January 27, 2015

QotD: Political parties and principles

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

Normally, [the voters] are suckered. The political class — the class of politicians, senior bureaucrats, self-interested lobbyists, and all their paid flunkeys in media and elsewhere — are much cleverer than “the people,” on political questions. “The people,” for their part, may be individually cleverer than they, but not, as a rule, on political questions, which don’t much interest the great majority of them. The political class have, in addition to whatever native smarts, plenty of experience manipulating “the people,” and the contempt required to be ruthless about it. In a fully-fledged “democracy,” it takes little sophistry for the bad guys to win. But the term is relative, and should the good guys win, it will be another victory for the politicians.

A few days ago, I found myself trying to explain this to a well-intended, rightwing person. He complained that the Conservative Party had turned its back on “conservative principles.” This struck me as an unfair allegation, for the party had never once in the history of Canada, whether at the provincial or Dominion level, embraced “conservative principles,” nor shown the slightest curiosity over what they might be. The purpose of a political party has nought to do with such “principles.” (This goes for all parties including, within five years of their founding, those founded on “principles.”) Rather it is to tax as much as they dare, and distribute the takings among their friends, while “nation building” — i.e. adding to the machinery of State. A party unclear on this essential “principle” of democracy (the one that defeats every other principle) might get itself elected by some fluke, but will not long retain power.

David Warren, “Hapless Voters”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-05-26.

January 26, 2015

QotD: Against the Human Development Index (HDI)

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

[W]hat exactly is the HDI? The one-line explanation is that it gives “equal weights” to GDP per capita, life expectancy, and education. But it’s more complicated than that, because scores on each of the three measures are bounded between 0 and 1. This effectively means that a country of immortals with infinite per-capita GDP would get a score of .666 (lower than South Africa and Tajikistan) if its population were illiterate and never went to school.

So what are the main problems with the HDI?

1. I can see giving equal weights to GDP per capita and life expectancy. But education? As a professor and a snob, I understand the appeal (though a measure of opera consumption would be even better). But in terms of the actual if not professed values of normal human beings, televisions and cars are a lot more important than books.

2. When you take a closer look at the HDI’s education measure, it’s especially bogus. 2/3rds of the weight comes from the literacy rate. At least that’s not ridiculous. But the other 1/3 comes from the Gross Enrollment Index — the fraction of the population enrolled in primary, secondary, or tertiary education. OK, I feel a reductio ad absurdum coming on. To max out your education score, you have to turn 100% of your population into students!

3. The HDI purportedly gives equal weights to three different outcomes, but bounding the results between 0 and 1 builds in a massive bias against GDP. GDP per capita has grown fantastically during the last two centuries, and will continue to do so. In reality, there’s plenty of room left for further improvement even in rich countries. But the HDI doesn’t allow this. Since rich countries are already close to the upper bound, the HDI effectively defines their future progress on this dimension out of existence.

To a lesser extent, the same goes for life expectancy: While it’s roughly doubled over the last two centuries, dying at 85 is not, contrary to the HDI, approximately equal in value to immortality.

The clear winners from this weighting scheme, of course, are the literacy and enrollment measures, both of which have upper bounds that are imposed by logic rather than fiat.

4. The ultimate problem with the HDI, though, is lack of ambition. It effectively proclaims an “end of history” where Scandinavia is the pinnacle of human achievement. […] Scandinavia comes out on top according to the HDI because the HDI is basically a measure of how Scandinavian your country is.

Bryan Caplan, “Against the Human Development Index”, Econlog, 2009-05-22.

January 25, 2015


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

Take the curious phenomenon of the TED talk. TED – Technology, Entertainment, Design – is a global lecture circuit propagating “ideas worth spreading”. It is huge. Half a billion people have watched the 1,600 TED talks that are now online. Yet the talks are almost parochially American. Some are good but too many are blatant hard sells and quite a few are just daft. All of them lay claim to the future; this is another futurology land-grab, this time globalised and internet-enabled.

Benjamin Bratton, a professor of visual arts at the University of California, San Diego, has an astrophysicist friend who made a pitch to a potential donor of research funds. The pitch was excellent but he failed to get the money because, as the donor put it, “You know what, I’m gonna pass because I just don’t feel inspired … you should be more like Malcolm Gladwell.” Gladwellism – the hard sell of a big theme supported by dubious, incoherent but dramatically presented evidence – is the primary TED style. Is this, wondered Bratton, the basis on which the future should be planned? To its credit, TED had the good grace to let him give a virulently anti-TED talk to make his case. “I submit,” he told the assembled geeks, “that astrophysics run on the model of American Idol is a recipe for civilisational disaster.”

Bratton is not anti-futurology like me; rather, he is against simple-minded futurology. He thinks the TED style evades awkward complexities and evokes a future in which, somehow, everything will be changed by technology and yet the same. The geeks will still be living their laid-back California lifestyle because that will not be affected by the radical social and political implications of the very technology they plan to impose on societies and states. This is a naive, very local vision of heaven in which everybody drinks beer and plays baseball and the sun always shines.

The reality, as the revelations of the National Security Agency’s near-universal surveillance show, is that technology is just as likely to unleash hell as any other human enterprise. But the primary TED faith is that the future is good simply because it is the future; not being the present or the past is seen as an intrinsic virtue.

Bryan Appleyard, “Why futurologists are always wrong – and why we should be sceptical of techno-utopians: From predicting AI within 20 years to mass-starvation in the 1970s, those who foretell the future often come close to doomsday preachers”, New Statesman, 2014-04-10.

January 24, 2015

QotD: General Elphinstone in Afghanistan, 1842

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

But looking back I can say that, all unwittingly, Kabul and the army were right to regard Elphy’s arrival as an incident of the greatest significance. It opened a chapter: it was a prelude to events that rang round the world. Elphy, ably assisted by McNaghten, was about to reach the peak of his career; he was going to produce the most shameful, ridiculous disaster in British military history.

No doubt Thomas Hughes would find it significant that in such a disaster I would emerge with fame, honour, and distinction — all quite unworthily acquired. But you, having followed my progress so far, won’t be surprised at all.

Let me say that when I talk of disasters I speak with authority. I have served at Balaclava, Cawnpore, and Little Big Horn. Name the biggest born fools who wore uniform in the nineteenth century — Cardigan, Sale, Custer, Raglan, Lucan — I knew them all. Think of all the conceivable misfortunes that can arise from combinations of folly, cowardice, and sheer bad luck, and I’ll give you chapter and verse. But I still state unhesitatingly, that for pure, vacillating stupidity, for superb incompetence to command, for ignorance combined with bad judgement — in short, for the true talent for catastrophe — Elphy Bey stood alone. Others abide our question, but Elphy outshines them all as the greatest military idiot of our own or any other day.

Only he could have permitted the First Afghan War and let it develop to such a ruinous defeat. It was not easy: he started with a good army, a secure position, some excellent officers, a disorganized enemy, and repeated opportunities to save the situation. But Elphy, with the touch of true genius, swept aside these obstacles with unerring precision, and out of order wrought complete chaos. We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.

January 23, 2015

QotD: Taxicab cartels

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

Around the world, the government-charted monopolies and cartels that run the taxi business responded with protests and violence to the emergence of technology-empowered competitors such as Uber, which does not undercut traditional taxis on cost — in New York, its drivers earn about three times what a traditional cabbie makes — but is much more convenient for those who do not live or work in areas that are generally well-served by traditional taxis. As in most cities, New York law imposes price uniformity on taxis and long protected them from most competition, with the entirely predictable result that consumers are the worst-served parties in the taxi business. (It does not help matters that, unlike their London counterparts, famously steeped in “the Knowledge,” the typical New York cabbie cannot find the Brooklyn Bridge without GPS or turn-by-turn instructions from the passenger.) The lack of consumer focus has some perverse consequences here in New York: The taxi fleet schedules its shift change from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., meaning that taxis all but vanish from the streets during the hours when they are most needed. The New York Times calls this an “apparent violation of the laws of supply and demand,” which, New York Times geniuses, is exactly what happens when you use regulation to take supply and demand effectively out of the equation. A platform that combined Uber’s on-demand service with Google-style driverless cars would probably put the traditional taxi out of business — assuming that the cartels are not able to use government to strangle innovation in its cradle.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Race On, for Driverless Cars: On the beauty of putting the consumer in the driver’s seat”, National Review, 2014-06-01.

January 22, 2015

QotD: The practice of selling army commissions

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

A lot has been said about the purchase of commissions — how the rich and incompetent can buy ahead of better men, how the poor and efficient are passed over — and most of it, in my experience, is rubbish. Even with purchase abolished, the rich rise faster in the Service than the poor, and they’re both inefficient anyway, as a rule. I’ve seen ten men’s share of service, through no fault of my own, and can say that most officers are bad, and the higher you go, the worse they get, myself included. We were supposed to be rotten with incompetence in the Crimea, for example, when purchase was at its height, but the bloody mess they made in South Africa recently seems to have been just as bad — and they didn’t buy their commissions.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.

January 21, 2015

QotD: Teddy Roosevelt and the rise of the Progressives

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

When, after a generation of that sort of compromising, the so-called Progressive party was organized and he [Theodore Roosevelt] seized the leadership of it from the Westerners who had founded it, he performed a feat of wholesale englutination that must forever hold a high place upon the roll of political prodigies. That is to say, he swallowed at one gigantic gulp, and out of the same herculean jug, the most amazing mixture of social, political and economic perunas ever got down by one hero, however valiant, however athirst — a cocktail made up of all the elixirs hawked among the boobery in his time, from woman suffrage to the direct primary, and from the initiative and referendum to the short ballot, and from prohibition to public ownership, and from trust-busting to the recall of judges.

This homeric achievement made him the head of the most tatterdemalion party ever seen in American politics — a party composed of such incompatible ingredients and hung together so loosely that it began to disintegrate the moment it was born. In part it was made up of mere disordered enthusiasts — believers in anything and everything, pathetic victims of the credulity complex, habitual followers of jitney messiahs, incurable hopers and snufflers. But in part it was also made up of rice converts like Roosevelt himself — men eager for office, disappointed by the old parties, and now quite willing to accept any aid that half-idiot doctrinaires could give them. I have no doubt that Roosevelt himself, carried away by the emotional storms of the moment and especially by the quasi-religious monkey-shines that marked the first Progressive convention, gradually convinced himself that at least some of the doctrinaires, in the midst of all their imbecility, yet preached a few ideas that were workable, and perhaps even sound. But at bottom he was against them, and not only in the matter of their specific sure cures, but also in the larger matter of their childish faith in the wisdom and virtue of the plain people. Roosevelt, for all his fluent mastery of democratic counter-words, democratic gestures and all the rest of the armamentarium of the mob-master, had no such faith in his heart of hearts. He didn’t believe in democracy; he believed simply in government. His remedy for all the great pangs and longings of existence was not a dispersion of authority, but a hard concentration of authority. He was not in favor of unlimited experiment; he was in favor of a rigid control from above, a despotism of inspired prophets and policemen. He was not for democracy as his followers understood democracy, and as it actually is and must be; he was for a paternalism of the true Bismarckian pattern, almost of the Napoleonic or Ludendorffian pattern — a paternalism concerning itself with all things, from the regulation of coal-mining and meat-packing to the regulation of spelling and marital rights. His instincts were always those of the property-owning Tory, not those of the romantic Liberal. All the fundamental objects of Liberalism — free speech, unhampered enterprise, the least possible governmental interference — were abhorrent to him. Even when, for campaign purposes, he came to terms with the Liberals his thoughts always ranged far afield. When he tackled the trusts the thing that he had in his mind’s eye was not the restoration of competition but the subordination of all private trusts to one great national trust, with himself at its head. And when he attacked the courts it was not because they put their own prejudice before the law but because they refused to put his prejudices before the law.

In all his career no one ever heard him make an argument for the rights of the citizen; his eloquence was always expended in expounding the duties of the citizen. I have before me a speech in which he pleaded for “a spirit of kindly justice toward every man and woman,” but that seems to be as far as he ever got in that direction — and it was the gratuitous justice of the absolute monarch that he apparently had in mind, not the autonomous and inalienable justice of a free society. The duties of the citizen, as he understood them, related not only to acts, but also to thoughts. There was, to his mind, a simple body of primary doctrine, and dissent from it was the foulest of crimes. No man could have been more bitter against opponents, or more unfair to them, or more ungenerous.

H.L. Mencken, “Roosevelt: An Autopsy”, Prejudices, part 2, 1920.

January 20, 2015

QotD: Neuroscientific claims

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

One last futurological, land-grabbing fad of the moment remains to be dealt with: neuroscience. It is certainly true that scanners, nanoprobes and supercomputers seem to be offering us a way to invade human consciousness, the final frontier of the scientific enterprise. Unfortunately, those leading us across this frontier are dangerously unclear about the meaning of the word “scientific”.

Neuroscientists now routinely make claims that are far beyond their competence, often prefaced by the words “We have found that …” The two most common of these claims are that the conscious self is a illusion and there is no such thing as free will. “As a neuroscientist,” Professor Patrick Haggard of University College London has said, “you’ve got to be a determinist. There are physical laws, which the electrical and chemical events in the brain obey. Under identical circumstances, you couldn’t have done otherwise; there’s no ‘I’ which can say ‘I want to do otherwise’.”

The first of these claims is easily dismissed – if the self is an illusion, who is being deluded? The second has not been established scientifically – all the evidence on which the claim is made is either dubious or misinterpreted – nor could it be established, because none of the scientists seems to be fully aware of the complexities of definition involved. In any case, the self and free will are foundational elements of all our discourse and that includes science. Eliminate them from your life if you like but, by doing so, you place yourself outside human society. You will, if you are serious about this displacement, not be understood. You will, in short, be a zombie.

Bryan Appleyard, “Why futurologists are always wrong – and why we should be sceptical of techno-utopians: From predicting AI within 20 years to mass-starvation in the 1970s, those who foretell the future often come close to doomsday preachers”, New Statesman, 2014-04-10.

January 19, 2015

QotD: Austria becomes Austria-Hungary

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

Shaken by military defeat, the neo-absolutist Austrian Empire metamorphosed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Under the Compromise hammered out in 1867 power was shared out between the two dominant nationalities, the Germans in the west and the Hungarians in the east. What emerged was a unique polity, like an egg with two yolks, in which the Kingdom of Hungary and a territory centred on the Austrian lands and often called Cisleithania (meaning ‘the lands on this side of the River Leithe’) lived side by side within the translucent envelope of a Habsburg dual monarchy. Each of the two entities had its own parliament, but there was no common prime minister and no common cabinet. Only foreign affairs, defence and defence-related aspects of finance were handled by ‘joint ministers’ who were answerable directly to the Emperor. Matters of interest to the empire as a whole could not be discussed in common parliamentary session, because to do so would have implied that the Kingdom of Hungary was merely the subordinate part of some larger imperial entity. Instead, an exchange of views had to take place between the ‘delegations’, groups of thirty delegates from each parliament, who met alternately in Vienna and Budapest.

The dualist compromise had many enemies at the time and has had many critics since. In the eyes of hardline Magyar nationalists, it was a sell-out that denied the Hungarians the full national independence that was their due. Some claimed that Austria was still exploiting the Kingdom of Hungary as an agrarian colony. Vienna’s refusal to relinquish control over the armed forces and create a separate and equal Hungarian army was especially contentious — a constitutional crisis over this question paralyzed the empire’s political life in 1905. On the other hand, Austrian Germans argued that the Hungarians were freeloading on the more advanced economy of the Austrian lands, and ought to pay a higher share of the empire’s running costs. Conflict was programmed into the system, because the Compromise required that the two imperial ‘halves’ renegotiate every ten years the customs union by which revenues and taxation were shared out between them. The demands of the Hungarians became bolder with every review of the union. And there was little in the Compromise to recommend it to the political elites of the other national minorities, who had in effect been placed under the tutelage of the two ‘master races’. The first post-Compromise Hungarian prime minister, Gyula Andrássy, captured this aspect of the settlement when he commented to his Austrian counterpart: ‘You look after your Slavs and we’ll look after ours.’ The last decades before the outbreak of war were increasingly dominated by the struggle for national rights among the empire’s eleven official nationalities – Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Romanians, Ruthenians, Poles, and Italians.

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

January 18, 2015

QotD: The power of advertising

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

On Monday afternoon Harris came round; he had a cycling paper in his hand.

I said: “If you take my advice, you will leave it alone.”

Harris said: “Leave what alone?”

I said: “That brand-new, patent, revolution in cycling, record-breaking, Tomfoolishness, whatever it may be, the advertisement of which you have there in your hand.”

He said: “Well, I don’t know; there will be some steep hills for us to negotiate; I guess we shall want a good brake.”

I said: “We shall want a brake, I agree; what we shall not want is a mechanical surprise that we don’t understand, and that never acts when it is wanted.”

“This thing,” he said, “acts automatically.”

“You needn’t tell me,” I said. “I know exactly what it will do, by instinct. Going uphill it will jamb the wheel so effectively that we shall have to carry the machine bodily. The air at the top of the hill will do it good, and it will suddenly come right again. Going downhill it will start reflecting what a nuisance it has been. This will lead to remorse, and finally to despair. It will say to itself: ‘I’m not fit to be a brake. I don’t help these fellows; I only hinder them. I’m a curse, that’s what I am;’ and, without a word of warning, it will ‘chuck’ the whole business. That is what that brake will do. Leave it alone. You are a good fellow,” I continued, “but you have one fault.”

“What?” he asked, indignantly.

“You have too much faith,” I answered. “If you read an advertisement, you go away and believe it. Every experiment that every fool has thought of in connection with cycling you have tried. Your guardian angel appears to be a capable and conscientious spirit, and hitherto she has seen you through; take my advice and don’t try her too far. She must have had a busy time since you started cycling. Don’t go on till you make her mad.”

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

January 17, 2015

QotD: “Radicalizing the Romanceless”

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

Barry is using my second-favorite rhetorical device, apophasis, the practice of bringing up something by denying that it will be brought up. For example, “I think the American people deserve a clean debate, and that’s why I’m going to stick to the issues, rather than talking about the incident last April when my opponent was caught having sex with a goat. Anyway, let’s start with the tax rate…”

He is complaining about being single by saying that you can’t complain about being single – and, as a bonus, placating feminists by blaming the whole thing on the manosphere as a signal that he’s part of their tribe and so should not be hurt.

It almost worked. He only got one comment saying he was privileged and entitled (which he dismisses as hopefully a troll). But he did get some other comments that remind me of two of my other least favorite responses to “nice guys”.

First: “Nice guys don’t want love! They just want sex!”

One line disproof: if they wanted sex, they’d give a prostitute a couple bucks instead of spiralling into a giant depression.

Second: “You can’t compare this to, like, poor people who complain about being poor. Food and stuff are basic biological human needs! Sex isn’t essential for life! It’s an extra, like having a yacht, or a pet tiger!”

I know that feminists are not always the biggest fans of evolutionary psychology. But I feel like it takes a special level of unfamiliarity with the discipline to ask “Sure, evolution gave us an innate desire for material goods, but why would it give us an deep innate desire for pair-bonding and reproduction??!”

But maybe a less sarcastic response would be to point out Harry Harlow’s monkey studies. These studies – many of them so spectacularly unethical that they helped kickstart the modern lab-animals’-rights movement – included one in which monkeys were separated from their real mother and given a choice between two artifical “mothers” – a monkey-shaped piece of wire that provided milk but was cold and hard to the touch, and a soft cuddly cloth mother that provided no milk. The monkeys ended up “attaching” to the cloth mother and not the milk mother.

In other words – words that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has spent much time in a human body – companionship and warmth can be in some situations just as important as food and getting your more basic needs met. Friendship can meet some of that need, but for a lot of people it’s just not enough.

When your position commits you to saying “Love isn’t important to humans and we should demand people stop caring about whether or not they have it,” you need to take a really careful look in the mirror – assuming you even show up in one.

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

January 16, 2015

QotD: The impact of lower oil prices

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

When oil prices are high there is a rush of investment into oil based enterprises from multi-nationals to frackers. No bad thing but there is always a real danger of over investment leading to the exploitation of very marginal resources. A lower oil price will strand some of that investment and, just as importantly, postpone a great deal of it. Which frees up investment for other, potentially more useful, purposes.

The second thing which happens is that governments become addicted to the joys of relatively painless oil royalties. This looks like revenue but, because it is drawn from a diminishing resource, is actually a rather dangerous drawing down of capital. A lot of oil “revenue” is seen as general revenue and is spent on non-capital expenditures. With a booming oil sector governments are tempted to think the exaggerated revenues are available for general expenses and will continue to be. Which means that government budgets are set based on a purely extractive draw down of a province’s or nation’s capital. This is a poor idea.

Not to take anything away from the bright guys who are fracking and mining their way to oil fortunes, the reality is that extracting oil does not leave much in the way of useful, secondary industry, much less innovation. Which, in turn, means that when the oil is no longer profitable to extract there is no residual, non-oil, economy left behind. If a government spends the oil revenue as it comes in, or worse uses it to secure loans, when the oil revenue dries up there is nothing to cover the spending or the debt.


The golden lining of additional pressures on nasty states like Russia, Iran and Venezuela is likely not as significant as the prevention of malinvestment and governmental squander. In time, as various emerging economies continue to grow, demand will drive the price of oil upwards again. With luck investors and governments will not make the same mistakes twice.

(One unalloyed good arising from the collapse of the price of oil is that so called clean energy renewables like wind and solar look even sillier with their present technology. I suspect wind will always make zero economic sense; I have more hope for photo voltaic solar as new materials promise significantly higher efficiency. And those same materials in a different configuration promise radical gains in battery efficiency for that daily occurrence known as darkness. Again, a low oil price will dampen the insane over investment in these marginal technologies.)

Jay Currie, “Oil Wars”, Jay Currie, 2014-01-03

January 15, 2015

QotD: Gin one-upsmanship

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

Here are some further notes on boozemanship, the art of coming out ahead when any question of drinking expertise or experience arises. This time they come not under the heading of wine, the usual field for this kind of contest, but under spirits and beer, where less is generally known. It’s strange that we in this country tend to be better informed about a foreign import, confined until recently to a tiny elite, than what have been our national drinks for nearly three hundred years.

First, a simple ploy with gin, equally effective in private house and pub. Asked what you’d like to drink, say simply, “Gin, please.” Wave away tonic, lemon, even ice and accept only a little water — bottled, naturally. Someone’s sure to ask you if that’s all you really want, etc. Answer, “Yes, I must say I like to be able to taste the botanicals, which just means I like the taste of gin, I suppose. Of course, a lot of people only like the effect.” Any gin-and-tonic drinkers in earshot will long to hit you with a meat axe, which after all is the whole object.

Later, switch to Scotch, saying in tones of casual explanation, “I get sick of these fully rectified spirits after a bit, don’t you?” That should draw a fairly blank stare. Then, “I mean I like a bit of the old pot still. Well, I just enjoy the touch of malt.” If that doesn’t clear things up much, say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,” making it clear that you’re adding under your breath, “that I was talking to a bunch of peasants.”

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

January 14, 2015

QotD: Opera snobbery

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

Opera makes things double tricky. A big swath of humanity regards fondness for opera as highbrow in itself. The merest acquaintance with truly dedicated opera buffs will set you right on that. To them, brow-height-wise, the bel canto style that owns my affections — which is to say, early 19th-century Italian opera — ranks somewhere down there with roller derby and monster truck shows.

John Derbyshire, “Confessions of a Middlebrow”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-05-22

January 13, 2015

QotD: The high-water mark of European colonialism

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

… by the close of the century, eight Western European powers — Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands — together in extent slightly under 1,000,000 square miles, had within a generation added some 11,000,000 square miles of foreign territories to their homelands; and area three and a half times the size of the United States, and rather more than one-fifth of the land surface of the globe! So extensive a conquest had no equal since the invasions of the Mongols in the thirteenth century, and no previous conquest had been so rapid and bloodless since the age of Alexander the Great. Like his, it was destined to be followed by the wars of its Diadochi [Alexander’s successors].

J.F.C. Fuller, The Conduct of War, 1789-1961, 1961.

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