May 3, 2016

QotD: Shakespeare

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

[Shakespeare] … could experiment so wildly with the language in his later plays. The earliest ones are strictly respectful of English syntax, and obedient with English grammar and vocabulary. The later ones break all the rules. Shakespeare knew he could hold an audience spellbound, whether they could follow his verbiage or not. He earned a freedom no subsequent poet in English till the twentieth century would dare to imitate; whenupon, those who tried, failed.

Yet he is a poet, a disciplined poet, and a thinker, too; and was a man of very broad if chaotic reading, as we are still discovering. His Latin was superb, and what he comprehended from the Roman poets, Ovid especially, was of a higher quality than dribbling academics can imagine. His thefts from Plutarch are always astute, but also from Livy. What he learnt from the ancient comedians, however, was nothing on what he could teach them.

To call him “the Bard” is to subscribe to the common, ignorant view that he was a “noble savage,” an untutored force of nature. The French, in their formality, are mostly responsible for this error of the Enlightenment; it was among the many things Voltaire got wrong, as the insidious depth of the master dramatist undermined his poppet classicism.

Shakespeare meditated deeply on English history, and on history at large. He went beyond presenting it in narrative form. Like a documentary filmmaker, he takes what he needs from the historical record, discards the rest, and changes anything that does not fit his programme. This is also his strategy in the Comedies and the Tragedies, never paying for a plot when he can steal one. For the world is full of plots, and one is like another. The world is full of mud and rock, but the master mason can shape and lay them. The master sculptor permits the stone to speak.

He did not have a theory of history, or a theory of anything else — a mediaeval mind does not think in “theories” — but a profound sense of how the world works, and of the contending spirits animating it. He summons spirits, and strange to say they come.

David Warren, “Four Centuries Later”, Essays in Idleness, 2016-04-23.

May 2, 2016

QotD: Laurier’s liberalism

Filed under: Cancon, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The original and proper meaning of liberal is a defender of individual liberty, a fierce opponent to big and intrusive government. That was the liberalism of George Brown, Alexander Mackenzie, Edward Blake and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. It is not the liberalism of the Trudeau Family or their cronies. Very much the opposite.

Yet modern pseudo-liberals love to invoke the name of Laurier. It links them with one of the country’s nation builders. A century later they’re borrowing the glory of his accomplishments to hide their own shabby schemes for power. Pierre Trudeau even hung a picture of Laurier in his office, as if the man who spoke of “freedom is our nationality” was looking down and endorsing the most anti-freedom administration in Canadian history.

Richard Anderson, “The Sunny Ways of Justin Trudeau”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2015-10-22.

May 1, 2016

QotD: The wonders of shellac

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

The finish had been subject to extremes of sunlight and temperature and humidity. Not left outdoors, but I figured an attic or something. My neighbor later told me that it was left on an enclosed porch for many years. Bingo. The finish was missing here and there, but what there was looked like suede when you ran your finger across it. It was completely crisscrossed with fingermarks going every which way. I pawed at it a bit, running through the rusty filing cabinet of my mind to figure out what I was looking at. It came to me in a vision — all at once.

I knew it was shellac. Of all the dumb luck. No one had “fixed” this piece of furniture in 75 years. It didn’t have any new, improved finish that wouldn’t last but couldn’t be fixed. It wasn’t “eco,” another word for wasteful useless disposable plastic crap. The finish was made from the nasty ooze that comes out of a lac bug and dries on a tree branch. Your favorite Hindoo used to gather the stuff by putting tarps on the ground under trees where the lac bugs congregate, and then beating the limbs with sticks to make the amber flakes rain down. When you mix lac leavings with alcohol, you get shellac. It’s wonderful stuff.

Shellac sticks to anything. Anything sticks to shellac. Shellac can be diluted till there’s barely a whisper of lac left in it, but it still makes a coherent film. It seals knots. Shellac can be polished to mirror shine if you want to. A technique called French polishing is the finish you saw on Baron Percy Devonshire Smythe XXIVth’s harewood and mahogany gaming table back when King George was still gibbering on his throne. You can make shellac look like anything you want. Our dresser had pigment mixed in with it to make a kind of varnish stain that could be sprayed on in one coat as an all-purpose stain/finish.

Shellac is so safe for humans to handle that you can eat it, and you might have. They used to make the capsules that drugs and vitamins come in out of shellac. And the greatest thing about shellac, at least for me, is that no matter how old it is, it immediately dissolves and gets loose in the presence of alcohol, just like everyone at your office Christmas party.

Sippican Cottage, “Happy Birthday, Mrs. King”, Sippican Cottage, 2016-04-20.

April 30, 2016

QotD: “SETI is a religion”

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

Cast your minds back to 1960. John F. Kennedy is president, commercial jet airplanes are just appearing, the biggest university mainframes have 12K of memory. And in Green Bank, West Virginia at the new National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a young astrophysicist named Frank Drake runs a two-week project called Ozma, to search for extraterrestrial signals. A signal is received, to great excitement. It turns out to be false, but the excitement remains. In 1960, Drake organizes the first SETI conference, and came up with the now-famous Drake equation:

N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL

[where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet’s life during which the communicating civilizations live.]

This serious-looking equation gave SETI a serious footing as a legitimate intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses — just so we’re clear — are merely expressions of prejudice. Nor can there be “informed guesses.” If you need to state how many planets with life choose to communicate, there is simply no way to make an informed guess. It’s simply prejudice.

As a result, the Drake equation can have any value from “billions and billions” to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science. I take the hard view that science involves the creation of testable hypotheses. The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion. Faith is defined as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. The belief that the Koran is the word of God is a matter of faith. The belief that God created the universe in seven days is a matter of faith. The belief that there are other life forms in the universe is a matter of faith. There is not a single shred of evidence for any other life forms, and in forty years of searching, none has been discovered. There is absolutely no evidentiary reason to maintain this belief. SETI is a religion.

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”: the Caltech Michelin Lecture, 2003-01-17.

April 29, 2016

QotD: American liberty

The American of today, in fact, probably enjoys less personal liberty than any other man of Christendom, and even his political liberty is fast succumbing to the new dogma that certain theories of government are virtuous and lawful, and others abhorrent and felonious. Laws limiting the radius of his free activity multiply year by year: It is now practically impossible for him to exhibit anything describable as genuine individuality, either in action or in thought, without running afoul of some harsh and unintelligible penalty. It would surprise no impartial observer if the motto “In God we trust” were one day expunged from the coins of the republic by the Junkers at Washington, and the far more appropriate word, “verboten,” substituted. Nor would it astound any save the most romantic if, at the same time, the goddess of liberty were taken off the silver dollars to make room for a bas-relief of a policeman in a spiked helmet. Moreover, this gradual (and, of late, rapidly progressive) decay of freedom goes almost without challenge; the American has grown so accustomed to the denial of his constitutional rights and to the minute regulation of his conduct by swarms of spies, letter-openers, informers and agents provocateurs that he no longer makes any serious protest.

H.L. Mencken, The American Credo: A Contribution toward the Interpretation of the National Mind, 1920.

April 28, 2016

QotD: That’s why they call it “Sex Education”

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

I’m on the road in Thailand, speaking at a U.N. conference on sustainable A development in the Third World. Earlier today I listened to a presentation on the effects of sex education for women. The presentation mentioned some cultural value conflicts about sex education, but it occurred to me that it didn’t touch the biggest one. To wit: worldwide, the teachers want the kids to learn abstinence, but what the kids [want] to learn is technique.

Eric S. Raymond, “That’s Why They Call It ‘Sex Education'”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-05-20.

April 27, 2016

QotD: The essentially bipolar nature of progressive ideology

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

Historians and political theorists have long puzzled over how to resolve the glaring contradiction of Progressive ideology — namely, that Progressive “reform” emphasizes greater “democracy,” and championed innovations like the direct election of Senators, the initiative and referendum, etc. Give the people what they want! Up with democracy! At the same time, Progressives also advanced the theory of government administration deliberately remote from politics and popular accountability — the Administrative State staffed by elite “experts.” We can’t have those grubby people telling the government what to do! Down with democracy!

Steven Hayward, “Resolving the Contradiction of ‘Progressivism'”, Power Line, 2016-04-18.

April 26, 2016

QotD: Sadly, looks do matter

Filed under: Health, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If you’re a woman who wants to land a man, there’s this notion that you should be able to go around looking like Ernest Borgnine: If you’re “beautiful on the inside,” that’s all that should count. Right. And I should have a flying car and a mansion in Bel Air with servants and a moat.

Welcome to Uglytopia — the world reimagined as a place where it’s the content of a woman’s character, not her pushup bra, that puts her on the cover of Maxim. It just doesn’t seem fair to us that some people come into life with certain advantages — whether it’s a movie star chin or a multimillion-dollar shipbuilding inheritance. Maybe we need affirmative action for ugly people; make George Clooney rotate in some homely women between all his gorgeous girlfriends. While we wish things were different, we’d best accept the ugly reality: No man will turn his head to ogle a woman because she looks like the type to buy a turkey sandwich for a homeless man or read to the blind.


It turns out that the real beauty myth is the damaging one Wolf and other feminists are perpetuating — the absurd notion that it serves women to thumb their noses at standards of beauty. Of course, looks aren’t all that matter (as I’m lectured by female readers of my newspaper column when I point out that male lust seems to have a weight limit). But looks matter a great deal. The more attractive the woman is, the wider her pool of romantic partners and range of opportunities in her work and day-to-day life. We all know this, and numerous studies confirm it — it’s just heresy to say so.

Amy Alkon, “The Truth About Beauty”, Psychology Today, 2010-11-01.

April 25, 2016

QotD: Epitaph

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

If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.

H.L. Mencken, “Epitaph”, Smart Set, 1921-12.

April 24, 2016

QotD: Learning when to walk away

Filed under: Books, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… the point of my book is that failure is inevitable, so you’d better learn to deal with it as best you can. Don’t say “Failure is not an option” the way they do in movies, because I promise you, failure is always an option. Prepare for it. Learn from it. Move on.

The follow-up question I frequently got — and a completely fair one — is “OK, how do you know when it’s time to pack it in? ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ only takes you so far, after all.”

In response, I ended up telling a story. It’s the story of a girl who was destined to be around 6’2″, a fact ascertained during her toddlerhood by the family doctor. (Apparently you can reasonably approximate adult height by measuring a little kid’s leg bones. Or maybe by looking at her 6’7″ dad.)

This little girl briefly wanted to be a gymnast. This was not in her destiny. So she settled on a new ambition. She wanted to be a jockey.

The girl grew very fast. By the time she was in fifth grade, she was over 5′ tall. By seventh grade, she had reached her full height. And it was just around this time that someone pointed out that she was already a foot too tall to be a jockey.

Should this girl — and yes, it was our very own Megan McArdle — have pluckily ignored the critics and the naysayers and dedicated herself to achieving her dream? To answer that, ask yourself another question: Should you try to dislodge a stuck lemon peel from the garbage disposal while it’s still running?

No, no, no. This can only end in disaster.

Sometimes what failure is telling you is “this doesn’t work” or “you don’t have what it takes.” Ignoring those messages is, in fact, how many of the folks I chronicled in my book turned a simple failure into a total disaster.

Megan McArdle, “Will Mitt Romney Know When It’s Time To Quit?”, Bloomberg View, 2015-01-16.

April 23, 2016

QotD: Colonialism

Filed under: History, Middle East, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There are Muslims in Israel for the same reason that there are Muslims in India. They are the remnants of a Muslim colonial regime that displaced and oppressed the indigenous non-Muslim population.

There are no serious historical arguments to be made against any of this.

The Muslim conquests and invasions are well-documented. The Muslim settlements fit every historical template of colonialism complete with importing a foreign population and social system that was imposed on the native population. Until they began losing wars to the indigenous Jewish population, the Muslim settlers were not ashamed of their colonial past, they gloried in it. Their historical legacy was based on seizing indigenous sites, appropriating them and renaming them after the new conquerors.

The only reason there’s a debate about the Temple Mount is because Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem and ordered a mosque built on a holy Jewish site. The only reason there’s a debate about East Jerusalem is because invading Muslim armies seized half the city in 1948, bombed synagogues and ethnically cleansed the Jewish population to achieve an artificial Muslim settler majority.

The only Muslim claim to Jerusalem or to any other part of Israel is based purely on the enterprise of colonial violence. There is no Muslim claim to Israel based on anything other than colonialism, invasion and settlement.

Israel is littered with Omar mosques, including one built in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, because Islam is a colonial entity whose mosques testify to their invasive origins by celebrating colonialism as their true religion. The faith of Islam is the sworn religion of the sword.

Islam is a religion of colonialism that spread through invasion, settlement and conquest. Its caliphs, from the original invaders, including Omar, to the current Caliph of ISIS, wielded and wield religious authority in the service of the Islamic colonial enterprise.

Allah is the patron deity of colonialism. Jihad is just colonialism in Arabic. Islamic theology is nothing but the manifest destiny of the Muslim conquest of the world, colonial settler enterprises dressed up in the filmy trappings of religion appropriated from the culture of conquered Jewish and Christian minorities. Muslim terrorism is a reactionary colonial response to the liberation movements of the indigenous Jewish population.

Daniel Greenfield, “Islam is Colonialism, Palestine is Colonialism”, Sultan Knish, 2016-04-10.

April 22, 2016

QotD: Ideological warfare

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Americans have never really understood ideological warfare. Our gut-level assumption is that everybody in the world really wants the same comfortable material success we have. We use “extremist” as a negative epithet. Even the few fanatics and revolutionary idealists we have, whatever their political flavor, expect everybody else to behave like a bourgeois.

We don’t expect ideas to matter — or, when they do, we expect them to matter only because people have been flipped into a vulnerable mode by repression or poverty. Thus all our divagation about the “root causes” of Islamic terrorism, as if the terrorists’ very clear and very ideological account of their own theory and motivations is somehow not to be believed.

By contrast, ideological and memetic warfare has been a favored tactic for all of America’s three great adversaries of the last hundred years — Nazis, Communists, and Islamists. All three put substantial effort into cultivating American proxies to influence U.S. domestic policy and foreign policy in favorable directions. Yes, the Nazis did this, through organizations like the “German-American Bund” that was outlawed when World War II went hot. Today, the Islamists are having some success at manipulating our politics through fairly transparent front organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

But it was the Soviet Union, in its day, that was the master of this game. They made dezinformatsiya (disinformation) a central weapon of their war against “the main adversary”, the U.S. They conducted memetic subversion against the U.S. on many levels at a scale that is only now becoming clear as historians burrow through their archives and ex-KGB officers sell their memoirs.

The Soviets had an entire “active measures” department devoted to churning out anti-American dezinformatsiya. A classic example is the rumor that AIDS was the result of research aimed at building a ‘race bomb’ that would selectively kill black people.

On a different level, in the 1930s members of CPUSA (the Communist Party of the USA) got instructions from Moscow to promote non-representational art so that the US’s public spaces would become arid and ugly.

Americans hearing that last one tend to laugh. But the Soviets, following the lead of Marxist theoreticians like Antonio Gramsci, took very seriously the idea that by blighting the U.S.’s intellectual and esthetic life, they could sap Americans’ will to resist Communist ideology and an eventual Communist takeover. The explicit goal was to erode the confidence of America’s ruling class and create an ideological vacuum to be filled by Marxism-Leninism.

Accordingly, the Soviet espionage apparat actually ran two different kinds of network: one of spies, and one of agents of influence. The agents of influence had the minor function of recruiting spies (as, for example, when Kim Philby was brought in by one of his tutors at Cambridge), but their major function was to spread dezinformatsiya, to launch memetic weapons that would damage and weaken the West.

Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.

April 21, 2016

QotD: The amazing (ancient) Greeks

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

I discovered the Greeks when I was eight, and I came across a copy of Roger Lancelyn-Green’s retelling of The Iliad. I was smitten at once. There was something so wonderfully grand, yet exotic, about the stories. I didn’t get very far with it, but I found a copy of Teach Yourself Greek in the local library and spent weeks puzzling over it. Over the next few years, I read my way through the whole of Greek and Roman mythology, and was drawn into the history of the whole ancient world.

When I was twelve, my classical leanings took me in a new, if wholly predictable, direction. The sexual revolution of the 70s hardly touched most South London schoolboys. The one sex education lesson I had was a joke. Porn was whatever I could see without my glasses in the swimming pool. So I taught myself Latin well enough to read the untranslated naughty bits in the Loeb editions of the classics. The librarians in Lewisham were very particular in those days about what they allowed on their shelves. They never questioned the prestige of the classics, or thought about what I was getting them to order in from other libraries. With help from Martial and Suetonius and Ausonius, among others, I’d soon worked out the mechanics of all penetrative sex, and flagellation and depilation and erotic dances; and I had a large enough fund of anecdotes and whole stories to keep my imagination at full burn all though puberty.

Then, as I grew older, I realised something else about the Greeks — something I’d always known without putting it into words. There’s no doubt that European civilisation, at least since the Renaissance, has outclassed every other. No one ever gathered facts like we do. No one reasoned from them more profoundly or with greater focus. No one approached us in exposing the forces of nature, and in turning them to human advantage. We are now four or five centuries into a curve of progress that keeps turning more steeply upwards. Yet our first steps were guided by others — the Greek, the Romans, the Arabs, and so forth. If we see further than they do, we stand on the backs of giants.

The Greeks had no one to guide them. Unless you want to make exaggerated claims about the Egyptians and Phoenicians, they began from nothing. Between about 600 and 300 BC, the Greeks of Athens and some of the cities of what is now the Turkish coast were easily the most remarkable people who ever lived. They gave us virtually all our philosophy, and the foundation of all our sciences. Their historians were the finest. Their poetry was second only to that of Homer — and it was they who put together all that we have of Homer. They gave us ideals of beauty, the fading of which has always been a warning sign of decadence; and they gave us the technical means of recording that beauty. Again, they had no examples to imitate. They did everything entirely by themselves. In a world that had always been at the midnight point of barbarism and superstition, they went off like a flashbulb; and everything good in our own world is part of their afterglow. Every renaissance and enlightenment we have had since then has begun with a rediscovery of the ancient Greeks. Modern chauvinists may argue whether England or France or Germany has given more to the world. In truth, none of us is fit to kiss the dust on which the ancient Greeks walked.

How can you stumble into their world, and not eventually be astonished by what the Greeks achieved? From the time I was eight, into early manhood, I felt wave after wave of adoration wash over me, each one more powerful than the last.

Richard Blake, “Interview with Richard Blake”, 2014-03-14.

April 20, 2016

QotD: The sexual and psychological plight of the “nice guy”

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

I want to actually go into basic, object-level Nice Guy territory and say there is something very wrong here.

Barry is possibly the most feminist man who has ever existed, palpably exudes respect for women, and this is well-known in every circle feminists frequent. He is reduced to apophatic complaints about how sad he is that he doesn’t think he’ll ever have a real romantic relationship.

Henry has four domestic violence charges against him by his four ex-wives and is cheating on his current wife with one of those ex-wives. And as soon as he gets out of the psychiatric hospital where he was committed for violent behavior against women and maybe serves the jail sentence he has pending for said behavior, he is going to find another girlfriend approximately instantaneously.

And this seems unfair. I don’t know how to put the basic insight behind niceguyhood any clearer than that. There are a lot of statistics backing up the point, but the statistics only corroborate the obvious intuitive insight that this seems unfair.

And suppose, in the depths of your Forever Alone misery, you make the mistake of asking why things are so unfair.

Well, then Jezebel says you are “a lonely dickwad who believes in a perverse social/sexual contract that promises access to women’s bodies”. XOJane says you are “an adult baby” who will “go into a school or a gym or another space heavily populated by women and open fire”. Feminspire just says you are “an arrogant, egotistical, selfish douche bag”.

And the manosphere says: “Excellent question, we’ve actually been wondering that ourselves, why don’t you come over here and sit down with us and hear some of our convincing-sounding answers, which, incidentally, will also help solve your personal problems?”

And feminists still insist the only reason anyone ever joins the manosphere is “distress of the privileged”!

I do not think men should be entitled to sex, I do not think women should be “blamed” for men not having sex, I do not think anyone owes sex to anyone else, I do not think women are idiots who don’t know what’s good for them, I do not think anybody has the right to take it into their own hands to “correct” this unsettling trend singlehandedly.

But when you deny everything and abuse anyone who brings it up, you cede this issue to people who sometimes do think all of these things. And then you have no right to be surprised when all the most frequently offered answers are super toxic.

There is a very simple reply to the question which is better than anything feminists are now doing. It is the answer I gave to my patient Dan: “Yeah, things are unfair. I can’t do anything about it, but I’m sorry for your pain. Here is a list of resources that might be able to help you.”

Scott Alexander, “Radicalizing the Romanceless”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-08-31.

April 19, 2016

QotD: An appropriate epitaph

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

When the epitaph for America’s political class is written, it may read something like this:

“Real unemployment was above 10%, barbarians were reintroducing slavery and public beheadings in the Middle East, the national infrastructure was crumbling, the Presidential elections were convulsed by large-scale populist revolts in both parties, and what was the elite cause du jour? Unisex restrooms.”

Eric S. Raymond, posting to Google+, 2016-04-10.

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