Saturday, April 16, 2016
For, dear me, why abandon a belief
Merely because it ceases to be true.
Cling to it long enough, and not a doubt
It will turn true again, for so it goes.
Most of the change we think we see in life
Is due to truths being in and out of favour.
-Robert Frost, as excerpted from The Black Cottage
Orthodoxy can be as stubborn in science as it is in religion. I do not know how to shake it except by vigorous imagination that inspires unconventional work and contains within itself an elevated potential for inspired error. As the great Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto wrote, "Give me a fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself." Not to mention a man named Thomas Henry Huxley who, when not in the throes of grief or in the wars of parson hunting, argued that "irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors."
-Stephen Jay Gould
Language, moreover, which devotes its attention to truth ought to be plain and unadorned. This popular style has nothing to do with truth. Its object is to sway a mass audience, to carry away unpractised ears by the force of its onslaught. It never submits itself to detailed discussion, is just wafted away. Besides, how can a thing possible govern others when it cannot be governed itself? And apart from all this surely language which is directed to the healing of men's minds needs to penetrate into one? Medicines do no good unless they stop some length of time in one. There is, moreover, a great deal of futility and emptiness about this style of speaking, which has more noise about it than effectiveness. There are my terrors to be quieted, incitements to be quelled, illusions to be dispelled, extravagance to be checked, greed to be reprimanded: which of these things can be done in a hurry? What doctor can heal patients merely in passing? One might add, too, that there is not even any pleasure to be found in such a noisy promiscuous torrent of words. Just as with a lot of things that one would never believe possible one finds it quite enough to have seen them once proved possible, so with these performers with words, to have heard them once is more than enough. What is there in them, after all, that anyone could want to learn or imitate? What view is one likely to take of the state of a person's mind when his speech is wild and incoherent and knows no restraint?
-Seneca (4 BC- AD65), Letter XL, Letters from a Stoic
Cato's world was the Roman Republic, a state at the apex of its power, able to make foreign kings tremble with a single decree, and rotting from the inside out. Cato's arena was the Senate, an awesome assemblage of gray-haired eminences, the symbol of Rome's republican heritage, and a body crippled by personality politics, rigged elections, ritualized bribery, and sex scandals. Public life in the late Republic resemble a soap opera, and if we didn't find in that fact a sharp enough reflection of our own time, we could surely find familiarity in the grave challenges that threatened Rome and its Senate. They included homegrown terrorism, a debt crisis, the management of multiple foreign wars, the fraying of conventional societal bonds and mores, and a yawning gap between rich and poor.
-Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni, Rome's Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar
Friday, April 15, 2016
Well-intentioned but harebrained social engineering is a menace to the poor. Instead of idealistic social schemes, policy elites should go back to the basics: expand vocational education and training programs, limit competition from illegal unskilled immigrants, reduce paperwork and regulatory restrictions that make it hard to start businesses in the cities where so many poor people live, and put an end to the war on low-wage jobs that is forcing employers to replace tellers, checkout clerks and other unskilled and semiskilled jobs with machines.
These are policies that would actually help, but they violate treasured liberal myths, so we earnestly saddle poor kids with debt they can’t afford for degrees they can’t get—after making them waste 12 years in lousy schools that we can’t seem to operate effectively.
-Walter Russell Mead, as culled from here
.....about us humans messing with Gaia, consider this thought:
In my home country, near a small town now almost vanished from the map, there is a region which remains to this day uncultivated. It is best seen at nightfall, because it is then that the full mystery of the place seizes upon the mind. Red granite boulders hundreds of miles from their point of origin thrust awkwardly out of the sparse turf. In the last glow from the west one gets the impression of a waste over which has passed something inhumanely remote and terrifying - something that has happened long ago, but which here lies close to the surface. Crows circle above it like disturbed black memories which rise and fall but never come to rest. It is a barren and disordered landscape, which remembers, and perhaps again anticipates, the cold of glacial ice. It has nothing to do with man; its gravels, its red afterglow, are remnants of another era, in which man was of no consequence.
-Loren Eiseley, as extracted from The Firmament of Time
Thursday, April 14, 2016
"Whoever is acquainted with the history of philosophy for the last two or three centuries cannot but admit that there appears to have existed a sort of secret and tacit compact among the learned, not to pass beyond a certain limit in speculative science. The privilege of free thought so highly extolled, has at not time been held valid in actual practice, except within this limit."
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“Don't you understand that we need to be childish in order to understand? Only a child sees things with perfect clarity, because it hasn't developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don't expect to see.”
“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
“Maturity, one discovers, has everything to do with the acceptance of ‘not knowing.”
-Mark Z. Danielewski
"To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity."
-William Arthur Ward
"We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until we move from the passive voice to the active voice- that is, until we have stopped saying 'It got lost,' and say, 'I lost it.'"
-Sydney J. Harris
"Maturity: The confidence to have no opinions on many things."
-Alain de Botton
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”
“Maturity is when your world opens up and you realize that you are not the center of it.”
"We are all mature until someone brings out the bubble wrap"
There are a dozen things that must go right in order for communication to occur, and not all of them are under the speaker's control. Because language is a communal act, as much depends on those who listen as on those who speak. Every word is a smoke signal sent up with great effort. The fire must be very hot. The wood must be very green. The wet blanket must be lowered and lifted at just the right moments. But none of those is any guarantee. If no one is watching the sky, you might as well be roasting marshmallows. In order for communication to occur, you need someone who is watching who knows the language.
Even a knowledgeable partner is no guarantee that the message sent will be the message received. Language is porous, not solid. Every word carries its own history inside of it. A word such as charity does not mean the same thing now as it did a hundred years ago. Depending on a listener's own history with the word, the hearing of it may evoke a glow of contentment or a flush of shame. Send up a smoke signal that says "Practice Charity" and one person who sees it will go kiss her rebellious teenager while someone else will start rummaging through his closet for old clothes to give away. A third, who is perhaps most typical of our age, will have not context for responding to the word at all.
-Barbara Brown Taylor, When God is Silent
I learned that opening myself to my own love and to life's tough loveliness not only was the most delicious, amazing thing on earth, but also was quantum. It would radiate out to a cold, hungry world. Beautiful moments heal, as do real cocoa, Pete Seeger, a walk on old fire roads. All I ever wanted since I arrived here on earth were the same things I needed as a baby, to go from cold to warm, lonely to held, the vessel to the giver, empty to full. You can change the world with a hot bath, if you sink into it from a place of knowing that you are worth profound care, even when you are dirty and rattled. Who knew?
-Anne Lamott, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace
"The senator from Vermont was part of the Congress that passed the Dodd-Frank Act extending financial regulation. Yet he has not even mastered the thousand pages or so of the act, far less the regulations and explanatory documents that have been published since."
-John Kay, as excerpted from here
While decrying the complexity of modern financial institutions ("Complexity is the enemy of stability"), Kay can't help but notice the complexity of modern governmental regulations:
"These issues are compounded by the regulatory complexity that follows from attempts to monitor behaviour in impossible detail. As the size of the Dodd-Frank legislation shows, we have locked ourselves into a spiral in which regulatory complexity gives rise to further organisational complexity and the construction of yet more esoteric instruments. Even if legislators had better motives than the present corrupting structure that US campaign finance seems to allow, they cannot hope to have more than a basic knowledge of the rules they promulgate or the workings of the regulatory institutions they have created."
-John Kay, as also excerpted from here
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Victor Davis Hanson tries to make some sense out of a very strange 2016:
"Buying a jet-ski on credit is typical redneck stupidity; borrowing $200,000 to send a kid to a tony private university from which he will graduate more ignorant and arrogant than when he enrolled is wise."
.....................................................(at least to us history majors):
"... it is becoming increasingly apparent that progress tends to arise from the evolution of decentralized trial-and-error processes more than from grand schemes launched by planners and revolutionaries."
-Arnold Kling, as excerpted from here
Buddha was not a god. He was a human being like you and me, and he suffered just as we do. If we go to the Buddha with our hearts open, he will look at us, his eyes filled with compassion, and say, "Because there is suffering in your heart, it is possible for you to enter my heart."
-Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
"I don't think there's much point in bemoaning the state of the world unless there is some way you think of to improve it. Otherwise, don't bother writing a book: go an find a tropical beach and lie in the sun."
-Peter Singer, Australian-American philosopher
"...Yet my moral inaction does not prevent me from agreeing wholeheartedly with Singer's snipe against people who moan and groan about all the injustices of the world while never getting out of their comfy chairs to actually do something about those injustices. Call me a hypocrite. In fact, call me the most devious kind of hypocrite - one who is hypocritical about what he calls hypocrisy. But I cannot abide those moaners and groaners who believe that by earnestly and loudly voicing their moral judgments, they will make a particle of difference in the world. They make me want to actively pour a bucket of Third World water over their First World heads."
-Daniel Klein, as excerpted from Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It: Wisdom of the Great Philosophers on How to Live
Too often we apply metrics — that are frankly bullshit — to our lives: job status, money, flashy cars, holidays, blah blah blah. This experiment reminded me that there are more effective indicators for success, by simply keeping a weekly list of ‘good times’.
-Ian Sanders, as excerpted from this post, "Reasons to be cheerful. My good times experiment."
Monday, April 11, 2016
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Reason #86.....................................Affordable real estate. You would be hard pressed to find any house valued in the low $1,000,000s.
I bet I'm beginning to make some parents nervous - here I am, bragging about being a droupout, and unemployable, and about to make a pitch for you to follow your creative dreams, when what parents want is for their children to do well in their field, to make them look good, and maybe also to assemble a tasteful fortune.
But that is not your problem. Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you're going to live it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it, and find out the truth about who you are.
-Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
The century of revolution in the United States after the Civil War was economic, not political, freeing households from an unremitting daily grind of painful manual labor, household drudgery, darkness, isolation, and early death. Only one hundred years later, daily life had changed beyond recognition. Manual labor jobs were replaced by work in air-conditioned environments, housework was increasingly performed by electric appliances, darkness was replaced with light, and isolation was replaced not just by travel, but also by color television images bringing the world into the living room. More important, a newborn infant could expect to live not to age forty-five, but to age seventy-two. The economic revolution of 1870 to 1970 was unique in human history, unrepeatable because so many of its achievements could only happen once.
-Robert J. Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War