Many years ago, when I was more reckless intellectually than I am today, I proposed the application of Haeckel’s biogenetic law — to wit, that the history of the individual rehearses the history of the species to the domain of ideas. So applied, it leads to some superficially startling but probably quite sound conclusions, for example, that an adult poet is simply an individual in a state of arrested development — in brief, a sort of moron. Just as all of us, in utero, pass through a stage in which we are tadpoles, and almost indistinguishable from the tadpoles which afterward become frogs, so all of us pass through a stage, in our nonage, when we are poets. A youth of seventeen who is not a poet is simply a donkey: his development has been arrested even anterior to that of the tadpole. But a man of fifty who still writes poetry is either an unfortunate who has never developed, intellectually, beyond his teens, or a conscious buffoon who pretends to be something that he isn’t — something far younger and juicier than he actually is […] Something else, of course, may enter into it. The buffoonery may be partly conscious and deliberate, and partly Freudian. Many an aging man keeps on writing poetry simply because it gives him the illusion that he is still young. For the same reason, perhaps, he plays tennis, wears green cravats, and tries to convince himself that he is in love.
H.L. Mencken, “The Nature of Faith”, Prejudices, Fourth Series, 1924.
August 25, 2015
August 24, 2015
Megan McArdle on the difference between what voters indicate they want from their elected representatives and what they actually get:
Now, you won’t learn much about how politics happens. Politics doesn’t have clear villains or decisive, powerful action. Politics muddles along on a heavily adulterated biofuel composed of interpersonal favor-trading, compromised ideology, soul-sucking proceduralism, and ponderous interest-group mobilization.
But elections — that’s where your back issues of Action Comics will come in handy. They tell you a lot about what voters think.
Voters rally to get a candidate elected, then call on the politician to stop technological change from tanking the local economy, to give them much more generous health care at half the cost of whatever they’ve currently got, to cut their taxes without touching Social Security or Medicare because they earned those benefits, to provide large new entitlements paid for entirely by taxing hedge fund managers, to reform the education system so that all the students will be above average, to defuse conflict in the Middle East and maybe leap some tall buildings in a single bound. You know, the usual.
Time passes. These voters notice that these things have not been done. Obviously, they have elected the wrong superhero. It is time to stop messing around with Squirrel Girl and Jack of Hearts and elect Superman, already. So the story starts all over again.
The tendency of American voters to treat political problems as if they were occurring in an alternate universe was first noted by Matthew Yglesias during the Iraq war debate, when he coined the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics, in which the US military has unlimited powers if only it is wielded by someone with sufficient will; Julian Sanchez expanded this to the home front with the Care Bear Stare Theory of Domestic Politics: “They’d line up together and emit a glowing manifestation of their boundless caring, which seemed capable of solving just about any problem.” Sound familiar? If only people cared enough.
August 23, 2015
But all this is apart from the moral I wished to draw from the incident. The true inwardness of the situation lay in the indignation of this Britisher at finding a German railway porter unable to comprehend English. The moment we spoke to him he expressed this indignation in no measured terms.
“Thank you very much indeed,” he said; “it’s simple enough. I want to go to Donaueschingen myself by train; from Donaueschingen I am going to walk to Geisengen; from Geisengen I am going to take the train to Engen, and from Engen I am going to bicycle to Constance. But I don’t want to take my bag with me; I want to find it at Constance when I get there. I have been trying to explain the thing to this fool for the last ten minutes; but I can’t get it into him.”
“It is very disgraceful,” I agreed. “Some of these German workmen know hardly any other language than their own.”
“I have gone over it with him,” continued the man, “on the time table, and explained it by pantomime. Even then I could not knock it into him.”
“I can hardly believe you,” I again remarked; “you would think the thing explained itself.”
Harris was angry with the man; he wished to reprove him for his folly in journeying through the outlying portions of a foreign clime, and seeking in such to accomplish complicated railway tricks without knowing a word of the language of the country. But I checked the impulsiveness of Harris, and pointed out to him the great and good work at which the man was unconsciously assisting.
Shakespeare and Milton may have done their little best to spread acquaintance with the English tongue among the less favoured inhabitants of Europe. Newton and Darwin may have rendered their language a necessity among educated and thoughtful foreigners. Dickens and Ouida (for your folk who imagine that the literary world is bounded by the prejudices of New Grub Street, would be surprised and grieved at the position occupied abroad by this at-home-sneered-at lady) may have helped still further to popularise it. But the man who has spread the knowledge of English from Cape St. Vincent to the Ural Mountains is the Englishman who, unable or unwilling to learn a single word of any language but his own, travels purse in hand into every corner of the Continent. One may be shocked at his ignorance, annoyed at his stupidity, angry at his presumption. But the practical fact remains; he it is that is anglicising Europe. For him the Swiss peasant tramps through the snow on winter evenings to attend the English class open in every village. For him the coachman and the guard, the chambermaid and the laundress, pore over their English grammars and colloquial phrase books. For him the foreign shopkeeper and merchant send their sons and daughters in their thousands to study in every English town. For him it is that every foreign hotel- and restaurant-keeper adds to his advertisement: “Only those with fair knowledge of English need apply.”
Did the English-speaking races make it their rule to speak anything else than English, the marvellous progress of the English tongue throughout the world would stop. The English-speaking man stands amid the strangers and jingles his gold.
“Here,” cries, “is payment for all such as can speak English.”
He it is who is the great educator. Theoretically we may scold him; practically we should take our hats off to him. He is the missionary of the English tongue.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
August 21, 2015
It’s a tough life as a modern day satire writer, as what seems outrageously funny one day becomes news one short news cycle later. Here’s Duffelblog doing their best to get out ahead of the breaking news about Donald Trump’s GOP campaign:
Opinion: Everyone In The Military Is A Coward
The following is an op-ed written by Donald Trump, a candidate for President of the United States.
That’s right, I said it. All of you in the military and your veteran brothers and sisters are a bunch of cowards. More than that, you’re a bunch of damn pussies. I’m not telling you something we don’t all know — I just have the balls to say it. Pure titanium. Made in America. Patent pending.
Let’s look at your track record. You’ve been in Afghanistan over twice as long as that loser McCain spent being a bitch in Hanoi, and you still haven’t won the war.
Iraq is more fucked up than it was before we invaded. You burned children in Vietnam, and you still couldn’t win that war. At least there were whores in Vietnam, but you wouldn’t catch me dead there. The only whores I bang are grade-A Phillies.
In fact, when has America ever won a war? Don’t try and tell me World War II. Russia won that shit, and we had to drop an A-bomb because your pansy asses couldn’t finish the job. “The Greatest Generation?” Please. Those assholes got half a million Americans killed. I like drones that win.
And then Tamara K. linked to this in her Twitter feed:
August 19, 2015
… usually these books are simply campaign documents or, in the case of Wendy Davis’s Forgetting to Be Afraid: A Memoir, résumés for candidates who have suffered a crushing defeat or expect to suffer a crushing defeat, offering a rationale for keeping themselves in the game.
I have heard more than one thoughtful political observer lament the fact that Bill Clinton is constitutionally incapable of writing an honest book — given the man’s intelligence, his charm, and his genuinely dramatic life’s story, he might very well have written a real work of literature. But politics suffers from the same tendency toward dishonesty that U. S. Grant attributed to war: Political careers “produce many stories of fiction, some of which are told until they are believed to be true.” How many Americans still to this day believe that John Ashcroft draped a statue of Justice because he was scandalized by her bare, aluminum breast, or that he fears that calico cats are emissaries of Satan?
But, as Neil deGrasse Tyson demonstrates, in politics the truth rarely gets in the way of a good story. If ever I run for office — angels and ministers of grace defend us! — I will title my memoir Awesome American Courage: My Courageously Awesome American Story of Awesomely American Courage. Never mind that I’ve never done anything particularly awesome or courageous; Wendy Davis never really had much to forget to be afraid of, either, except, possibly, the voters.
Kevin D. Williamson, “A Plague of Memoirs: A courageously awesome American story of awesomely American courage”, National Review, 2014-10-06.
August 18, 2015
One of the most mawkish of human delusions is the notion that friendship should be eternal, or, at all events, life-long, and that any act which puts a term to it is somehow discreditable. The fact is that a man of active and resilient mind outwears his friendships just as certainly as he outwears his love affairs, his politics and his epistemology. They become threadbare, shabby, pumped-up, irritating, depressing. They convert themselves from living realities into moribund artificialities, and stand in sinister opposition to freedom, self-respect and truth. It is as corrupting to preserve them after they have grown fly-blown and hollow as it is to keep up the forms of passion after passion itself is a corpse. Every act and attitude that they involve thus becomes an act of hypocrisy, an attitude of dishonesty … A prudent man, remembering that life is short, gives an hour or two, now and then, to a critical examination of his friendships. He weighs them, edits them, tests the metal of them. A few he retains, perhaps with radical changes in their terms. But the majority he expunges from his minutes and tries to forget, as he tries to forget the cold and clammy loves of year before last.
H.L. Mencken, “Types of Men 13: The Friend”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.
August 16, 2015
Another peculiarity of the German coachman is that he never attempts to pull in or to pull up. He regulates his rate of speed, not by the pace of the horse, but by manipulation of the brake. For eight miles an hour he puts it on slightly, so that it only scrapes the wheel, producing a continuous sound as of the sharpening of a saw; for four miles an hour he screws it down harder, and you travel to an accompaniment of groans and shrieks, suggestive of a symphony of dying pigs. When he desires to come to a full stop, he puts it on to its full. If his brake be a good one, he calculates he can stop his carriage, unless the horse be an extra powerful animal, in less than twice its own length. Neither the German driver nor the German horse knows, apparently, that you can stop a carriage by any other method. The German horse continues to pull with his full strength until he finds it impossible to move the vehicle another inch; then he rests. Horses of other countries are quite willing to stop when the idea is suggested to them. I have known horses content to go even quite slowly. But your German horse, seemingly, is built for one particular speed, and is unable to depart from it. I am stating nothing but the literal, unadorned truth, when I say I have seen a German coachman, with the reins lying loose over the splash-board, working his brake with both hands, in terror lest he would not be in time to avoid a collision.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
August 15, 2015
Denver leading 21-10, the Chiefs threw incomplete on third-and-goal from the Broncs’ 8. As the pass sailed out of bounds, Denver corner Chris Harris threw his hands up in the “I didn’t do it!” gesture. Penalty, automatic first down for Kansas City. Defenders should never make the “I didn’t do it!” gesture, which only alerts officials to the fact that they did it. In football, the “I didn’t do it!” gesture is regarded by zebras as a notarized confession after a Miranda warning.
Gregg Easterbrook, “TMQ: Super Bowl rematches rare events”, ESPN.com, 2014-09-16.
August 14, 2015
It’s the end of Vikings training camp at Mankato State University, but the final practice didn’t go well. In fact it went so badly that head coach Mike Zimmer was furious with the team. At The Daily Norseman, world famous linguistic expert and translator Ted Glover provides his interpretation of what the coach said and what he really meant:
NOTE: This has a lot of NSFW words. If you’re offended easily, stop now. Also, unhook from the Internet and go unicorn hunting. Near rainbows — Ted
August 12, 2015
The normal man’s antipathy to his relatives, particularly of the second degree, is explained by psychologists in various tortured and improbable ways. The true explanation, I venture, is a good deal simpler. It lies in the plain fact that every man sees in his relatives, and especially in his cousins, a series of grotesque caricatures of himself. They exhibit his qualities in disconcerting augmentation or diminution; they fill him with a disquieting feeling that this, perhaps, is the way he appears to the world and so they wound his amour propre and give him intense discomfort. To admire his relatives whole-heartedly a man must be lacking in the finer sort of self-respect.
H.L. Mencken, “Types of Men 12: The Relative”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.
August 11, 2015
John Seed forces some great artists of the past to describe their work as if they were modern artists:
“If the great European artists of the past were alive today, what kinds of statements would they need to write to explain and justify their work?”
This summer I asked myself that question over two dozen times for a small, humor book that I have been developing. I hope you will find the sampling of seven statements below funny and even a bit poetic. Five of them were written specifically for Hyperallergic and two are from my new book.
H/T to Never Yet Melted for the link.
August 9, 2015
There was one night when, tired out and far from town or village, we slept in a Black Forest farmhouse. The great charm about the Black Forest house is its sociability. The cows are in the next room, the horses are upstairs, the geese and ducks are in the kitchen, while the pigs, the children, and the chickens live all over the place.
You are dressing, when you hear a grunt behind you.
“Good-morning! Don’t happen to have any potato peelings in here? No, I see you haven’t; good-bye.”
Next there is a cackle, and you see the neck of an old hen stretched round the corner.
“Fine morning, isn’t it? You don’t mind my bringing this worm of mine in here, do you? It is so difficult in this house to find a room where one can enjoy one’s food with any quietness. From a chicken I have always been a slow eater, and when a dozen — there, I thought they wouldn’t leave me alone. Now they’ll all want a bit. You don’t mind my getting on the bed, do you? Perhaps here they won’t notice me.”
While you are dressing various shock heads peer in at the door; they evidently regard the room as a temporary menagerie. You cannot tell whether the heads belong to boys or girls; you can only hope they are all male. It is of no use shutting the door, because there is nothing to fasten it by, and the moment you are gone they push it open again. You breakfast as the Prodigal Son is generally represented feeding: a pig or two drop in to keep you company; a party of elderly geese criticise you from the door; you gather from their whispers, added to their shocked expression, that they are talking scandal about you. Maybe a cow will condescend to give a glance in.
This Noah’s Ark arrangement it is, I suppose, that gives to the Black Forest home its distinctive scent. It is not a scent you can liken to any one thing. It is as if you took roses and Limburger cheese and hair oil, some heather and onions, peaches and soapsuds, together with a dash of sea air and a corpse, and mixed them up together. You cannot define any particular odour, but you feel they are all there — all the odours that the world has yet discovered. People who live in these houses are fond of this mixture. They do not open the window and lose any of it; they keep it carefully bottled up. If you want any other scent, you can go outside and smell the wood violets and the pines; inside there is the house; and after a while, I am told, you get used to it, so that you miss it, and are unable to go to sleep in any other atmosphere.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
August 8, 2015
Nietzsche, in altering Schopenhauer’s will-to-live to will-to-power, probably fell into a capital error. The truth is that the thing the average man seeks in life is not primarily power, but peace; all his struggle is toward a state of tranquillity and equilibrium; what he always dreams of is a state in which he will have to do battle no longer. This dream plainly enters into his conception of Heaven; he thinks of himself, post mortem, browsing about the celestial meadows like a cow in a safe pasture. A few extraordinary men enjoy combat at all times, and all men are inclined toward it at orgiastic moments, but the race as a race craves peace, and man belongs among the more timorous, docile and unimaginative animals, along with the deer, the horse and the sheep. This craving for peace is vividly displayed in the ages-long conflict of the sexes. Every normal woman wants to be married, for the plain reason that marriage offers her security. And every normal man avoids marriage as long as possible, for the equally plain reason that marriage invades and threatens his security.
H.L. Mencken, “Types of Men 11: The Pacifist”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.
August 6, 2015
Jayne: You know what the chain of command is? It’s the chain I go get and beat you with ’til ya understand who’s in ruttin’ command here. Now we’re finishing this deal,
[breathing becomes a little more labored]
Jayne: and then maybe, *maybe* we’ll come back for those morons who got themselves caught. You can’t change that by getting all… bendy.
Wash: All what?
Jayne: [starts swaying] You’ve got the — the light from the console… keep you, lift you up. They shine like…
[starts grabbing at the air like he’s trying to catch something]
Jayne: little angels…
[Jayne falls flat on his face]
Wash: Did he just go crazy and fall asleep?
Simon: I told him to sit down.
August 4, 2015
The man who boasts that he habitually tells the truth is simply a man with no respect for it. It is not a thing to be thrown about loosely, like small change; it is something to be cherished and hoarded, and disbursed only when absolutely necessary. The smallest atom of truth represents some man’s bitter toil and agony; for every ponderable chunk of it there is a brave truth-seeker’s grave upon some lonely ash-dump and a soul roasting in hell.
H.L. Mencken, “Types of Men 10: The Truth-Seeker”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.