Quotulatiousness

August 20, 2017

QotD: The rich

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

During his visit to the U.S., the pope will probably talk about income inequality, and many reporters will nod approvingly, write down the quotes, and then hand them off to the unpaid intern to be transcribed. It’s a big issue. An important one. In the view of many progressives, the ultra-super-rich extracted all their money from the poor. Think of Bill Gates in a homeless shelter, kicking over cots at 2 a.m. and blackjacking transients, demanding they fork over $49.99 for a Windows 95 license, and you get the idea. The ultra-rich have probably pooled their money to develop space-based matter-dematerialization beams just so they can transport the coins from the “have a penny, take a penny” trays at the gas station.

The “rich” are never people like the Clintons, who acquired their wealth by the sweat of their brows, toiling in the harsh icy policy-mines of Davos. They’re not the guys who make a bundle off some clever bit of tech, sell the company, then pledge to spend a fraction of their fortune on outfitting polar bears with inflatable vests to help them survive their imminent inundation in the boiling waters of the Arctic. They’re not people like John Kerry, who married his way into a pile of money derived from a ubiquitous condiment; they’re not people like Apple CEO Tim Cook, because c’mon, he’s gay. They’re not the Kennedys, because the Kennedys could strike oil on their Hyannis Port compound, pay African orphans a dollar a day to work the pumps by hand, build a pipeline that ran through a protected Monarch-butterfly preserve, and the media would still hang halos over their heads because JFK was martyred in Dallas by a free-floating toxic cloud of right-wing hatred that inhabited the brain of a well-meaning Marxist.

These are rich people, but they’re good rich people, because you can imagine any one of them writing a check to Planned Parenthood with the words “keep up the excellent mammograms” in the memo line.

No, the bad rich people are hedge-fund managers, people who inherited something, and well-paid CEOs of companies that make things we don’t like or resent having to pay too much to get. They need to be taxed good and hard, according to advocates of the confiscatory state such as the nimbus-haired Bernie Sanders. Nothing says “the future and its bright new ideas” like the image of a liver-spotted limb thrusting deep into someone else’s pocket and pulling out the guts of a golden goose. Sanders’s proposals were estimated to cost $18 trillion over ten years, an amusing projection — apparently after a decade the economy just seizes up and we’re reduced to paying for our bread with chickens or bits of ironmongery.

James Lileks, “It’s Time to Fix America’s Income-Inequality Crisis Once and for All!”, National Review, 2015-09-24.

August 19, 2017

QotD: “I’m too old for this”

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

There is a lot that is annoying, and even terrible, about aging. The creakiness of the body; the drifting of the memory; the reprising of personal history ad nauseam, with only yourself to listen.

But there is also something profoundly liberating about aging: an attitude, one that comes hard won. Only when you hit 60 can you begin to say, with great aplomb: “I’m too old for this.”

This line is about to become my personal mantra. I have been rehearsing it vigorously, amazed at how amply I now shrug off annoyances that once would have knocked me off my perch.

A younger woman advised me that “old” may be the wrong word, that I should consider I’m too wise for this, or too smart. But old is the word I want. I’ve earned it.

Dominique Browning, “I’m Too Old for This”, New York Times, 2015-08-08.

August 18, 2017

QotD: “Justifying” the Holocaust

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

… that underlying tone of “Of course what Hitler and the Nazis did was unjustifiable, they were wrong about what was going on around them” whenever the topic of the Holocaust is discussed implies that, if they had been right, what they did would have been, at least, justifiable. In other words, there’s an acceptance of the underlying logic of collective justice going on there, and when you put adjectives in front of justice, you almost never get justice.

Which brings us to the current brawl in SF/F and the wider culture. There’s a very large swathe, of Western society that has regressed, though they call it progress, to the idea that one should deliberately punish all members of a group for the actions, real or imagined, of a few members, and to the idea that because members of a group are over-represented in a particular area that it is a deliberate choice on the part of the group, rather than an accident of history.

You see it nearly everywhere. The idea that SF was somehow filled with racist, sexist hatemongers until … well, as near as I can tell, around five years ago is ludicrous when you have H. Beam Piper writing stories where racial intermarriage has turned almost all of humanity a nice shade of brown and there are heroic characters with names like Themistocles M’Zangwe. But, even if that were true — what, we should stop reading (and buying books from) straight white male authors for an entire year? Because a bunch of people they never even met were theoretically jerks?

Sarah Hoyt, “Social Injustice – 60 Guilders”, According to Hoyt, 2015-07-31.

August 17, 2017

QotD: Can you describe romance novels as “pretty people behaving stupidly”?

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

I’ve been learning about the romance genre recently. I have no intrinsic interest in it at all, but I have an intelligent friend who plows through romances the way I read SF, and we’ve been discussing the conventions and structural features of the genre. Along the way I’ve learned that romance fans use an acronym TSTL which expands to “Too Stupid To Live”, describing a class of bad romance in which the plot turns on one or both leads exhibiting less claim to sophont status than the average bowl of clam dip.

My wife and I have parts in an upcoming live-action roleplaying game set in early 16th-century Venice. As preparation, she suggested we watch a movie called Dangerous Beauty set in the period. I couldn’t stand more than about 20 minutes of it. “It’s just,” I commented later “pretty people behaving stupidly.”

On reflection, I’ve discovered that PPBS describes a great deal of both the fiction and nonfiction I can’t stand. It’s a more general category that includes not just TSTL, but celebrity gossip magazines, almost every “romantic comedy” ever made, and a large percentage of the top-rated TV shows (especially, of course, the soap operas).

Eric S. Raymond, “Pretty People Behaving Stupidly”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-08-29.

August 16, 2017

QotD: Management

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

I am no great admirer of management as a science or of managers as people. The latter tend to speak a strange language, a jargon neither elegant nor poetic; they buy very dull books at airports, they are often shifty and ruthless, and they seem to me to live in a constant condition of bad faith. They are bureaucrats pretending to be entrepreneurs even when they work for the state, an organization that secures its solvency by the simple expediency of printing more money — in fact, not even by printing it anymore, simply by adding a few naughts on computer screens. We live in a regime of paper money without the paper.

Presumably most managers want to be managers; it is their ambition to become such, though some, I think, are sucked into management from other activities without a full realization of what is happening to them. At any rate, they soon come to have a sense of importance and entitlement by comparison with everyone else in society, even the nominal owners of the enterprise in which they work, for they believe themselves to be doing the world’s real work, as it were. James Burnham, in his book The Managerial Revolution, pointed this out as long ago as 1941:

    The managers’ training as administrators of modern production naturally makes them think in terms of co-ordination, integration, efficiency, planning; and to extend such terms from the realm of production under their immediate direction to the economic process as a whole. When the managers think about it, the old-line capitalists, sunning themselves in Miami and Hawaii or dabbling in finance, appear to them as parasites, having no justifiable function in society….

They therefore appropriate shareholders’ funds (or public money) with a good conscience, reasoning that without them there would be no such funds in the first place.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Flying Off the Handle”, Taki’s Magazine, 2015-10-10.

August 15, 2017

QotD: Platonism versus Epicureanism

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

It is all this that made Epicurus and his philosophy so scandalous in the ancient world and beyond. Plato never did get to create his perfect society. But his followers did manage to establish variants of Platonism as the dominant philosophy of later antiquity. And all the other main schools of philosophy were agreed that the world should be ruled by intellectuals. These should tell the civil authorities how to govern. They should provide the moral and spiritual justification for the rule of absolute and unaccountable systems of government — systems of which the Roman imperial system was only the most developed. They should have positions of honour within these systems.

Epicureanism was a standing challenge to these pretensions. We have no precise evidence for the spread of Epicureanism in the ancient world. But it does seem to have spread very widely. Why else should Cicero, Plutarch and many of the Christian Fathers have given so much effort to sustained attacks on it? Why else, in spite of his emphatic remarks on the nature of happiness, was Epicurus, even in his own lifetime, subjected to the most outrageous accusations?

We have one statement from Cicero, that Epicureanism in his own day was one of the dominant schools of philosophy in Italy. So far, he says, Greek philosophy had been available only in the original language. But writers such as Amafinius had translated several Epicurean works — on the publishing of whose writings the people were moved, and enlisted themselves chiefly under this sect, either because the doctrine was more easily understood, or because they were invited thereto by the pleasing thoughts of amusement, or that, because there was nothing better, they laid hold of what was offered them.

There is no doubt that it influenced the classical literature of Rome. Of course, there is the great poem by Lucretius. But there is also Catullus and Horace and even Virgil. Without citing them, their works are imbued with an Epicurean outlook on life, either directly from Epicurus or indirectly from Lucretius.

Another indication of popularity is that once converted to Epicureanism, people hardly ever switched to another philosophy. The philosopher Arcesilaus testifies to this fact even as he tries to explain it:

    You can turn a man into a eunuch, but you can’t turn a eunuch into a man.

Then there is the curious testimony of the Jews. During the three centuries around the birth of Christ, the main everyday language of many Jewish communities was Greek. The Gospels and Letters of Saint Paul were all directed at mainly Jewish audiences and are in Greek. One of the most important philosophers of the age, Philo of Alexandria, was a Jew. Many Jews took on Greek ways. Many, no doubt, stopped being Jews and made themselves into Greeks. The condemnation of these Hellenised Jews is Apikorsim, which may easily be taken as a Semitic version of Epicurean. The term survives in Jewish theological writing. According to one Internet source, Apikorsim are what Chasidim refer to as Jewish Goyim, or secular Jews. They seem to be the worst opposition for Hasidic Jewry.

A term of abuse so loaded with contempt is unlikely to have been taken from the doctrines of an insignificant philosophical tradition among ordinary people of the age. It is reasonable to suppose that many lapsed Jews became Epicureans. If so, Epicureanism must already have had large numbers of adherents among at least the semi-educated classes.

Sean Gabb, “Epicurus: Father of the Enlightenment”, speaking to the 6/20 Club in London, 2007-09-06.

August 14, 2017

QotD: Millenarianism, left and right

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

Secularists and leftists enjoy sneering at conservative Christians who believe in the Rapture and other flavors of millenarianism. Reasonably so: it takes either a drooling idiot or somebody who has deliberately shut off most of his brain, reducing himself to an idiotically low level of critical thinking, to believe such things. The draw, of couse, is that each individual fundamentalist implicitly believes he will be among the saved — privileged to honk a great big I TOLD YOU SO! at all those sinners writhing in the lake of fire.

It is therefore more than a little amusing to notice how prone these ‘sophisticated’ critics are to their own forms of idiotic millenarianism.

Anybody remember Paul “Population Bomb” Ehrlich? This is the guy who predicted that megadeaths from global famine would be the defining feature of the 1970s. Or Jeremy Rifkin, the guy who told us all in 1986 that the Frostban bacterium engineered to protect plants against cold snaps would mess up the Earth’s climate? Or the brigade of self-panickers (Carl Sagan was briefly one of them) who warned us all back around 1980 that an impending Ice Age was about to destroy civilization? Or, hey — how about the ozone hole; remember when we were all going to die of UV-B-induced skin cancer?

It’s easy to laugh at those particular doom-mongers now; there has been plenty of time for their predictions to fail. But we have plenty of apocalypse merchants peddling equally silly scenarios, on equally thin evidence and bogus reasoning, today. And the same ‘sophisticated’ secularists who lapped up Paul Ehrlich’s nonsense are swaying to the Gospel shout of global warming and “peak oil” — just as self-hypnotized, and just as stone-stupid, as an Ozark Mountains cracker at a tent-revival meeting.

Rather than getting to gloat over sinners writhing in a lake of fire, the draw is getting to feel superior to capitalists and Republicans and Americans; they will all surely Get Theirs and starve in their SUVs when the Collapse Comes, while virtuous tree-hugging Birkenstock-wearers, being in a state of grace with Gaia, will retire to renewable-energy-powered communes and build scale models of Swedish socialism out of macrame supplies or something.

The hilarious part is how self-congratulatory the secularist millennarians are about their own superiority over the religious ones, when in fact the secondary gain from these two kinds of delusional system is identical.

Eric S. Raymond, “Peak Oil — A Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy for Secular Idiots”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-11-13.

August 13, 2017

QotD: The measurement problem in government

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

Now take health insurance. (Or, if you live, like me, in a country with a national healthcare system that has a single comprehensive payer, the health system.) There are periodic suggestions that we should punish bad behaviour, behaviour that increases medical costs: Scotland has an alcoholism problem so we get the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing)(Scotland) Act, 2012. Obesity comes with its own health risks, and where resource scarcity exists (for example, in surgical procedures), some English CCGs are denying patients treatment for some conditions if they are overweight.

It should be argued that these are really stupid strategies, likely to make things worse. Minimum alcohol pricing is regressive and affects the poor far more than the middle-class: it may cause poor alcoholics to turn the same petty criminality observed among drug addicts, to fund their habit. And denying hip replacements to overweight people isn’t exactly going to make it easier for them to exercise and improve their health. But because we can measure the price of alcohol, or plot someone’s height/weight ratio on a BMI chart, these are what will be measured.

It’s the classic syllogism of the state: something must be controlled, we can measure one of its parameters, therefore we will control that parameter (and ignore anything we can’t measure directly).

Charles Stross, “It could be worse”, Charlie’s Diary, 2015-10-09.

August 12, 2017

QotD: The decline and fall of art

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

It also turns out that when that sort of revolutionary who believes in tearing down for its own sake, gets power, all they can do is keep tearing down, until the product manages to be, objectively, both repulsive and boring to any sane person. […] In painting this is very obvious. The shock that doesn’t shock anyone does manage, nonetheless, to turn the normal, sane human being off the “art” being displayed. (Though even there most of it is just boring. Really, the Denver museum of art paid millions for a bunch of twisted together kitchen implements? Without the little card explaining what it is and how it relates to domestic dissatisfaction, that “art” evokes “my drawer got stuck again.”)

So this avant garde of the past aged without doing more than throwing continuous artistic tantrums at the world that refused to conform to their visions. Some of the early ones, when they still weren’t the establishment were magnificent and are probably art, just because, well, art includes tantrums too. BUT after they became the establishment all they could do was chase the thrill and shock that no longer existed ever further, off the plank of sanity and into the ocean of irrelevance.

When they realized this — when the museums emptied of the middle-brow and the print runs fell — they chased relevance by erecting ever more exacting rules saying “this you shall not do, that you shall not say, this thing you shall not even think.” This ranges from political correctness to the sort of stultifying mandates on style and manner that are the last gasp of any dying artistic movement. (I’m still sticking my middle finger up at the minimalists and the idiots who think first person is always bad. )

Which brings us to science fiction. Since science fiction in its heyday was not considered art or literature, it was just… what people wrote for fun. (Kind of like Shakespeare in his day.) There would be some reflexive classical references, which were the equivalent of Kit Marlowe putting his stage directions in Latin, just to prove his education wasn’t wasted. However, they weren’t exactly following any school.

Then came… the deluge. Or at least the “if we destroy all the rules and shock everyone, it will be literature and amazing.” And when they took over the establishment, the same thing followed as in the rest of the art.

Now… Now they — even those marginally younger than I — are the establishment. They are the authorities still vainly rebelling against an establishment that doesn’t exist, that probably never existed except in their heads. Which is probably why they attract so many people with issues with daddy or teacher or other authority figures who didn’t let them have their bugs and eat them too in childhood. (It also explains a certain fascination with the contents of their metaphorical diaper, now I think about it.) They must be FOREVER the first woman to write non-binary sex, even if it has been done for decades before they were born. They must be forever the most shocking thing Evah! even if what they’re doing was done better and more apropos by their grandparents’ generation. It’s all they have.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Avant-Garde”, According to Hoyt, 2015-09-26.

August 11, 2017

QotD: The plight of Hindu widows

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

Some of the most conservative Hindus in India believe that a woman whose husband has died should no longer live because she failed to retain his soul. Rejected by their communities and abandoned by their loved ones, thousands of destitute women make their way to Vrindavan, a pilgrimage city about 100km south of Delhi that is home to more than 20,000 widows.

These women have no choice but to live in a vidhwa ashram (ashrams for widows) run by the government, private enterprises and NGOs. Clad in white, they know they will never return home and that this is where they’ll end their days.

Pascal Mannaerts, “Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide”, BBC Travel, 2016-09-13.

August 10, 2017

QotD: The comfortable shoe revolution

Filed under: Business, Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

When I was a kid back in the 1960s and early 1970s, “shoes” still meant, basically, “hard leather oxfords”. Ugly stiff things with a high-maintenance finish that would scuff if you breathed on them. What I liked was sneakers. But in those bygone days you didn’t get to wear sneakers past a certain age, unless you were doing sneaker things like playing basketball. And I sucked at basketball.

I revolted against the tyranny of the oxford by wearing desert boots, which back then weren’t actually boots at all but a kind of high-top shoe with a suede finish and a grip sole. These were just barely acceptable in polite company; in fact, if you can believe this, I was teased about them at school. It was a more conformist time.

I still remember the first time I saw a shoe I actually liked and wanted to own, around 1982. It was called an Aspen, and it was built exactly like a running shoe but with a soft suede upper. Felt like sneakers on my feet, looked like a grownup shoe from any distance. And I still remember exactly how my Aspens — both of them — literally fell apart at the same moment as I was crossing Walnut Street in West Philly. These were not well-made shoes. I had to limp home.

But better days were coming. In the early 1990s athletic shoes underwent a kind of Cambrian explosion, proliferating into all kinds of odd styles. Reebok and Rockport and a few other makers finally figured out what I wanted — athletic-shoe fit and comfort with a sleek all-black look I could wear into a client’s office, and no polishing or shoe trees or any of that annoying overhead!

I look around me today and I see that athletic-shoe tech has taken over. The torture devices of my childhood are almost a memory. Thank you, oh inscrutable shoe gods. Thank you Rockport. It’s not a big thing like the Internet, but comfortable un-fussy shoes have made my life better.

Eric S. Raymond, “Eric writes about the shoes”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-09-09.

August 9, 2017

QotD: University “studies” programs

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

As someone who got partway through grad school, I am only a sort of half-layman when it comes to modern European history. On demand I can present an official document that testifies, by implication, that I have spent a certain amount of time in seminars talking about Himmler’s agronomy education or discussing why totalitarian regimes are always sexually puritanical. Even before it was ruined for me by formal training, I was a history buff. So I can sort of reconstruct the process whereby I know what Auschwitz is. But, by the same token, I am less able to know how anyone else comes by the knowledge.

It seems some part of our system for producing intellectually responsible grownups has failed […] That failure is probably not to be found in the extensive education in social work. A degree in social work amounts to a degree in helping people: assuming it is not totally idiotic for our institutions of higher learning to be generating such paper, there must be mastery of some technical arcana involved. I do not know that this would involve instruction in the details of the Holocaust. A nursing education doesn’t; an engineering education doesn’t.

It is, rather, that “social justice and peace studies” business that captures my eye. Wouldn’t the matter, the essential grounding of an education in social justice and peace just be … history? (With particular attention to the topic of concentration camps?) Wouldn’t expertise of this kind require digestion of a mass of information about the flux of war, diplomacy, economies, and ideas? Something Studies items were on the menu already when I began my undergraduate education, and I majored in history partly because, in my innocence, I couldn’t see how you would study anything else about human affairs without that foundation.

But we all know the secret of Something Studies well enough now: it is a way of avoiding the rigour and complexity of a history education, and going straight to the business of striking political stances. It is History For Left-Wing Dummies. And when you see such a degree on someone’s CV, you can be quite sure you have found one.

Colby Cosh, “Some part of our system for producing intellectually responsible adults has failed Alex Johnstone”, National Post, 2015-09-24.

August 8, 2017

QotD: The next “Carrington Event”

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

The last one happened in 1859. The Earth was hit by a cloud of magnetized plasma from a “coronal mass ejection” — something that our Sun often does. Most fly off in other directions; the last that barely missed us was in July, 2012. (You can tell it missed from the fact that the Internet still exists.) The last bullseye on our beloved planet was named after the brilliant English amateur astronomer, Richard Carrington (1826–75), who, in the course of figuring out what happened, demonstrated the existence of “solar flares.”

He was trying to explain why telegraph operators all over the world, on the 1st of September, 1859, were suddenly getting electric shocks; and then, prior to the whole cable system going down, why some had been able to send and receive messages even after disconnecting their power. Too, why auroras had lit up the night sky at temperate latitudes so bright people could read newspapers by it; or why those at higher elevations near the equator could enjoy the aurora borealis and the aurora australis — simultaneously.

Now, the world a sesquicentury ago was not so dependent upon electricity as it is today. And the system of telegraphy was so ridiculously simple, that it was soon repaired. I daresay Morse Code is worth learning in preparation for the next Carrington Event — which, when it comes, we will be able to predict, at best, a few hours in advance. (Other cosmic events might impinge on our lifestyles meanwhile, but I like to consider my apocalypses one at a time.)

Gentle reader may do a mental inventory of the gizmos in his environment that are connected directly or indirectly to the power grid. Then add in anything that contains a computer chip, whether it happened to be “on” or “off” when the Earth’s magnetic field was impacted. For I assume it will all turn “on” of its own, for a brief but memorable interval.

The “beauty” (as they say in Cape Breton) is that we have no back-up system, and moreover, there can be no back-up, except what we can rig from horse, or paddle. For we have made ourselves totally dependent upon sparks.

On the plus side, the environmentalists may exult, because the quick reduction of the world’s population to post-Plague mediaeval levels could prove a lucky break for the other endangered species.

It will, even more happily, improve national security for the survivors in USA. For the same magnetic storm that makes the cities (and towns) of America uninhabitable will also have disabled the military capacities of Russia, China, and Iran. If they want to come at us they will have to do so in sailing ships. Moreover, the depopulation of Mexico will probably reduce the invasion threat from there, whether or not Donald Trump is President.

David Warren, “The highest tech”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-08-22.

August 7, 2017

QotD: Communism, competition, and the socialist calculation problem

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

Competition turns out not to be so wasteful; it makes a system resilient. That misunderstanding was a symptom of a larger issue called the socialist calculation problem. We think of prices largely in reference to ourselves, or other individuals, which is to say that we mostly see them as the highest barrier to getting something we want. But as we pull back to look at society, or the globe, we see that they are in fact an incredibly elegant way to allocate scarce resources.

This was best explained by Friedrich Hayek in his essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” Some good like tin becomes scarce, perhaps because a large tin mine has failed, or perhaps because there is a new and very profitable use for tin that is soaking up much of the supply. The price rises, and all over the world, people begin to economize on tin. Most of them have no idea why the price of tin is rising, and if they did, they wouldn’t care; they just switch to another metal, or start recycling old tin, finding a way to bring global demand closer in line to global supply. A lot of that is possible only because of price competition.

You can think of this as something like a distributed computer network: You get millions of people devoting some portion of their effort to aligning consumption with production. This system is constantly churning, making billions of decisions a day. Communism tried to replace this with a bunch of guys sitting around in offices, who occasionally negotiated with guys sitting around in other offices. It was a doomed effort from the start. Don’t get me wrong; the incentive problems were real and large. But even if they could have been solved, the calculation problem would have remained. And the more complex an economy you are trying to manage, the worse a job you will do.

The socialist calculation problem is not fundamentally an issue of calculating how to produce the most stuff, but of calculating what should be produced. Computers can’t solve that, at least until they develop sufficient intelligence that they’ll probably render the issue moot by ordering our toasters to kill us so that they can use our bodies for mulch.

Megan McArdle, “Yes, Computers Have Improved. No, Communism Hasn’t”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-02.

August 6, 2017

QotD: Confessions of a book-hoarder

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

Well, tomorrow I’d bring up stuff from the basement. So the next day I go downstairs to the utility room. The floor’s wet. The rug is sopping. I open the freezer, and discover that I’d locked the freezer door before closing it. The door had been open all night. Dead meat, droopy brats, sloshy ice cream — and water everywhere. The utility room was full of boxes from the storage room — we’d just had some shelves installed, and I’d moved out crates I’ve hauled around since my dorm room days. Books. Hundreds of books.

I felt the sides of the boxes to see if they’d wicked up the horrid slurry from the fridge — were they ruined? Would I have to throw out all these old, venerable friends? Everything I read and saved from 1976 to 1997 — were they lost to me forever?

They were dry.

You cannot imagine my disappointment.

This was the perfect opportunity to be rid of these mummified albatrosses forever. Friends, let’s be honest: Books are a curse. We’d all love to have a library with shelves stretching up to heaven, a ladder on rollers that lets you access the 17th level, where you keep the minor Polish poets and the monographs on eighth-century Chinese mandarins. But you end up with boxes of books in the basement, and you cannot part with them. Simply throwing them away feels sinful — hey, why not build a time machine and go back to Nazi-land and burn them, dude? You could sell them, but there’s something depressing about getting $7 for 70 pounds of paperbacks. It’s like auctioning your kid’s baby pictures on eBay and getting a high bid of a buck-fifty. The last time I divested my excess books I dumped them off on a Goodwill dock in the middle of the night, and I felt like someone pushing the family dog out of the car on a country road. The books will find a good home. I’m sure there’s a farmer around here they can live with.

James Lileks, Star Tribune, 2004-07-11.

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