracy alone has been confined to the nation state. It stands at the national border, suitcase in hand, without a passport.

George Monbiot, Manifesto for a New World Order, p. 1

August 2007

Publicity is usually explained and justified as a competitive medium which ultimately benefits the public (the consumer) and the most efficient manufacturers — and thus the national economy. It is closely related to certain ideas about freedom: freedom of choice for the purchaser: freedom of enterprise for the manufacturer. The great hoardings and the publicity neons of the cities of capitalism are the immediate visible sign of The Free World. For many in Eastern Europe such images in the West sum up what they in the East lack. Publicity, it is thought, offers a free choice.

It is true that in publicity one brand of manufacture, one firm, competes with another; but it is also true that every publicity image confirms and enhances every other. Publicity is not merely an assembly of competing messages: it is a language in itself which is always being used to make the same general proposal. Within publicity, choices are offered between this cream and that cream, that car and this car, but publicity as a system only makes a single proposal.

Publicity persuades us of such a transformation by showing us people who have apparently been transformed and are, as a result, enviable. The state of being envied is what constitutes glamour. And publicity is the process of manufacturing glamour.

It is important here not to confuse publicity with the pleasure or benefits to be enjoyed from the things it advertises. Publicity is effective precisely because it feeds upon the real. Clothes, food, cars, cosmetics, baths, sunshine are real things to be enjoyed in themselves. Publicity begins by working on a natural appetite for pleasure. But it cannot offer the real object of pleasure and there is no convincing substitute for a pleasure in that pleasure’s own terms. The more convincingly publicity conveys the pleasure of bathing in a warm, distant sea, the more the spectator-buyer will become aware that he is hundreds of miles away from that sea and the more remote the chance of bathing in it will seem to him. This is why publicity can never really afford to be about the product or opportunity it is proposing to the buyer who is not yet enjoying it. Publicity is never a celebration of a pleasure-in-itself. Publicity is always about the future buyer. It offers him an image of himself made glamorous by the product or opportunity it is trying to sell. The image then makes him envious of himself as he might be. Yet what makes this self-which-he-might-be enviable? The envy of other. Publicity is about social relations, not objects. Its promise is not of pleasure, but of happiness: happiness as judged from the outside by others. The happiness of being envied is glamour.

Being envied is a solitary form of reassurance. It depends precisely upon not sharing your experience with those who envy you. You are observed with interest but you do not observe with interest — if you do, you will become less enviable. In this respect the envied are like bureaucrats; the more impersonal they are, the greater the illusion (for themselves and for others) of their power. The power of the glamorous resides in their supposed happiness: the power of the bureaucrat in his supposed authority. It is this which explains the absent, unfocused look of so many glamour images. They look out over the looks of envy which sustain them.

The spectator-buyer is meant to envy herself as she will become if she buys the product. She is meant to imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others, an envy which will then justify her loving herself. One could put this another way: the publicity image steals her love of herself as she is, and offers it back to her for the price of the product.

John Berger, Ways of Seeing, excerpted at John Saxton Acker’s pages

July 2007

Society must cease to look upon progress as something desirable. Eternal progress is a nonsensical myth. What must be implemented is not a steadily expanding economy, but a zero-growth economy, a stable economy. Economic growth is not only unnecessary but ruinous. We must set ourselves the aim not of increasing national resources, but merely of conserving them.

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn

June 2007

Love just doesn’t sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-made all the time, made new.

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Princess

May 2007

A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders, if he does not work upon the compassion of some of her guests. If these guests get up and make room for him, other intruders immediately appear demanding the same favour. The report of a provision for all that come, fills the hall with numerous claimants. The order and harmony of the feast is disturbed, the plenty that before reigned is changed into scarcity; and the happiness of the guests is destroyed by the spectacle of misery and dependence in every part of the hall, and by the clamorous importunity of those, who are justly enraged at not finding the provision which they had been taught to expect. The guests learn too late their error, in counter-acting those strict orders to all intruders, issued by the great mistress of the feast, who, wishing that all guests should have plenty, and knowing she could not provide for unlimited numbers, humanely refused to admit fresh comers when her table was already full.

Thomas R. Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, 2nd ed. London J. Johnson, 1803. (Book IV, Chap. VI, p. 531.)
as quoted at The Feast of Malthus, by Garrett Hardin

April 2007

After all, when the U.S. invades and occupies Iraq in the way it has done, with such overwhelming military force, can the resistance be expected to be a conventional military one? (Of course, even if it were conventional, it would still be called terrorist.) In a strange sense, the U.S. government’s arsenal of weapons and unrivaled air and fire power makes terrorism an all-but-inescapable response. What people lack in wealth and power, they will make up with stealth and strategy.

In this restive, despairing time, if governments do not do all they can to honor nonviolent resistance, then by default they privilege those who turn to violence. No government’s condemnation of terrorism is credible if it cannot show itself to be open to change by to nonviolent dissent.

But instead nonviolent resistance movements are being crushed. Any kind of mass political mobilization or organization is being bought off, or broken, or simply ignored. Meanwhile, governments and the corporate media, and let’s not forget the film industry, lavish their time, attention, technology, research, and admiration on war and terrorism. Violence has been deified. The message this sends is disturbing and dangerous: If you seek to air a public grievance, violence is more effective than nonviolence.

The mandarins of the corporate world, the CEOs, the bankers, the politicians, the judges and generals look down on us from on high and shake their heads sternly. There’s no Alternative, they say. And let slip the dogs of war. And then from the ruins of Afghanistan, from the rubble of Iraq and Chechnya, from the streets of occupied Palestine, and the mountains of Kashmir, from the hills and plains of Columbia, and the forests of Andhra Pradesh and Assam, comes the chilling reply: There’s no alternative but terrorism. Terrorism, armed struggle, insurgency, call it what you want. Terrorism is viscous, ugly, and dehumanizing for its perpetrators, as well as its victims. But so is war. You could say that terrorism is the privatization of war. Terrorists are the free marketeers of war. They are people who don’t believe that the state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Human society is journeying to a terrible place. But of course there’s an alternative to terrorism. It’s called justice. And it’s time to recognize that no amount of nuclear weapons, or full-spectrum dominance, or daisy cutters, or spurious governing councils and loya jirgas can buy peace at the cost of justice. The urge for hegemony and preponderance by some will be matched with greater intensity by the longing for dignity and justice by others. Exactly what form that battle takes, whether it’s beautiful or bloodthirsty, depends on us.

Arundhati Roy, Public Power in the Age of Empire, San Francisco, 16 August 2004: ZNet transcript CD

March 2007

Few of us take the pains to study the origin of our cherished convictions; indeed, we have a natural repugnance to so doing. We like to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true, and the resentment aroused when doubt is cast upon any of our assumptions leads us to seek every manner of excuse for clinging to them. The result is that most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.

James Harvey Robinson, The Mind in the Making

February 2007

Is this prudent? What would we say if a man jumped off the World Trade Building with a bag of hardware in the hope that he would figure out a way to build a parachute on the way down?

Garrett Hardin, Is Civilization Ready for Nuclear Power?, 1976

January 2007

I have respect for Representative Murtha, former marine colonel. The guy’s alright. Except when did the war become bad, Jack? … You were for the war Jack. … You voted for it; you funded it. But then you saw the bodies. What’s the number that’s good for you Jack? Was this war worth fifty? Was this worth a hundred? Five hundred? A thousand? … When did this war become bad, Jack? This war became bad the day we invaded and until you say that, until you say we should never have invaded, that Saddam Hussein was not a threat, you’re telling me you’re not against the war, you’re against losing Jack. And that’s what most Americans who are against this war today are. They’re against losing. If it all had gone well. If we went in there and Democracy flourished, and all this stuff, casualties were low, it wouldn’t matter one iota to the majority of Americans that we were lied to about this war, that we violated international law going to war, and that’s the problem. Until we care about the law, until we care about the process, we’re going to go to war with Iran, because this isn’t about being anti-war or having some wonderful moral awakening, this is about the fact that we’re getting out butts kicked in Iraq, and you know what’s bad when the bully starts getting his butt kicked, he’s looking around for someone else to kick. And right now we’re desperately looking for someone else on the block to kick. And we’ve got our sights set on Iran.

Scott Ritter, Radio Nation interview

December 2006

Once a metaphysical mutation has arisen, it moves inexorably towards its logical conclusion. Heedlessly, it sweeps away economic and political systems, ethical considerations and social structures. No human agency can halt its progress — nothing, but another metaphysical mutation.

Michel Houellebecq, Atomised

November 2006

We have handed a blank check drawn against our own freedom to a man who has said it is unacceptable to compare anything this country has ever done, to anything the terrorists have ever done.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who has insisted again that the United States does not torture. It’s against our laws and it’s against our values and who has said it with a straight face while the pictures from Abu Ghraib Prison and the stories of Waterboarding figuratively fade in and out, around him.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our own freedom to a man who may now, if he so decides, declare not merely any non-American citizens Unlawful Enemy Combatants and ship them somewhere – anywhere – but may now, if he so decides, declare you an Unlawful Enemy Combatantand ship you somewhere – anywhere.

And if you think this hyperbole or hysteria, ask the newspaper editors when John Adams was President, or the pacifists when Woodrow Wilson was President, or the Japanese at Manzanar when Franklin Roosevelt was President.

And if you somehow think Habeas Corpus has not been suspended for American citizens but only for everybody else, ask yourself this: If you are pulled off the street tomorrow, and they call you an alien or an undocumented immigrant or an unlawful enemy combatant exactly how are you going to convince them to give you a court hearing to prove you are not? Do you think this Attorney General is going to help you?

This President now has his blank check.

He lied to get it.

He lied as he received it.

Is there any reason to even hope, he has not lied about how he intends to use it, nor who he intends to use it against?

These military commissions will provide a fair trial, you told us yesterday, Mr. Bush. In which the accused are presumed innocent, have access to an attorney, and can hear all the evidence against them.

Presumed innocent, Mr. Bush?

The very piece of paper you signed as you said that, allows for the detainees to be abused up to the point just before they sustain serious mental and physical trauma in the hope of getting them to incriminate themselves, and may no longer even invoke The Geneva Conventions in their own defense.

Access to an attorney, Mr. Bush?

Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift said on this program, Sir, and to the Supreme Court, that he was only granted access to his detainee defendant, on the promise that the detainee would plead guilty.

Hearing all the evidence, Mr. Bush?

The Military Commissions act specifically permits the introduction of classified evidence not made available to the defense.

Your words are lies, Sir.

They are lies, that imperil us all.

One of the terrorists believed to have planned the 9/11 attacks, you told us yesterday, said he hoped the attacks would be the beginning of the end of America.

That terrorist, sir, could only hope.

Not his actions, nor the actions of a ceaseless line of terrorists (real or imagined), could measure up to what you have wrought.

Habeas Corpus? Gone.

The Geneva Conventions? Optional.

The Moral Force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection? Snuffed out.

These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would be the beginning of the end of America.

Keith Olbermann, Beginning of the end of America

October 2006

This is why, though both sides would furiously deny it, the outcome of both market fundamentalism and anarchism, if applied universally, is identical. The anarchists associate with the oppressed, the market fundamentalists with the oppressors, but by eliminating the state (as some, but by no means all the market fundamentalists wish to do), both simply remove such restraints as prevent the strong from crushing the weak. This, of course, is the point of market fundamentalism. But it is also the inevitable result of anarchism. — For the majority of humankind to be free, we must restrain the freedom of those who would oppress us.

George Monbiot, Manifesto for a New World Order, p. 38

September 2006

If global warming were a terrorist, then perhaps Newt Gingrich would say that our battle against it is World War III. He would note that people are being killed by record heat around the world. That includes 53 deaths here in the United States so far this summer, and many more across Europe. In France, 40 people have been killed. In the Netherlands, they’ve had the hottest July ever recorded, and they started recording the temperatures there three hundred years ago.

If global warming were a terrorist, George W. Bush would call it evil and say it has changed everything. Bush would make speeches observing that the attacks of climate change are relentless. Unlike the rare attacks by Al Quaida, attacks by the global warming terrorists are frequent and consistent, year after year. Last year, there was the Hurricane Katrina terrorist cell. This year, in addition to all the people dying of the record heat, there has been an astounding increase in wildfires burning across America. If global warming were a terrorist, we’d call those fires arson, and describe them as an attack on the heartland.

Irregular Times, 2006.07.26

August 2006

I was tired and didn’t really feel like listening, so I turned it down as low as it would go, longing for the day Big Bill and I could afford a car without a radio.

Terry Bisson, By Permit Only

July 2006

If you’re not willing to be changed by a place, there’s no point in going.

Anonymous, from Strangers in Strange Land 2005.11.18, Episode 302

June 2006

The state, like a tree, is essentially immobile. While it can expand its access to resources by extending its roots into the soil on which other trees are growing, it must adapt to the circumstances in which it finds itself. The corporations, like omnivorous animals, are mobile. They move from tree to tree, taking shelter in the branches, preying upon both the trees which protect them, and the other members of the ecosystem, seeking always the most easily obtained resources. The burden of predation has now become so great that most of the trees in the wood appear to be suffering what foresters call ‘die-back’.

George Monbiot, Manifesto for a New World Order

May 2006

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.

Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

April 2006

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men—not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

Edward R. Murrow, See It Now, 9 March 1954

March 2006

In a dark time, the eye begins to see.

Theodore Roethke, In a Dark Time

February 2006

The dance of the puppets
The rusted chains of prison moons
Are shattered by the sun.
I walk a road, horizons change
The tournament’s begun.
The purple piper plays his tune,
The choir softly sing;
Three lullabies in an ancient tongue,
For the court of the crimson king.

The keeper of the city keys
Put shutters on the dreams.
I wait outside the pilgrim’s door
With insufficient schemes.
The black queen chants
The funeral march,
The cracked brass bells will ring;
To summon back the fire witch
To the court of the crimson king.

The gardener plants an evergreen
Whilst trampling on a flower.
I chase the wind of a prism ship
To taste the sweet and sour.
The pattern juggler lifts his hand;
The orchestra begin.
As slowly turns the grinding wheel
In the court of the crimson king.

On soft gray mornings widows cry
The wise men share a joke;
I run to grasp divining signs
To satisfy the hoax.
The yellow jester does not play
But gentle pulls the strings
And smiles as the puppets dance
In the court of the crimson king.

King Crimson, The Court of The Crimson King

January 2006

We can tolerate neither our vices nor their remedies.

Titus Livius (Livy), Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City)

December 2005

We hardly need to be reminded that we are living in an age of confusion—a lot of us have traded in our beliefs for bitterness and cynicism or for a heavy package of despair, or even a quivering portion of hysteria. Opinions can be picked up cheap in the market place while such commodities as courage and fortitude and faith are in alarmingly short supply.

Around us all, now high like a distant thunderhead, now close upon us with the wet choking intimacy of a London fog, there is an enveloping cloud of fear. There is a physical fear, the kid that drives some of us to flee our homes and burrow into the ground in the bottom of a Montana valley like prairie dogs, to try to escape, if only for a little while, the sound and the fury of the A-bombs or the hell-bombs, or whatever may be coming.

There is a mental fear, which provokes others of us to see the images of witches in a neighbor’s yard and stampedes us to burn down this house. And there is a creeping fear of doubt, doubt of what we have been taught, of the validity of so many things we had long since taken for granted to be durable and unchanging. It has become more difficult than ever to distinguish black from white, good from evil, right from wrong.

Edward R. Murrow, This I Believe, 1951

November 2005

All civilized societies would be divided into different sects, factions, and interests, as they happened to consist of rich and poor, debtors and creditors, the landed, the manufacturing, the commercial interests, the inhabitants of this district or that district, the followers of this political leader or that political leader, the disciples of this religious sect or that religious sect. In all cases where a majority are united by a common interest or passion, the rights of the minority are in danger. What motives are to restrain them?

James Madison, Journal of the Federal Convention, 1787

October 2005

If you look at fiscal conservatism these days, it’s in a sorry state. … Republicans don’t even pretend anymore.

Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona, Washington Post, 2005.08.03

September 2005

The more compelling our journalism, the angrier became the radical right of the Republican Party. That’s because the one thing they loathe more than liberals is the truth. And the quickest way to be damned by them as liberal is to tell the truth.

This is the point of my story. Ideologues don’t want you to go beyond the typical labels of left and right because people may start believing you. They embrace a world view that cannot be proven wrong because they will admit no evidence to the contrary. They want your reporting to validate their belief system and when it doesn’t, God forbid.

Bill Moyers, Democracy Now! transcript from the National Conference on Media Reform in St. Louis, Missouri, May 15, 2005.

August 2005

One reason I’m in hot water is because my colleagues and I at NOW didn’t play by the conventional rules of Beltway journalism. Those rules divide the world into democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives and allow journalists to pretend they have done their job if, instead of reporting the truth behind the news, they merely give each side an opportunity to spin the news.

I came to see that news is what people want to keep hidden, and everything else is publicity.

Hear me: an unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda is less inclined to put up a fight, ask questions and be skeptical. And just as a democracy can die of too many lies, that kind of orthodoxy can kill us, too.

Bill Moyers, Democracy Now! transcript from the National Conference on Media Reform in St. Louis, Missouri, May 15, 2005.

July 2005

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been standing in my place but who will never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara more, the atoms in the universe. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Donne, greater scientists than Newton, greater composers than Beethoven. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I that are privileged to be here, privileged with eyes to see where we are and brains to wonder why.

Richard Dawkins, Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder

June 2005

Among the corrosive lies a nation at war tells itself is that the glory—the lofty goals announced beforehand, the victories, the liberation of the oppressed—belongs to the country as a whole; but the failure—the accidents, the uncounted civilian dead, the crimes and atrocities—is always exceptional. Noble goals flow naturally from a noble people; the occasional act of barbarity is always the work of individuals, unaccountable, confusing and indigestible to the national conscience.

This kind of thinking was widely in evidence among military and political leaders after the emergence of pictures documenting American abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. These photographs do not capture the soul of America, they argued. They are aberrant.

This belief, that the photographs are distortions, despite their authenticity, is indistinguishable from propaganda. Tyrants censor; democracies self-censor. Tyrants concoct propaganda in ministries of information; democracies produce it through habits of thought so ingrained that a basic lie of war—only the good is our doing—becomes self-propagating. …

Reputation, image, perception. The problem, it seems, isn’t so much the abuse of the prisoners, because we will get to the bottom of that and, of course, we’re not really like that. The problem is our reputation. Our soldiers’ reputations. Our national self-image. These photos, we insist, are not us.

But these photos are us. Yes, they are the acts of individuals (though the scandal widens, as scandals almost inevitably do, and the military’s own internal report calls the abuse systemic). But armies are made of individuals. Nations are made up of individuals. Great national crimes begin with the acts of misguided individuals; and no matter how many people are held directly accountable for these crimes, we are, collectively, responsible for what these individuals have done. We live in a democracy. Every errant smart bomb, every dead civilian, every sodomized prisoner, is ours.

And more. Perhaps this is just a little cancer that crept into the culture of the people running Abu Ghraib prison. But stand back. Look at the history. Open up to the hard facts of human nature, the lessons of the past, the warning signs of future abuses.

These photos show us what we may become, as occupation continues, anger and resentment grows and costs spiral. There’s nothing surprising in this. These pictures are pictures of colonial behavior, the demeaning of occupied people, the insult to local tradition, the humiliation of the vanquished. They are unexceptional. In different forms, they could be pictures of the Dutch brutalizing the Indonesians; the French brutalizing the Algerians; the Belgians brutalizing the people of the Congo. …

Not quite 50 years ago, Aime Cesaire, a poet and writer from Martinique, wrote in his Discourse on Colonialism: First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism.

Are we decivilized yet? Are we brutes yet? Of course not, say our leaders.

Philip Kennicott, A Wretched New Picture Of America

May 2005

…The motivation of the revolutionary power may well be defensive; it may well be sincere in its protestations of feeling threatened. But the distinguishing feature of a revolutionary power is not that it feels threatened—such feeling is inherent in the nature of international relations based on sovereign states—but that nothing can reassure it. Only absolute security—the neutralization of the opponent—is considered a sufficient guarantee, and thus the desire of one power for absolute security means absolute insecurity for all the others.

Diplomacy, the art of restraining the exercise of power, cannot function in such an environment. It is a mistake to assume that diplomacy can always settle international disputes if there is good faith and willingness to come to an agreement. For in a revolutionary international order, each power will seem to its opponent to lack precisely these qualities. Diplomats can still meet but they cannot persuade, for they have ceased to speak the same language.…

For powers long accustomed to tranquillity and without experience with disaster, this is a hard lesson to come by. Lulled by a period of stability which had seemed permanent, they find it nearly impossible to take at face value the assertion of the revolutionary power that it means to smash the existing framework. The defenders of the status quo therefore tend to begin by treating the revolutionary power as if its protestations were merely tactical; as if it really accepted the existing legitimacy but overstated its case for bargaining purposes; as if it were motivated by specific grievances to be assuaged by limited concessions. Those who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists; those who counsel adaptation to circumstance are considered balanced and sane, for they have all the good reasons on their side: the arguments accepted as valid in the existing framework.…

But it is the essence of a revolutionary power that it possesses the courage of its convictions, that it is willing, indeed eager, to push its principles to their ultimate conclusion. … Principles in a revolutionary situation are so central that they are constantly talked about. The very sterility of the effort soon drains them of all meaning, and it is not unusual to find both sides invoking their version of the true nature of legitimacy in identical terms.…

Henry Kissinger, A World Restored, Introduction

April 2005

Nothing works more in a thief’s favor than people feeling secure. That’s why places that are heavily alarmed and guarded can sometimes be the easiest targets. The single most important factor in security — more than locks, alarms, sensors, or armed guards — is attitude. A building protected by nothing more than a cheap combination lock but inhabited by people who are alert and risk-aware is much safer than one with the world’s most sophisticated alarm system whose tenants assume they’re living in an impregnable fortress.

Bill Mason, Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief

March 2005

To children today, the war was something in the dusty past, as ancient as Caesar. They wonder why their parents are forever using the phrases before the war or after the war. It is because war is a watershed in the life of a nation and a person. Nothing is ever the same again. The last great war crucified some American families and made others rich. It threw up new leaders and broke the careers of some who pretended to be leaders. It broke bodies and hearts and moral values. It poisoned the meaning of existing words and kindled new words and meanings. It invented new ways to kill a thousand people and to cure fever in a child. It taught us that free men can build anything, pay for anything, endure anything, if they have the will to do so. The war that started 25 years ago began 25 years after the first world war had begun, but the lesson was not learned. It wasn’t learned because every generation starts life afresh, without memory and because pain and death are not multiplied in the human spirit. Because even 35 million deaths leave an empty place at only one family table. This presumably is what permits life to go on, and makes a next time always possible.

Eric Sevareid, as heard at 9:40 into Walter Cronkite’s 12 February 2004 tribute to Eric Sevareid

February 2005

In their propaganda today’s dictators rely for the most part on repetition, supression and rationalization — the repetition of catchwords which they wish to be accepted as true, the supression of facts which they wish to be ignored, the arousal and rationalization of passions which may be used in the interests of the Party or the State. As the art and science of manipulation come to be better understood, the dictators of the future will doubtless learn to combine these techniques with the non-stop distractions which, in the West, are now threatening to drown in a sea of irrelevance the rational propaganda essential to the maintenance of individual liberty and the survival of democratic institutions.

Aldous Huxley, Propaganda in a Democratic Society, 1958

January 2005

All acts are done by individuals. The issue is not whether a majority or a minority of Americans performs such acts but whether the nature of the policies prosecuted by this administration and the hierarchies deployed to carry them out makes such acts likely.

Susan Sontag, Regarding The Torture Of Others, New York Times Magazine, 23 May 2004

The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy. Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let’s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. Our country is strong, we are told again and again. I for one don’t find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that’s not all America has to be.

Susan Sontag, The Talk of the Town, New Yorker Magazine, 17 September 2001

December 2004

On a lighter note, it is hard to avoid observing that al-Baghdadi castigated Bush’s administration as fundamentalist and right-wing. When even the Sunni Salafis of Mosul consider you too fundamentalist and right-wing, you have probably gone too far.

Juan Cole, Mosul Chaos, Saturday, 13 November 2004

November 2004

…accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776

The people have spoken. And now the people must be punished.

Ed Koch, after losing his primary re-election bid

October 2004

Political skill in the absence of statesmanship is the first act of a tragedy.

Garrison Keillor, Prairie Fire, Salon.COM, 2004.08.21

We had a rather long period of time, between 1945 and 2000, in which the United States … viewed our role as more like that of the sheriff in a western town of the frontier, instead of being like Jesse James. That’s a very important distinction, because the sheriff, while he’s there to produce law and order, is accountable to the community. The United States, while we were the great power, viewed ourselves as being accountable to the world community. And on the basis of that accountability, when this President took office, with the exception of Jordan and Pakistan, in every major country in which public opinion polling existed, between sixty and eight-five percent of the public trusted the United States more or less to do the right thing in international affairs. And after only four years, in eighty percent of the countries where there is such opinion polling, a majority of the public no longer trusts the United States to do the right thing. The average support for American foreign policy in most of the world is running between twenty five and thirty percent, whereas four years ago it was running between seventy five and eighty percent.

Carl Pope, World Affairs Council 2004.06.07 Speech Q&A, 39:50

The only unequivocally good policy option before the American people is to dump the president who got us into this mess, who had no trouble sending our young people to Iraq but who cannot steel himself to face the Sept. 11 commission alone.

Harold Meyerson, In Iraq, Without Options, Washington Post, 2004.04.07

In the face of this approaching disaster, it behooves men and women not yet overcome by the war madness to raise their voice of protest, to call the attention of the people to the crime and outrage which are about to be perpetrated upon them.

Emma Goldman

If this year stays true to past form, the campaign will get nastier in the closing weeks, and without anyone’s quite registering it, Rove will be right back in his element. He seems to understand—indeed, to count on—the media’s unwillingness or inability, whether from squeamishness, laziness, or professional caution, ever to give a full estimate of him or his work. It is ultimately not just Rove’s skill but his character that allows him to perform on an entirely different plane. Along with remarkable strategic skills, he has both an understanding of the media’s unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight in territory where conscience forbids most others.

Joshua Green, Karl Rove in a Corner, The Atlantic, November 2004

September 2004

Note: The Republican National Convention occurred in September.

The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.

George Orwell’s O’Brien, 1984, Chapter 3

August 2004

We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.

George Orwell, In Front of Your Nose, 1946

July 2004

It was discovered that the freedom in this land is not ours. It is the freedom of the occupying soldiers in doing what they like, such as arresting, carrying out raids, killing at random or stealing money.

No one can ask them what they are doing, because they are protected by their freedom. No one can punish them, whether in our country or their country. The worst thing is what was discovered in the course of time: abusing women, children, men, and the old men and women whom they arrested randomly and without any guilt. They expressed the freedom of rape, the freedom of nudity and the freedom of humiliation.

Sheik Mohammed Bashir, in his sermon Friday at Um al-Oura, a Sunni Muslim mosque in the middle-class Ghazaliya neighborhood, as quoted at Informed Comment

June 2004

Today, most US officials and commentators, while condemning the abuses revealed in the Abu Ghraib prison, speak in terms of finding ways to fix the system so these abuses will not happen again.

The need is deeper. We need to understand that if we choose the option of war, abuses will inevitably follow. It is the very nature of war. Indeed, war itself is abuse.

Earl Martin and Pat Hostetter, On Abu Ghraib and war itself: See through relativism of abuse

May 2004

And 1968 was a bitter year for those who opposed the war. The lies and hypocrisies redoubled; so did the killing. Moreover, it was becoming clear that the ethic which approved the defoliation of forests and grainlands and the murder of noncombatants in the name of peace was only a corollary of the ethic which permits the despoliation of natural resources for private profit or the GNP, and the murder of the creatures of the Earth in the name of man. The victory of the ethic of exploitation, in all societies, seemed as inevitable as it was disastrous.

Ursula K. Le Guin, Introduction to The Word for World Is Forest, 1976

April 2004

This isn’t America; the government did not invent intelligence material nor exaggerate the description of the threat to justify their attack on the Hamas leader the way George Bush did on his way to Baghdad.

Aluf Benn, Sssh, we’re leaving Gaza soon, Haaretz 25 March 2004

March 2003

The Stalinist discipline of the Republican Party is impressive.

William Greider, Parliament Of Dreams at TomPaine.com

February 2004

I have often suggested to American Christians that the only way to understand their mission is to ask what it might have meant to witness faithfully to Jesus in the heart of the Roman Empire. Certainly, when I preach in the United States I feel, as I imagine the Apostle Paul did when he first passed through the gates of Rome—admiration for its people, awe at its manifest virtues and resentment of its careless power.

America’s preachers have a task more difficult, perhaps, than those faced by us under South Africa’s apartheid or by Christians under Communism. We had obvious evils to engage; you have to unwrap your culture from years of red, white and blue myth. You have to expose and confront the great disconnect between the kindness, compassion and caring of most American people and the ruthless way American power is experienced, directly and indirectly, by the poor of the earth. You have to help good people see how they have let their institutions do their sinning for them.

This is not easy among people who really believe that their country does nothing but good. But it is necessary, not only for their future, but for us all. All around the world there are those who believe in the basic goodness of the American people, who agonize with you in your pain, but also long to see your human goodness translated into a different, more compassionate way of relating with the rest of this bleeding planet.

Bishop Peter Storey, South Africa

January 2004

Alas, where shall I climb now with my longing? From all mountains I look out for fatherlands and motherlands. But home I found nowhere; a fugitive am I in all cities and a departure at all gates. Strange and a mockery to me are the men of today to whom my heart recently drew me; and I am driven out of fatherlands and motherlands. Thus I now love only my children’s land, yet undiscovered, in the farthest sea: for this I bid my sails search and search.

Friedrich Nietzche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

December 2003

Trying to eliminate Saddam … would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible…. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq … there was no viable “exit strategy” we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.

George H. W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed, 1996, Chapter 19

November 2003

Over the last two years, the President has shown us his take on a new era in environmental protection. The Bush formula: slap some squeaky-clean sounding names on a bunch of industry-friendly policies, resulting in some proposals that equal a polluter’s paradise and an industrial free-for-all on our public lands.

League of Conservation Voters

October 2003

Certainty about the world does not make the world more certain. The easiest road to moral clarity is a refusal to learn from complex events. For a few horrible hours two Septembers ago, nobody could claim to know anything. That uncertainty, at least, haunts us still. Or should.

Paul Wells, Macleans.Ca essay

September 2003

here’s to our last drink of fossil fuels
let us vow to get off of this sauce

Ani DiFranco, Self Evident, righteous babe records

August 2003

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

George Orwell

July 2003

and i’ll tell you what, while we’re at it
you can keep the pentagon
keep the propaganda
keep each and every tv
that’s been trying to convince me
to participate
in some prep school punk’s plan to perpetuate retribution
perpetuate retribution
even as the blue toxic smoke of our lesson in retribution
is still hanging in the air
and there’s ash on our shoes
and there’s ash in our hair
and there’s a fine silt on every mantle
from hell’s kitchen to brooklyn

Ani DiFranco, Self Evident, http://www.righteousbabe.com/

June 2003

This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.

Plato, quoted from http://www.thedailygoods.com/archives/

May 2003

I have the greatest admiration for your propaganda. Propaganda in the West is carried out by experts who have had the best training in the world — in the field of advertizing — and have mastered the techniques with exceptional proficiency … Yours are subtle and persuasive; ours are crude and obvious … I think that the fundamental difference between our worlds, with respect to propaganda, is quite simple. You tend to believe yours … and we tend to disbelieve ours.

Soviet correspondent based five years in the U.S.
(quote from Third World Traveler)

April 2003

Statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.

Mark Twain, as quoted at The Daily Goods

March 2003

I believe that it will do this not only to take control of Iraqi oil, but also because the American administration is now a bloodthirsty wild animal. Bombs are its only vocabulary.

Harold Pinter, at Z Magazine

February 2003

All power is power over someone, and it always somehow responds, usually unwittingly rather than deliberately, to the state of mind and the behavior of those it rules over.

Václav Havel

January 2003

The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government.

Justice David Davis, Ex Parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 2 (4 Wall.) (1866)

December 2002

Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss

The Who

November 2002

Regime change begins at home.

Protest sign at San Francisco anti-war demonstration