Commonplace 2003

December

“Writing a book obliges you to do a vast amount of cumulative reading, not in a desultory but in a disciplined manner, making copious, well-arranged notes, compiling tables and diagrams, sorting out the salient facts from the superficial, above all thinking hard about your material, then arranging it in a clear and consequential way. Building the structure of a closely argued book covering an immense subject is an exercise in self-enlightenment….”                                                             Paul Johnson in The Spectator

“The Anatolian Agency, Turkey’s state press service, reported that tissue retrieved form the truck used in one of the explosions belonged to someone of Arab ethnicity and that the bombs were made from a mixture of ammonium nitrate and oil.”          [how can DNA indicate “ethnicity”?]                                 (NYT November 17, A8)

“A university is a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking” by Clark Kerr, in obituary in NYT December 2.

‘”Today’s Communist Party does not reject private property,” he said. “It does not reject the mechanisms for market development. The Communist Party is for the strengthening of democratic institutions and the development of civil society.”’ ( Aleksei P. Kondaurov, Russian Communist Party candidate, quoted in NYT December 2.)

“Jesus was democrat, I think. ….. You know, Democrats are program providers. We have a program for everything.” (Dick Gephardt, quoted in NYT, December 6)

“In the future there are two roads. One is to look backward and hang on to what we think we are entitled to. The other is to recognize what has made America. Our virtues lie in a flexible and open, technology friendly, risk-taking, entrepreneurial market system. This is exactly the same sort of challenge farmers went through in the late 1800s, sweatshop workers went through in the early 1900s, and manufacturing workers did in the first half of the 80s. We’ve got to focus on setting in motion a debate that pushes us into new sources of job creation rather than bemoaning the loss. There are Republicans and Democrats alike who are involved in this protectionist backlash. They’re very vocal right now, and they need to be challenged.”  (Stephen Roach. Managing director and chief economist, Morgan Stanley, quoted in NYT, December 7.)

“To me, the Zionists, who want to go back to the Jewish state of A.D. 70 (destruction of Jerusalem by Titus) are just as offensive as the Nazis. With their nosing after blood, their ancient “cultural roots’, their partly canting, partly obtuse winding back of the world they are altogether a match for the National Socialists. …..  That is the fantastic thing about the National Socialists, that they simultaneously share in a community of ideas with Soviet Russia and with Zion.” (Victor Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness, June 13th, 1934)

“And what is poetry? Poetry is simply a mellifluous statement of the obviously untrue. The two elements are both important, and perhaps equally. It is not sufficient that the thing said be untrue: it must also be said with a certain grace – it must soothe the ear while it debauches the mind. And it is not sufficient that it be voluptuous: it must also offer a rock and refuge from the harsh facts of every day. All poetry embodies a lie. It may be an objective lie, as in ‘God’s in his heaven; all’s well with the world.” Or it may be a subjective lie, as in ‘I am master of my fate.’ But it must be a lie – and preferably a thumping one.

Poets, in general, protest against this doctrine. They argue that they actually deal in truth, and that their brand of truth is of a peculiarly profound and esoteric quality – in other words, that their compositions add to the sum of human wisdom. It is sufficient answer to them to say that chiropractors make precisely the same claim, and with exactly the same plausibility. Both actually deal in fictions. Those fictions are not truth; they are not even truths in decay. They are simply better than truths. They make life more comfortable and happy. They turn and dull the sharp edge of reality.” (H. L. Mencken: Hymn to the Truth)

‘The powers of Liberalism, i.e., basically of reflective reason – France and England – are too weak to ward off both radicalisms, Bolshevism and National Socialism, by their own efforts; they have to gain the support of one of the two, in order to stand firm against the other, and must at every moment ask themselves, which of the two is the lesser evil. England and France do not at every moment give the same answer to the question, and that, in turn, leads to frictions between the two powers.’  (Victor Klemperer, I Shall Bear Witness, August 20th 1936)

“Welcome to the December email update from the House.  Christ Church has been fairly lively recently; undergraduates have gone done, but the House has been filled with hopeful admissions students.”                                      (from Emma Walsh, Annual Giving Officer)

‘When you hear it languishing and hooing and cooing and sidling through the front teeth, the oxford voice,  or worse still  the would-be oxford voice  you don’t even laugh any more, you can’t.

For every blooming bird is an Oxford cuckoo nowadays, you can’t sit on a bus or a tube                                                                                    but it breathes gently and languishingly in the back of your neck.

And oh, so seductively superior, so seductively self effacingly deprecatingly superior –

We wouldn’t insist on it for a moment  but we are we are you admit we are superior. –‘                                                                                                  (from The Oxford Voice, by D. H. Lawrence)

“No sane man objects to palpable lies about him; what he objects to is damaging facts” (from On Censorships, by H. L. Mencken, June 27th, 1921)

“I’ll know nothing of it [oblivion] when it happens, but it caresses my ego to think of men reading me half a century after I am gone. This seems, superficially, to be mere vanity, but it is probably something more. That something is a real impulse – the moving hand behind all cultural progress – to take an active hand in the unfolding of human life on this sorry ball. Every man above the level of a clod is impelled to that participation, and every such man desires his contribution to last as long as possible.”

From Minority Report (in Notebooks), by H. L. Mencken

‘There are four kinds of money. The first is your own money, spent on yourself. Buying socks for yourself, you know what you want and how much it should cost. This is more efficient than the second kind: your own money, spent on other people. You but socks for your nephew for Christmas, but he may not want them in his old school colours. Less efficient than this is the third kind: spending other people’s money on yourself. In the boardroom, a whole apparatus of remuneration committees and consultants exists to facilitate this, and sometimes, as the chairman of Glaxo explained, they get carried away and pay out in tens of millions. Least efficient of all is other people’s money spent on other people. Somehow it is never enough. Everyone’s money is nobody’s money, and this is Uncle Gordon’s [Brown] kind.”             (Christopher Fildes paraphrasing Milton Friedman, The Spectator 12/27/2003)

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