Quotulatiousness

May 24, 2015

QotD: Impressions of Dresden

Filed under: Europe,Humour,Quotations,Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

We reached Dresden on the Wednesday evening, and stayed there over the Sunday.

Taking one consideration with another, Dresden, perhaps, is the most attractive town in Germany; but it is a place to be lived in for a while rather than visited. Its museums and galleries, its palaces and gardens, its beautiful and historically rich environment, provide pleasure for a winter, but bewilder for a week. It has not the gaiety of Paris or Vienna, which quickly palls; its charms are more solidly German, and more lasting. It is the Mecca of the musician. For five shillings, in Dresden, you can purchase a stall at the opera house, together, unfortunately, with a strong disinclination ever again to take the trouble of sitting out a performance in any English, French, or, American opera house.

The chief scandal of Dresden still centres round August the Strong, “the Man of Sin,” as Carlyle always called him, who is popularly reputed to have cursed Europe with over a thousand children. Castles where he imprisoned this discarded mistress or that — one of them, who persisted in her claim to a better title, for forty years, it is said, poor lady! The narrow rooms where she ate her heart out and died are still shown. Chateaux, shameful for this deed of infamy or that, lie scattered round the neighbourhood like bones about a battlefield; and most of your guide’s stories are such as the “young person” educated in Germany had best not hear. His life-sized portrait hangs in the fine Zwinger, which he built as an arena for his wild beast fights when the people grew tired of them in the market-place; a beetle-browed, frankly animal man, but with the culture and taste that so often wait upon animalism. Modern Dresden undoubtedly owes much to him.

But what the stranger in Dresden stares at most is, perhaps, its electric trams. These huge vehicles flash through the streets at from ten to twenty miles an hour, taking curves and corners after the manner of an Irish car driver. Everybody travels by them, excepting only officers in uniform, who must not. Ladies in evening dress, going to ball or opera, porters with their baskets, sit side by side. They are all-important in the streets, and everything and everybody makes haste to get out of their way. If you do not get out of their way, and you still happen to be alive when picked up, then on your recovery you are fined for having been in their way. This teaches you to be wary of them.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

May 21, 2015

Jonathan Kay, ebike martyr

Filed under: Cancon,Environment,Humour,Media,Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Despite having become the editor-in-chief of The Walrus, poor Jonathan Kay suffers the slings and arrows of all those who condemn and ridicule his ridiculous choice of transportation ebike (especially from his own staff):

City planners think of transportation in terms of its logistical and infrastructural components. That’s also how the issue gets discussed in the context of, say, energy conservation and traffic management. But when it comes to the transportation products we actually buy, our utilitarian calculus is overwhelmed by our aesthetic biases. When the Segway scooter had its great reveal in 2001, few observers cared about its groundbreaking self-balancing technology. All they saw was a nerd standing upright, wearing a funny helmet.

It is a lesson I have learned again over the last year, at great cost in dignity and personal reputation, as I have motored around Toronto on an ebike — a zero-emission electric scooter that travels at speeds of up to 32 km/h. As I noted in an essay last year, ebikes combine the low cost and convenience of a bicycle, while allowing a user to get to work without an ounce of sweat or a stitch of lycra.

In a more perfect world, the streets of our cities would be humming with ebikes. But that is not the world we inhabit. After a year of evangelizing these fantastically useful, earth-friendly contraptions among my peer group, I’ve failed to gain a single new convert.

Just the opposite, in fact: I have become a figure of overt and willfully cruel mockery.

Jonathan Kay - ebike ad

May 18, 2015

Death rides a pale horse … called “Binky”

Filed under: Britain,Humour,Liberty,Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the June issue of Reason, Scott Shackford talks about the work of the late, great Terry Pratchett:

Terry Pratchett may not have been the first writer to personify Death as a walking, talking skeleton tasked with reaping the souls of the living, but he was the first to give him a horse named Binky and a granddaughter named Susan.

This Death was no less efficient or inevitable despite all the whimsy, of course. As various characters in Pratchett’s long-lasting, wildly popular series of fantasy novels passed on, Death traveled across Discworld — a flat planet resting on the backs of four elephants who stood on a giant turtle that swam through the universe — to ferry the newly deceased to whatever came afterward.

So it was highly appropriate that after Pratchett’s death at age 66 on March 12, following a long and deliberately public faceoff with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, the novelist’s official Twitter account described his passing as Death gently escorting Pratchett from our rounder, less turtle-dependent world.

But let’s not dwell on Death. Pratchett’s Discworld books, all 40 of them (not counting short stories and related works), teemed with messy, disorganized life. And because he wrote in the fantasy genre, they were also packed with wizards, witches, dwarves, dragons, vampires, zombies, demons, werewolves, and the occasional orangutan. His books were humorous in tone, but tackled weighty matters of self-determination, identity, innovation, and, above all else, liberty.

“Whoever created humanity left in a major design flaw. It was the tendency to bend at the knee.” That piece of insight came from Feet of Clay, a book from right in the middle of his series, published in 1996. The witticism encapsulates a consistent theme in his books approaching how humans (and other sentient species) struggle between the desire to be free and the comfort of letting somebody more powerful or smarter (or claiming to be smarter, anyway) call the shots. In Pratchett’s books, both the heroes and the villains tended to be people in positions of authority. What separated his heroes — people like police commander Samuel Vimes, witch Esme “Granny” Weatherwax, and even Patrician Havelock Vetinari, an assassin turned ruler of the sprawling city of Ankh-Morpork — from the villains was their insistence on letting people live their own lives, whatever may come of it, even when they made a mess of things.

May 17, 2015

The Little World of Don Camillo (1951)

Filed under: Europe,Humour,Media,Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 26 Dec 2014

Narrated by ORSON WELLES (O.W. bonus: voice of Christ)

Real philanthropy, Slim style

Filed under: Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

This report says that one of the richest men in the world is opening new frontiers in philanthropy:

Perennial contender for World’s Richest Man Carlos Slim announced Friday that he had reconsidered selling his Upper East Side home for $80 million, and instead was opening the Beaux Arts mansion to undocumented roomers. “Ever since I became the second largest shareholder in New York Times Inc., I’ve started reading the editorials,” explained the telecom monopolist. “And they’ve convinced me! What’s all this obsession with documents anyway?”

The Mexican oligarch continued, “If you can fool my doorman into letting you in once, or if you have the moxie to throw a brick through my window and crawl in over the broken glass, well, it would be inhumane to evict you. And if you have kids or parents, then they can come too because I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of family reunification. If I find you inside my house, then mi casa es su casa!

This is clearly too good to check (but I did verify that the story isn’t dated April 1st, so it must be true, right?

QotD: Taming the wilds in Germany

Filed under: Europe,Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Your German is not averse even to wild scenery, provided it be not too wild. But if he consider it too savage, he sets to work to tame it. I remember, in the neighbourhood of Dresden, discovering a picturesque and narrow valley leading down towards the Elbe. The winding roadway ran beside a mountain torrent, which for a mile or so fretted and foamed over rocks and boulders between wood-covered banks. I followed it enchanted until, turning a corner, I suddenly came across a gang of eighty or a hundred workmen. They were busy tidying up that valley, and making that stream respectable. All the stones that were impeding the course of the water they were carefully picking out and carting away. The bank on either side they were bricking up and cementing. The overhanging trees and bushes, the tangled vines and creepers they were rooting up and trimming down. A little further I came upon the finished work — the mountain valley as it ought to be, according to German ideas. The water, now a broad, sluggish stream, flowed over a level, gravelly bed, between two walls crowned with stone coping. At every hundred yards it gently descended down three shallow wooden platforms. For a space on either side the ground had been cleared, and at regular intervals young poplars planted. Each sapling was protected by a shield of wickerwork and bossed by an iron rod. In the course of a couple of years it is the hope of the local council to have “finished” that valley throughout its entire length, and made it fit for a tidy-minded lover of German nature to walk in. There will be a seat every fifty yards, a police notice every hundred, and a restaurant every half-mile.

They are doing the same from the Memel to the Rhine. They are just tidying up the country. I remember well the Wehrthal. It was once the most romantic ravine to be found in the Black Forest. The last time I walked down it some hundreds of Italian workmen were encamped there hard at work, training the wild little Wehr the way it should go, bricking the banks for it here, blasting the rocks for it there, making cement steps for it down which it can travel soberly and without fuss.

For in Germany there is no nonsense talked about untrammelled nature. In Germany nature has got to behave herself, and not set a bad example to the children. A German poet, noticing waters coming down as Southey describes, somewhat inexactly, the waters coming down at Lodore, would be too shocked to stop and write alliterative verse about them. He would hurry away, and at once report them to the police. Then their foaming and their shrieking would be of short duration.

“Now then, now then, what’s all this about?” the voice of German authority would say severely to the waters. “We can’t have this sort of thing, you know. Come down quietly, can’t you? Where do you think you are?”

And the local German council would provide those waters with zinc pipes and wooden troughs, and a corkscrew staircase, and show them how to come down sensibly, in the German manner.

It is a tidy land is Germany.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

May 12, 2015

QotD: When advertising becomes propaganda

Filed under: Britain,Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The problem with the posters in the airport was that they resembled the political propaganda of a totalitarian regime, insinuating what could not be dissented from without some danger or personal inconvenience. I do not mean to say that we now live in such a regime in the most literal sense, that we have already to fear the midnight knock on the door, but rather that the posters contribute to a miasma of untruth, the kind of untruth that is becoming socially dangerous, or at least embarrassing, to point out. For if you do dissent from such a slogan you will be immediately cast into the social Gehenna where the reactionaries are sent, whose cries of outrage can be dismissed merely by virtue of who they are. If you say that science does not need women, you will be taken to mean that you think that women should be confined to children, kitchen, and church, and that you are an advocate of the burqa (though actually I would make it compulsory for young English women in the center of English towns and cities on Friday and Saturday nights, though only for aesthetic, not for moral or religious, reasons).

Not to be able to answer back to perceived untruths: such is the powerlessness that can eventually drive people to espouse the worst causes.

Theodore Dalrymple, “A Miasma of Untruth”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-06-29.

May 11, 2015

The Oberlin College Choir performs “Please keep me from the real world”

Filed under: Humour,Media,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

By way of Amy Alkon’s blog, here’s the Oberlin College Choir (motto: “Feelz before Realz”) responding to the Christina Hoff Sommers controversy at the college:

May 10, 2015

QotD: The German love of order

Filed under: Europe,Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In Germany one breathes in love of order with the air, in Germany the babies beat time with their rattles, and the German bird has come to prefer the box, and to regard with contempt the few uncivilised outcasts who continue to build their nests in trees and hedges. In course of time every German bird, one is confident, will have his proper place in a full chorus. This promiscuous and desultory warbling of his must, one feels, be irritating to the precise German mind; there is no method in it. The music-loving German will organise him. Some stout bird with a specially well-developed crop will be trained to conduct him, and, instead of wasting himself in a wood at four o’clock in the morning, he will, at the advertised time, sing in a beer garden, accompanied by a piano. Things are drifting that way.

Your German likes nature, but his idea of nature is a glorified Welsh Harp. He takes great interest in his garden. He plants seven rose trees on the north side and seven on the south, and if they do not grow up all the same size and shape it worries him so that he cannot sleep of nights. Every flower he ties to a stick. This interferes with his view of the flower, but he has the satisfaction of knowing it is there, and that it is behaving itself. The lake is lined with zinc, and once a week he takes it up, carries it into the kitchen, and scours it. In the geometrical centre of the grass plot, which is sometimes as large as a tablecloth and is generally railed round, he places a china dog. The Germans are very fond of dogs, but as a rule they prefer them of china. The china dog never digs holes in the lawn to bury bones, and never scatters a flower-bed to the winds with his hind legs. From the German point of view, he is the ideal dog. He stops where you put him, and he is never where you do not want him. You can have him perfect in all points, according to the latest requirements of the Kennel Club; or you can indulge your own fancy and have something unique. You are not, as with other dogs, limited to breed. In china, you can have a blue dog or a pink dog. For a little extra, you can have a double-headed dog.

On a certain fixed date in the autumn the German stakes his flowers and bushes to the earth, and covers them with Chinese matting; and on a certain fixed date in the spring he uncovers them, and stands them up again. If it happens to be an exceptionally fine autumn, or an exceptionally late spring, so much the worse for the unfortunate vegetable. No true German would allow his arrangements to be interfered with by so unruly a thing as the solar system. Unable to regulate the weather, he ignores it.

Among trees, your German’s favourite is the poplar. Other disorderly nations may sing the charms of the rugged oak, the spreading chestnut, or the waving elm. To the German all such, with their wilful, untidy ways, are eyesores. The poplar grows where it is planted, and how it is planted. It has no improper rugged ideas of its own. It does not want to wave or to spread itself. It just grows straight and upright as a German tree should grow; and so gradually the German is rooting out all other trees, and replacing them with poplars.

Your German likes the country, but he prefers it as the lady thought she would the noble savage — more dressed. He likes his walk through the wood — to a restaurant. But the pathway must not be too steep, it must have a brick gutter running down one side of it to drain it, and every twenty yards or so it must have its seat on which he can rest and mop his brow; for your German would no more think of sitting on the grass than would an English bishop dream of rolling down One Tree Hill. He likes his view from the summit of the hill, but he likes to find there a stone tablet telling him what to look at, find a table and bench at which he can sit to partake of the frugal beer and “belegte Semmel” he has been careful to bring with him. If, in addition, he can find a police notice posted on a tree, forbidding him to do something or other, that gives him an extra sense of comfort and security.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

May 7, 2015

QotD: Pina Colada

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Not that we down south have any excuse for self-satisfaction while we allow the atrocity of the Pina Colada to flourish unchecked in our midst. I ask your tolerance while I explain this disgusting concoction is made by pouring into a tumbler over ice a measure of something called Malibu, which describes itself as tropical coconut laced with light Jamaican rum, and filling up with a semblance of pineapple juice, fizzy or still according to whim. Just the thing for a little 95-IQ female, fresh from a spell on the back of the bike, to suck at while her escort plunges grunting at the fruit machine.

Mind you, he’ll be no ornament to his sex either, quite likely clutching a lager and lime — an exit application from the human race if ever there was one.

Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.

May 6, 2015

QotD: “Science needs women”

Filed under: Humour,Quotations,Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Science does not need women any more than it needs foot fetishists, pole-vaulters, or Somalis. What science needs (if an abstraction such as science can be said to need anything) is scientists. If they happen also to be foot fetishists, pole-vaulters, or Somalis, so be it: but no one in his right mind would go to any lengths to recruit for his laboratory foot fetishists, pole-vaulters, or Somalis for those characteristics alone.

[…]

It is true, of course, that women are demographically underrepresented in the ranks of scientists, but so are many other groups. (This means, of course, that others are overrepresented.) This may be for more than one reason: lack of aptitude or interest, for example, or deliberate or subtle obstructiveness. But historical attempts to recruit scientists according to some demographic criterion or other have not been met with success, even as far as the advancement of science itself is concerned, and have been made by the very worst dictatorships that in other respects have been abominable. Social engineering and engineering are two very different activities. It would be no consolation to know while on a collapsing bridge and about to plunge into the deep ravine below that it had been built by a truly representative sample of the population, and was therefore a monument to social justice.

Suppose that, instead of Science needs women, other slogans based upon exactly the same logic hung over the arrivals hall: Heavyweight boxing needs Malays, for example, Football needs dwarf goalkeepers, Quantity surveying needs bisexuals, Lavatory cleaning needs left-handers: the absurdity of the argument would be immediately apparent. In fact the categorization both of human activities and humans themselves being almost infinite, the obsession with demographic representation as the most important criterion of fairness or social justice is virtually without end. The search for social fairness in this sense can lead only to perpetual conflict, much as the imposition of parliamentary democracy has done in countries in which it is not an organic outgrowth of their history, and as a true parliamentary regime in the European Union would very soon do.

Theodore Dalrymple, “A Miasma of Untruth”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-06-29.

May 3, 2015

QotD: Innovations from foreign shores

Filed under: Britain,Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

We had ridden for about two miles, when we noticed, a little ahead of us in a space where five ways met, a man with a hose, watering the roads. The pipe, supported at each joint by a pair of tiny wheels, writhed after him as he moved, suggesting a gigantic-worm, from whose open neck, as the man, gripping it firmly in both hands, pointing it now this way, and now that, now elevating it, now depressing it, poured a strong stream of water at the rate of about a gallon a second.

“What a much better method than ours,” observed Harris, enthusiastically. Harris is inclined to be chronically severe on all British institutions. “How much simpler, quicker, and more economical! You see, one man by this method can in five minutes water a stretch of road that would take us with our clumsy lumbering cart half an hour to cover.”

George, who was riding behind me on the tandem, said, “Yes, and it is also a method by which with a little carelessness a man could cover a good many people in a good deal less time than they could get out of the way.”

George, the opposite to Harris, is British to the core. I remember George quite patriotically indignant with Harris once for suggesting the introduction of the guillotine into England.

“It is so much neater,” said Harris.

“I don’t care if it is,” said George; “I’m an Englishman; hanging is good enough for me.”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

May 1, 2015

QotD: Military decorations and military men

Filed under: Humour,Military,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Anno 1865. I look out of my window and observe an officer of the United States Army passing down the street. Anno 1922. Like General Grant, he is without a sword. Like General Grant, he wears a sort of soldier’s blouse for a coat. Like General Grant, he employs shoulder straps to indicate to the army who he is. But there is something more. On the left breast of this officer, apparently a major, there blazes so brilliant a mass of color that, as the sun strikes it and the flash bangs my eyes, I wink, catch my breath and sneeze. There are two long strips, each starting at the sternum and disappearing into the shadows of the axillia — every hue in the rainbow, the spectroscope, the kaleidoscope — imperial purples, sforzando reds, wild Irish greens, romantic blues, loud yellows and oranges, rich maroons, sentimental pinks, all the half-tones from ultra-violet to infra-red, all the vibrations from the impalpable to the unendurable. A gallant Soldat, indeed! How he would shame a circus ticketwagon if he wore all the medals and badges, the stars and crosses, the pendants and lavallieres, that go with those ribbons! … I glance at his sleeves. A simple golden stripe on the one — six months beyond the raging main. None on the other — the Kaiser’s cannon missed him.

Just what all these ribbons signify I am sure I don’t know; probably they belong to campaign medals and tell the tale of butcheries in foreign and domestic parts — mountains of dead Filipinos, Mexicans, Haitians, Dominicans, West Virginia miners, perhaps even Prussians. But in addition to campaign medals and the Distinguished Service Medal there are now certainly enough foreign orders in the United States to give a distinct brilliance to the national scene, viewed, say, from Mars. The Frederician tradition, borrowed by the ragged Continentals and embodied in Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution, lasted until 1918, and then suddenly blew up; to mention it to-day is a sort of indecorum, and to-morrow, no doubt, will be a species of treason. Down with Frederick; up with John Philip Sousa! Imagine what General Pershing would look like at a state banquet of his favorite American order, the Benevolent and Protective one of Elks, in all the Byzantine splendor of his casket of ribbons, badges, stars, garters, sunbursts and cockades — the lordly Bath of the grateful motherland, with its somewhat disconcerting “Ich dien“; the gorgeous tricolor baldrics, sashes and festoons of the Legion d’Honneur; the grand cross of SS. Maurizio e Lazzaro of Italy; the sinister Danilo of Montenegro, with its cabalistic monogram of Danilo I and its sinister hieroglyphics; the breastplate of the Paulownia of Japan, with its rising sun of thirty-two white rays, its blood-red heart, its background of green leaves and its white ribbon edged with red; the mystical St. Saviour of Greece, with its Greek motto and its brilliantly enameled figure of Christ; above all, the Croix de Guerre of Czecho-Slovakia, a new one and hence not listed in the books, but surely no shrinking violet! Alas, Pershing was on the wrong side — that is, for one with a fancy for gauds of that sort. The most blinding of all known orders is the Medijie of Turkey, which not only entitles the holder to four wives, but also absolutely requires him to wear a red fez and a frozen star covering his whole facade. I was offered this order by Turkish spies during the war, and it wabbled me a good deal. The Alexander of Bulgaria is almost as seductive. The badge consists of an eight-pointed white cross, with crossed swords between the arms and a red Bulgarian lion over the swords. The motto is “Za Chrabrost!” Then there are the Prussian orders — the Red and Black Eagles, the Pour le Merite, the Prussian Crown, the Hohenzollern and the rest. And the Golden Fleece of Austria — the noblest of them all. Think of the Golden Fleece on a man born in Linn County, Missouri! … I begin to doubt that the General would have got it, even supposing him to have taken the other side. The Japs, I note, gave him only the grand cordon of the Paulownia, and the Belgians and Montenegrins were similarly cautious. There are higher classes. The highest of the Paulownia is only for princes, which is to say, only for non-Missourians.

H.L. Mencken, “Star-spangled Men”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

April 30, 2015

QotD: Righteous indignation

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Those who irritate us and give us grounds for righteous indignation are our secret benefactors, for there are few states of mind more gratifying than that of righteous indignation.

Theodore Dalrymple, “A Miasma of Untruth”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-06-29.

April 28, 2015

QotD: Pursuit of truth

Filed under: History,Humour,Quotations,Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Truth, indeed, is something that is believed in completely only by persons who have never tried personally to pursue it to its fastnesses and grab it by the tail. It is the adoration of second-rate men — men who always receive it at second-hand. Pedagogues believe in immutable truths and spend their lives trying to determine them and propagate them; the intellectual progress of man consists largely of a concerted effort to block and destroy their enterprise. Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only error to be exposed. In whole departments of human inquiry it seems to me quite unlikely that the truth ever will be discovered. Nevertheless, the rubber-stamp thinking of the world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of the truth — that error and truth are simple opposites. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it has been cured of one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one. This is the whole history of the intellect in brief. The average man of to-day does not believe in precisely the same imbecilities that the Greek of the fourth century before Christ believed in, but the things that he does believe in are often quite as idiotic. Perhaps this statement is a bit too sweeping. There is, year by year, a gradual accumulation of what may be called, provisionally, truths — there is a slow accretion of ideas that somehow manage to meet all practicable human tests, and so survive. But even so, it is risky to call them absolute truths. All that one may safely say of them is that no one, as yet, has demonstrated that they are errors. Soon or late, if experience teaches us anything, they are likely to succumb too. The profoundest truths of the Middle Ages are now laughed at by schoolboys. The profoundest truths of democracy will be laughed at, a few centuries hence, even by school-teachers.

H.L. Mencken, “Footnote on Criticism”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

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