Friday, December 31, 2004

Peevish about Libertarians

Anne Zook is back! Just for a rant, but her rants are some of the finest reading in cyberspace. This time she's pointing out the hypocrisy, shortsightedness, and ahistorical thinking of libertarians. The only thing I'll say in their defense is that they do seem to have their hearts in the right place, and are often fabulous analysts of politics and power due to their sensitivity to liberty and rights. They're not all hypocrites, but huge grains of salt are necessary....

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

New Syllabus Language

History is about real people, diverse cultures, interesting theories, strongly held belief systems, complex situations, conflicts and often-dramatic actions. In certain contexts, this information may be disturbing. Such is the nature of historical study.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Wisdom of the Ancestors

Pirkei Avot, Chapter 3, Mishna 22
"He [Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah] used to say, anyone whose wisdom is greater than his deeds to what is he comparable? To a tree whose branches are many and whose roots are few, and the wind comes and turns it over. As it is said: 'And he will be like a lonely tree in a wasteland, and it will not see when good comes. It will dwell on parched soil in the desert, a salted land, uninhabited' (Jeremiah 17:6). But one whose deeds are greater than his wisdom to what is he comparable? To a tree whose branches are few and whose roots are many, that even if all the winds in the world blow against it, they do not move it from its place. As it is said 'And he shall be like a tree planted on the water, and towards the stream it will spread its roots,and it will not see when heat comes. Its leaves will be fresh, in a year of drought it will not worry, and it shall not cease yielding fruit' (ibid., 17:8)."

Monday, December 27, 2004

Quotations #031

"Give me blood and I will give you freedom" -- Metaji Subhas Chandra Bose

"This Jeffersonian fusion of bourgeois political ideology with classificatory natural science, of power with knowledge, gave race its singular epistemic purchase on Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought." -- Patrick Wolfe, "Land Labor and Difference: Elementary Structures of Race," AHR v. 106, n. 3 (June 2001), p. 876.

"Like so many masters of the Delta Blues, John was a master of the single entendre." -- Bill Morrissey on Mississippi John Hurt

"Learn to reason forward and backward on both sides of a question." -- Thomas Blandi

"There's a mighty big difference between good, sound reasons and reasons that sound good." -- Burton Hills

Friday, December 24, 2004

Quotations #030

"We think in order to do." -- unofficial slogan of the journal Race and Class.

Seneca imagines a pupil who says, "Zeno said this." He replies: "What do you say? How long will you march under someone else's banner? . . . Now bring out something of your own." -- from the foreword by Martha C. Nussbaum in: ALIVE AT THE CORE: Exemplary Approaches to General Education in the Humanities, by Michael Nelson and Associates

"And so we are asking for amnesty for the gods of our fathers, the gods of our homeland. It is reasonable to assume that whatever each of us worships can be considered one and the same. We look up at the same stars, the same sky is above us all, the same universe encompasses us. What difference does it make which system each of us uses to find the truth? It is not by just one route that man can arrive at so great a mystery." -- Symmachus, Dispatches to the Emperor, appealing the removal of the traditional altar of Roman Victory from the Senate by a Christian Emperor. Jo-Ann Shelton, ed., As the Romans Did, pp. 390-391.

"A historian has to learn to be forgiving." -- Michael Luick-Thrams

"The meaning of the meaning of life, nor beauty either, has nothing to do with hats." -- Carol Emshwiller, "The Project"

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Hiding and Hyping

Maybe it's a liberal thing, but I nodded all the way through Geov Parrish's above-linked list of overhyped and undersold news of the year. Dead on, as far as I'm concerned. [via the semi-retired Anne Zook, who I just happened to look up the day after she posted this]

Also worth mentioning is Project Censored's 2004 list which is a bit heavier on the negative stuff, but the overlap between the two is considerable.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Top Urban Legends and Net Hoaxes

This list, highly subjective but nicely assembled, is interesting. I think their runners-up should have beat out some of what was on the list, myself, but that's OK.

Highlighting Quotations

As you can see below, I'm going to begin highlighting with boldface the quotations or portions thereof I find most compelling. Italics will continue to be used for emphasis in the original quotations, and book references.

Bonus quotation:

"Few people think more than two or three times a year. I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week." -- George Bernard Shaw

Quotations #029

"To be excited by the same dispute even on opposing sides, is still to be alike. This common stamp, deriving from a common age, is what makes a generation. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 185.

"In history, the fetish of single cause is all too often only the insidious form of search for the responsible person -- hence a value judgment. The judge expresses it as: 'Who is right, and who is wrong?' The scholar is content to ask: 'Why?' and he accepts the fact that the answer may not be simple. Whether as a prejudice of common sense, a postulate of logicians, or a habit of prosecuting attorneys, the monism of cause can be, for history, only an impediment. History seeks for causal wave-trains and is not afraid, since life shows them to be so, to find them multiple. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 193-194.

"Historical facts are, in essence, psychological facts. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 194.

"In a word, in history, as elsewhere, the causes cannot be assumed. They are to be looked for. . ." -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 197.

"You have confused the true and the real." -- Samuel R. Delany, Dhalgren.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Why does it have to be birthday CAKE?

Just got done making chocolate pecan pies, since I didn't get to make one for Thanksgiving. Should hold a candle just fine.


You can replace "Wimoweh" in "Wimoweh (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)" with "Cream of Wheat."

Weigh up boys, Cream of wheat..... cream of wheat.... cream of wheat.....
Weigh up boys, Cream of wheat..... cream of wheat.... cream of wheat.....

Cream of wheat, cream of wheat, cream of wheat, cream of wheat, cream of wheat, cream of wheat.....


Friday, December 17, 2004

Quotations #028

"Is this a place of many souls or just one very large one?" -- Peter Mayer, "Molly O'Malley's"

"The very progress of our studies is founded upon the inevitable opposition between generations of scholars." -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 4.

"Historical research with tolerate no autarchy. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 47.

"The act of inventing a lie presupposes an effort which is distasteful to the mental inertia common to the majority of men. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 99.

"Leibniz laid down exact definitions, which deprived him of the agreeable liberty to misuse his terms upon occasion." Fontenelle, in Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 175.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Quotations #027

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government; it can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship." -- Sir Alex Fraser Tytler (1747-1813; Prof. History, Edinburgh U.) (written pre 1776)

"Not to know what happened before one was born is to remain ever a child." -- Cicero

"I doubt that we can ever find anyone more gullible than an intellectual academic." -- Isaac Asimov, Foundation's Edge.

"All that's quiet is magic." -- Rita Dove, "Eastern European Eclogues"

Asked what he considered education's greatest problem, Nathan Pusey, president of Harvard University, answered "Hardness of heart in the well-educated." (Harvard Magazine, March/April 2002, 98)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Marketable Idea: Chocolate Dreydl

Trying to explain the unspinnable nature of his chocolate dreydl -- it's just a flat representation with a white chocolate shin -- to my very young son (he can use logic on us, but we can't use it on him) it occured to me that there are at least two ways of making a spinnable chocolate dreydle:
  • Candy Coating. That would make the dreydle strong enough at the shaft and point to spin, not to mention making it possible to use it more than once without melting as you touch it. What I don't know about candy coating is how well it responds to non-rounded shapes. That's for the engineers, right? I think this is the way to go, myself, particularly if dark chocolate is involved.
  • Stick. Run a stick through the center, like a squared-off chocolate lollipop [An engineer friend pointed out that an actual squared-off lollipop, particularly of the chewy chocolate center variety, would fit the bill quite nicely. She's right, and that includes solving the point problem -- except for brittleness -- by having the lollipop be the point.]. A paper stick would probably be cheaper, but would be a problem as a spinning point. On the other hand, the uncoated chocolate wouldn't be good for more than a few spins, anyway (foil coating might lessen this problem). Wood or plastic would be much more stable, though both present environmental and waste problems I'm not sure I want to get into.
Now all I need is an investor, right? Someone with a candy company and some "vision". We can also talk about my idea for dark chocolate candy-coated balls (think of a peanut M&M sized candy filled with bittersweet chocolate).

Quotations #026

"Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man." -- Francis Bacon, "Of Studies"

"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence." -- Robert Frost

"The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters." -- Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

"Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run." -- Mark Twain, "Facts concerning the recent resignation."

"Let the children of the rich and poor take their seats together and know of no distinction save that of industry, good conduct and intelligence." -- Townsend Harris

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Damaged Mail

My mail comes in pretty good shape, most of the time. Certainly nothing more than the usual run of bumps and tears and creases. So it's probably coincidence, but it still makes you wonder.....

We don't get a lot of specifically Jewish-themed mail, either; no magazines, or temple bulletins, or consistent mailings from Jewish philanthropies (actually, due to my support of some Native American charities, I'm much more likely to get mailings from Christian groups aimed at helping those communities).

I got a letter from the World Jewish Congress in the mail last week that was damaged. Just a little bit, really, but it was the placement that struck me. The mailing included a "prospective member" card, visible through the envelope window, and what was damaged was the WJC logo -- Star of David with a globe inset surrounded by the WJC name in English and Hebrew -- on the card. It looked like it was abraded or slightly burned, as the plastic window had some dark coloring on the edges of the torn section.

Like I said, most of my mail comes through fine.

Looking behind the curtain

A colleague recently observed a meeting between our Dear Leader (flanked by her "team") and a high muckety-muck from the "home office" and came away quite dismayed. Our problems are not going to be solved by this management, either locally (what do they do to earn their inflated salaries, we wonder) or systemically (not being the flagship has its disadvantages, as does being managed by a bunch of nitwits who aren't respected by their superiors or inferiors).

Meanwhile, our own faculty leadership has rejected a proposal from one department that mirrors the practices of another department in the same division on the grounds that it dilutes the quality of teaching..... as if the exodus of competent but disheartened faculty wasn't doing that? As if the failure to fund service teaching positions that would be self-supporting from tuition alone wasn't doing that? As if the use of statistically meaningless quantitative teachng evaluations wasn't doing that? In the grand scheme of things, this is just petty sniping.

I hate old cliches, but the "circular firing squad" sure comes to mind.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Quotations #025

"The great impediment to action is, in our opinion, not discussion, but the want of that knowledge which is gained by discussion prepatory to action. For we have a peculiar power of thinking before we act and of acting too, whereas other men are courageous from ignorance but hesitate on reflection." -- Thucydides, "The Funeral Oration of Pericles"

"No great historical event is better calculated than the French Revolution to teach political writers and statesmen to be cautious in their speculations; for never was any such event, stemming from factors so far back in the past, so inevitable yet so completely unforeseen." -- Alexis De Tocqueville

"The day is short, the work is great, the workers are tired. But the rewards are great, and the master is pressing. You are not required to finish the job, but neither are you free to leave off from it." -- Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot.

"The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you." -- B.B. King

"History is more or less bunk. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today" -- Henry Ford

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Quotations #024

"History doesn't repeat itself, but sometimes it does rhyme" -- Mark Twain (attributed)

"The most violent element in society is ignorance" -- Emma Goldman

"G-d must permeate every aspect of our lives. There cannot be any dark closets in our houses or corners in our hearts which do not allow G-d to enter. The Talmud writes that on the day of judgment the beams of one's own house testify what a person's true behavior was (Ta'anis 11a). We are judged not according to how we behaved to our coworkers or to strangers on the street, but by our behavior to our own family members and in the privacy of our own homes." -- Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld, Pirkei Avot list from, Chapter 1, Mishna 4.

"Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end." -- Neil Gaiman, American Gods (2001: 58-59)

"There's never been a true war that wasn't fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe that they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do." -- Neil Gaiman, American Gods (2001: 233)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Quotations #023

"The flag is a symbol of the fact that man is still a herd animal." -- Albert Einstein

"There is no word that men put in the mouth of God that is not a dangerous lie." -- Paul Park, The Gospel of Corax

"The best substitute for war is intelligence." -- Alice Walker, Code Pink anti-war rally, Washington DC, 8 March 2003

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies ... A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. ... There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen, whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid or day laborer. There is nothing except shortsigntedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum -- and livable -- income for every American family." -- Martin Luther King Jr,. Where do we go from here (1967)

"Shortly after assuming the presidency, Saddam summed up his political philosophy: keep opponents off guard. `What is politics?' he asked top officials. `Politics is when you say you are going to do one thing while intending to do another. Then you do neither what you said nor what you intended.'" -- Saddam Hussein, NYTimes 3/18/03

Monday, December 06, 2004

Quotations #022

"Art is whatever makes you proud to be human" -- Leroi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka)

"Ghosts are just history. That's what you feel in a place like this. Ghosts are what you feel when you realize how much bigger and older everything is." -- Alex Irvine, "Vandoise and the Bone Monster"

"Perhaps the chief carriers of Western culture today are those who within its midst most criticize it and demand that it justify itself." -- Kagan, Ozment, Turner, The Western Heritage.

"A bashful person cannot learn, nor can an impatient one teach." -- Hillel

"...The most profound organizational principles of a functional society: manners, ettiquette, social protocol, and civility. Perhaps the real revolution won't happen in the courts or on the streets, but in the society pages, the columns of Dear Abby and Miss Manners, and the newest edition of Emily Post's ettiquette." -- Michael Bronski, "Wedding Bell Blues: The Struggle for Gay Nuptial Notices," Z Magazine, Nov 2002, p. 51.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Quotations #021

"The natural man has only two primal passions: to get and beget." -- William Osler, Science and Immortality

"The terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket." -- Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent

"Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths." -- Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society

"The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." -- William James (1890)

"The movement of a civilization is like the spread of measles." -- Fukuzawa Yukichi, "Datsu-a ron"

Friday, December 03, 2004


Perusing a philosophical books catalog, I came across a title and book description so obscure that I had no choice but to look it up:
"Grue!: The New Riddle of Induction

This book contains 15 essays on grue, all by eminent philosophers, as well as an annotated bibliography summarizing everything ever written on grue.
"This is a monumental document in the history of twentieth-century philosophy."

Obviously, I couldn't just let that lie. What's "grue"? How could it be so important? Was I suffering from aphasia or had the philosophical community gone funny on me?

My Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary was no help, defining grue as a Scottish term for shudder.....

Apparently grue is a color..... green, until it turns blue. This is an illustration of the problem of inductive reasoning, as most powerfully laid out by David Hume (18c) who argued that inductive reasoning (generalization from particulars) cannot be logically proven effective except by invoking inductive reasoning with past examples of effective inductive reasoning. This is a very sound circular argument, and as such, unconvincing. "grue" was devised as an example of this problem in 1966, and apparently the cleverness of it caught the philosophical world by storm: how can you tell, the problem goes, whether the grass is green or simply green-for-now (aka grue)?

The scary part is that, now that I know this, it'll probably end up in my lectures somehow.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Thursday Poem: After the Singing

Rod MacDonald is probably best known for his satirical "The Aliens Came in Business Suits" and the immensely powerful "Stop the War" (both lyrics available here)

But for historical reasons (OK, I mostly bought used CDs in my youth) I only own one Rod MacDonald CD, Highway to Nowhere. It starts out inauspiciously, unless you like lyrical retellings of psycho but includes some deeply effective songs. For a long time my favorite was "The Well" which was a terrific metaphor for the call-in support hotline work that I did. Now, though, my favorite from this album, bar none, is the timeless:

After the Singing

When we were sailors we had four songs
one for the girls in the harbor towns
two for the weather
three for the nightwatch
four for the rum that washed it all down
You can't change the wind, only change ths sail
after the singing we would sail on.

When we were soldiers we had four dreams
one for the flashing bombs and the terrified screams
two for the stretchers
three for the marches
four for our sweethearts where our homes had been
some of us made it home
some when down alone
after the dreaming we would fight on.

When we were magicians we had four fires
one for the transforming of desire
two for the cleansing
three for the healing
and four for petitioning the heavenly choir
we made rings of stone
to be remembered long
after the fires had cooled down.

When we were children we had four cups
one for the songs our parents taught us
two to hold the wishes
three to hold the marbles
four for the seasons that came on us
through filed and street
we played hide and seek
after the childhood we would play on.

When we were outlaws we had four kings
one who wore his hair down in golden rings
two who went to war
three who were murdered
four who claimed to rule over everything
though they banned the green
they could not seed the queen
after the kingdom we were free men.

When we were troubadours we had four songs
one for the legends we were handed down
two for the heroes
three for the dancers
four for the stories they passed on
we walked together a time
down these roads of rhyme
after the singing we would move on.

© Rod MacDonald

(the index of other lyrics and poetry I've posted is here)

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

"Liberal" "Silence" on Theo van Gogh murder

A number of conservative and Republican figures have been questioning the lack of visible outrage coming from the traditional left regarding the Dutch situation. Perhaps we don't feel the need to speak out specifically on this issue because we've been arguing for women's rights, free speech and open discourse against religious fundamentalism and suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as a result For a Long Time Now. In fact, the more you moan and screech about our "silence," the more we wonder if you really care about the issues at all, or if this is just a test to see if you can make us salivate at the ring of your bell. So you johnny-come-lately's who want to jump on the bandwagon are entirely welcome, but you have to realize that the bandwagon isn't empty.

Quotations #020

"No laws are possible in sociology ... for the number of cases is far smaller than the number of variables effecting the outcome." -- Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power (1988)

"Walter Lippmann once wrote that the function of good journalism is to ensure that people are not surprised. The same can be said of good history. The past historians portray must be one out of which the present can plausibly have grown." -- Eric Foner, "Rethinking American History in a Post-9/11 World"

"Que Se Vayan Todos." [All the Politicians Out] -- Argentinian Anti-IMF/Anti-Corruption slogan, 2001

"As a propogandizer, it is not his work to convince the convinced, but to plead with the unconvinced, which requires him to use their vocabulary, their values, their symbols insofar as this is possible." -- Kenneth Burke, "Revolutionary Symbolism in America," American Writers' Congress, 26 April 1935

"No good model ever accounted for all the facts, since some data was bound to be misleading, if not plain wrong." James Watson, quoted by Francis Crick

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Quotations #019

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." -- Sören Kierkegaard

"The great achievements of the past were the adventures of adventurers of the past. Only the adventurous can understand the greatness of the past." -- Alfred North Whitehead

"One day spent in the chamber of instruction is better for you than eternity outside it; the works thereof endure like the mountains." -- ancient Egyptian father's advice to a son (King, 19).

"Undoubtedly the desire for food has been, and still is, one of the main causes of great political events." -- Bertrand Russell

"Though we say that we cannot see the future, its conditions lie all around us. They are as if encrypted. We cannot read them because we lack the key (which will be in our hands only when it is too late to use it). But we see their coded fragments and must call them something. Many aspects of our own contemporary culture might be called premonitory shivers: panicky renderings of unreadable messages about the kind of society we are creating. Our dominating passion, after all, is to give life meaning, even if sometimes a hideous one." - Philip A. Kuhn, Soulstealers: The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768, Harvard UP, 1990, p. 1.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Square Eggs

Hard-boiled eggs being a very important dietary component of at least one annual holiday, it's hard to view them as "fun." But one of my favorite things in the kitchen is the egg cuber. We're going to see if our 3-year old will be more interested in eggs if they're square.

Quotations #018

"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind." -- Winston Churchill, speech at Harvard, 6 Sept. 1943

''Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.'' -- Philo of Alexandria, (early Jewish philosopher)

"A civilization, like a person, is no mechanically arranged game of solitaire; the knowledge of fragments, studied by turns, each for its own sake, will never produce the knowledge of the whole; it will not even produce that of the fragments themselves." -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 155.

"If any man wishes to write a clear style, let him first be clear in his thoughts." -- Johann W. von Goethe

"When two cultures collide is the only time when true suffering exists." -- Hermann Hesse

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Quotations #017

"It is useful to ask oneself questions, but very dangerous to answer them." -- Charles Seignobos, cited in Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 17.

"Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure." -- Earl Wilson

"To the great despair of historians, men fail to change their vocabulary every time they change their customs. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 34.

"It is the preoccupation with possessions more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly." -- Bertrand Russell

"The aim of education is the knowledge not of facts but of values." -- William Ralph Inge, "The Training of the Reason"

Friday, November 26, 2004

Quotations #016

"Man is a history-making creature who can neither repeat his past, nor leave it behind." - W. H. Auden, "D. H. Lawrence"

"The true scholar should be the first to become anxious about the world's troubles and the last to enjoy its happiness." -- Fan Chung-yen (Song, 989-1052).

"The moving finger writes; and having writ, / Moves on: nor all thy piety and wit / Shall lure it back to cancel half a line, / Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it." -- The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

"Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense." -- Mark Twain

"The greatest danger to human beings is their consciousness of the trivialities of their aims." -- Gerard Brennan

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thursday Poem: Thanksgiving Eve

I thought I'd take a break from the quotations and combine one of the blogosphere's more interesting traditions -- Thursday poems -- with the Thanksgiving holiday. This is, as most of my poetry posts will probably be, a song actually, in this case by Bob Franke, though I learned it via Garnet Rogers' recording, which omits the last verse.

Thanksgiving Eve
Words & Music by Bob Franke

It's so easy to dream of the days gone by
It's a hard thing to think of the times to come
But the grace to accept ev'ry moment as a gift
Is a gift that is given to some
What can you do with your days but work & hope
Let your dreams bind your work to your play
What can you do with each moment of your life
But love til you've loved it away
Love til you've loved it away
There are sorrows enough for the whole world's end
There are no guarantees but the grave
And the life that I live & the time I have spent
Are a treasure too precious to save
As it was so it is, as it is shall it be
And it shall be while lips that kiss have breath
Many waters indeed only nurture Love's seed
And its flower overshadows the power of death
©1982 Telephone Pole Music Publishing Co. (BMI)

(the index of other lyrics and poetry I've posted is here)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Quotations #015

"Any event, once it has occurred, can be made to appear inevitable by any competent journalist or historian." -- Joseph Pulitzer

"A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence...." David Hume, "On Miracles" (cited in Reilly II, 160)

"Sapere aude! 'Have courage to use your own reason!' -- that is the motto of enlightenment." -- Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason (cited in Reilly II, 162)

"A country without a memory is a country of madmen." -- George Santayana

"The scholar is content to ask: 'Why?' and he accepts the fact that the answer may not be simple." -- Marc Bloch

Monday, November 22, 2004

Quotations #014

"If power corrupts, weakness in the seat of power, with its constant necessity of deals and bribes and compromising arrangements, corrupts even more." -- Barbara Tuchman

"History is the record of an encounter between character and circumstance." -- Donald Creighton

"Whenever a fellow tells me he is bipartisan, I know he's going to vote against me." -- Harry S. Truman

"When a man says he approves of something in principle, it means he hasn't the slightest intention of putting it into practice." -- Otto von Bismarck

"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." -- Mark Twain

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Failed Messiahs

Someday I'd like to try my hand at fiction, and these are the kinds of raw materials I need:

This was a dream; some dreams deserve to be shared.

A while back, sometime around the 17th century, someone tried to force the Messiah to come. This is a theme that runs through some Chassidic and Kabbalistic folklore: the wonder-working rabbi who attempts to force Heaven into action through acts of intense faith and perseverence. Fasting and meditation are usually involved, and the attempt -- to bind Satan or end Death or bring the Messiah -- always fails through a momentary lapse of humility, concentration, faith.

The attempt to bring the Messiah failed; we don't know why. But the attempt did force a great number of slightly lesser souls to manifest themselves before their appointed ages. The problem is that, without adequate preparation, those souls have not had uniformly good effects: Great souls in unprepared vessels at the wrong moments can do immense harm as well as immense good.

There was a litany of names: you'd recognize most of them, as I did, but it's hard to remember them now. Marx and Stalin and Hitler and Roosevelt and Mandela were in the list, as were a number of scholars (Hegel, Kierkegaard, I think, Bertrand Russell) and writers (G.B. Shaw and Bradbury, I think) and other activists and political leaders whose names escaped me upon waking.

Quotations #013

"If our economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it has created it, the road to dictatorship will be open to any man who can persuasively promise security to all." Will and Ariel Durant.

"Tradition is entirely different from habit, even from an excellent habit, since habit is by definition an unconscious acquisition and tends to become mechanical whereas tradition results from a conscious and deliberate acceptance." -- Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music (1947)

"Learning without thinking is labor lost; thinking without learning is perilous." (Analects, II:15)

"The only problems money can solve are money problems. Many of the problems the world faces today are the eventual result of short-term measures taken last century." -- Jay W. Forrester

"A fanatic is one who sticks to his guns whether they're loaded or not." -- Franklin P. Jones

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Quotations #012

"Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them." -- Alfred North Whitehead

"A faith that cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets." Arthur C. Clarke

"There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge." -- Bertrand Russell

"Both superpowers are dangerous enough (each in its own totally different way) but probably not as dangerous as each is depicted by its adversaries, according to a law I worked out and which, I hope, might one day bear my name. I developed it years ago when living, working, and meditating in a weak, underdeveloped, disorganized, totalitarian country, my own, and, at the same time, reading about it -- its far-seeing dictator, terrifying armaments, and awesome disciplined power -- in the foreign press. My law states that nations, organizations, institutions, bodies, or single human beings are never as powerful, intelligent, far-seeing, efficient, and dangerous as they seem to their enemies." -- Luigi Barzini, The Europeans, p. 219.

"History is a constant race between invention and catastrophe. Education helps but it is never enough. You also must run." -- Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Quotations #011

"No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft." -- H. G. Wells

"In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are only consequences." -- Robert B. Ingersoll

"Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality." -- George Santayana

"Highly organized research is guaranteed to produce nothing new." -- Frank Herbert, Dune.

"True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous and conflicting information." -- Winston Churchill

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Apology Double-play

If history were like baseball, I could tell you whether this was "unprecedented" or "rare" or "something that is statistically pretty normal." Baseball statisticians are incredibly adept and have immense quantities of nice, neat data at their fingertips. I do envy them.

Anyway, two major powers have both issued pretty heartfelt apologies for military errors: China, for a submarine incursion into Japanese waters, and Israel, for killing three Egyptian policemen. Apologies are rare enough in the world. It's nice to see even pretty hardened regimes have the capacity.

No, I don't think this is going to be a streak, or a trend, anymore than the triple-play is a common occurence on the diamond.


We finally got definitive word that there is no money for our hire. Except that our Dear Leader wants us to keep the search "open" in the hopes that the legislature might dribble some money for new hires our way in the spring (like we'd be near the top of that list, anyway, given that .... never mind), never mind that it'd be a twice-picked-over pool by the time we got to it, never mind the unethicality of keeping people on hold, however tenuous, for that long. You mustn't lose hope, Dear Leader said, keep pushing. And people with no hope, people who give up won't make it here, and should just go somewhere else. That explains our faculty retention problem, anyway.

Quotations #010

"Certainty about prediction is an illusion. One thing that history keeps teaching us is that the future is full of surprises and outwits all our certitudes." -- Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"The impertinent question is the glory and engine of human inquiry. ... Whether reviled or revered in their lifetimes, history's movers framed their questions in ways that were entirely disrespectful of conventional wisdom. Civilization has always advanced in the shimmering wake of its discontents." -- Garry Trudeau, Commencement address, Trinity College, Hartford CT, 2003.

"Not only are there no happy endings, there aren't even any endings." -- Neil Gaiman, American Gods (2001: 483)

"We should do more and engage less in empty talk." -- Deng Xiaoping

"The best way I know of to win an argument is to start by being in the right." -- Quentin Hogg, M.D.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Quotations #009

"A historian has many duties. Allow me to remind you of two which are important. The first is not to slander; the second is not to bore." -- Voltaire

"History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives." -- Abba Eban

"What experience and history teach is this -- that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it." -- G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction

"The dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution is one of those pleasant falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplace, but which all experience refutes." -- J. S. Mill

"The most tragic paradox of our time is to be found in the failure of nation-states to recognize the imperatives of internationalism." -- Chief Justice Earl Warren

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Quotations #008

"Do not say when I have free time I will learn, lest you not have free time." -- Hillel

"Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results." -- Machiavelli

"History, as the study of the past, makes the coherence of what happened comprehensible by reducing events to a dramatic pattern and seeing them in a simple form." -- Johan Huizinga

"The family is the nucleus of civilization" -- Will and Ariel Durant

"History teaches everything, even the future." -- Alphonse de Lamartine

Monday, November 15, 2004

Quotations #007

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

"In history, the fetish of single cause is all too often only the insidious form of search for the responsible person -- hence a value judgment. The judge expresses it as: 'Who is right, and who is wrong?' The scholar is content to ask: 'Why?' and he accepts the fact that the answer may not be simple. Whether as a prejudice of common sense, a postulate of logicians, or a habit of prosecuting attorneys, the monism of cause can be, for history, only an impediment. History seeks for causal wave-trains and is not afraid, since life shows them to be so, to find them multiple. " -- Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft, p. 193-194.

"Prophecy, however honest, is generally a poor substitute for experience." -- Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo

"The fate of empires depends on the education of youth." -- Aristotle

"If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities." -- Voltaire

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Merit in Politics?

NY Times Headline: "G.O.P. Leader Says Specter Must Show He Deserves Chairmanship"

Shouldn't any prospective committee chair be required to be the best qualified member of the majority party? The system, as it stands now, is seniority-based: denying him the chair for political reasons throws the system into potential chaos. Not that that's a bad thing; it would force the parties to be meritocratic, or reveal their political reasons for violating merit-based appointment standards.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Lowering Expections?

Not me; our dear leaders! As Fallujah goes the way of the initial invasion, easier than expected but less successful, I think the Bush administration needs to start (keep) lowering expectations. Or they need to start trumpeting their small successes, which I'm sure must be there somewhere. Maybe in weather prediction.... and if they can lower peoples' expectations of operational success to the level of the trust they place in their local weather reporters, then they can't lose.

Quotations #006

"Writing history is a perpetual exercise in judgment." -- Cushing Strout

"Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better." -- Samuel Johnson, Dictionary, 1755

"The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy." -- Baron de Montesquieu

"Creative thinking may mean simply the realization that there's no particular virtue in doing things the way they have always been done." -- Rudolf Flesch

"We have lost our grip on historical truth." -- Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob in Telling the Truth About History

Friday, November 12, 2004

Quotations #005

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." -- H.G. Wells, The Outline of History

"Education is when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get when you don't." -- Pete Seeger

"Next week there can't be any crisis. My schedule is already full." -- Henry A. Kissinger

"History is not a set of answers, but a fluid and argumentative process." - Jonathan Dresner

"Long experience has taught me that to be criticized is not always to be wrong." -- Anthony Eden (1956, during the Suez Crisis)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Quotations #004

"Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are." -- Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du Goût, 1825.

"The best government is a benevolent tyranny tempered by an occasional assassination." -- Voltaire

"Never find your delight in another's misfortune." -- Publius Syrus (1c BCE)

"To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations -- such is a pleasure beyond compare." -- Yoshida Kenkō, Tsurezuregusa.

"It requires a very unusual mind to make an analysis of the obvious." -- Alfred North Whitehead

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Quotations #003

"The path of memory is neither straight nor safe, and we travel down it at our peril." -- Neil Gaiman, Mr. Punch.

"If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong." -- Arthur C. Clarke

"We are all innocent only in our own personal understanding." --- Gulya Hairullina, Novaya Gazeta 15 September 2003 (World Press Review December 2003)

"Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their crops, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens." -- Henry Beveridge, Full Employment in a Free Society, 1944.

"The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity." -- G.B.Shaw, Devil's Disciple

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Quotations #002

"In every age 'the good old days' were a myth. No one ever thought they were good at the time. For every age has consisted of crises that seemed intolerable to the people who lived through them." -- Brooks Atkinson, Once Around the Sun

"Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children. Life is the other way around." -- David Lodge, British Museum (1965)

"All modern wars start in the history classroom." -- Anonymous

"History is neither written nor made without love or hate." -- Theodor Mommsen

"Like its politicians and its wars, society has the teenagers it deserves." -- J. B. Priestley

Monday, November 08, 2004

Quotations #001

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." -- George Bernard Shaw

"The defect of equality is that we only desire it with our superiors." -- Henry Becque

"All human progress has been made by ignoring precedents." -- Viscount Philip Snowden

"Man's greatest need is a balanced ecology. Man's greatest asset is an unsettled mind." -- Isaac Asimov

"Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern but impossible to enslave." -- Lord Brougham (attributed)


I have collected a great many quotations. Most of them are history-related, in some form or fashion. I started collecting them to sprinkle them on my handouts, syllabi, etc. Many of them come from reading books of quotations in the bathroom. Others come from fiction (especially fantasy and science fiction), history or other commentary that I read. I will post quotations here in batches of five, with no particular rhyme or reason. I just like these quotations, find them thought-provoking (sometimes wrong, but nonetheless very interesting) and decided to write them down so I could have easy access to them. Now I'm going to share them.

Sunday, November 07, 2004