Saturday, January 16, 2021
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Monday, January 11, 2021
Can we please lay down our swords of vitriol and venom? Might we pray for peace and it begin with me, each of us? We pray for a peace that surpasses party, personal preferences, and tightly held prejudices.
. . . "my ideal of a scientific man, accepting nothing upon authority, but putting every scientific theory to the severest test. . . . I hope I have learned from Professor Ludwig's precept and practice that the most important lesson for every man of science, not to be satisfied with loose thinking and half-proofs, not to speculate and theorize but to observe closely and carefully."
-William Henry Welch, as quoted in John Barry's The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History
Machiavelli had the good fortune always to be disappointed by the statesmen he met. None, it turned out, measured up to the situation; none was ready to act with the sharpness, decisiveness, and speed that the quality of the times demanded. It was good fortune, in a way, when you consider the moral and literary depths to which intellectuals can descend when they become entranced with a powerful figure. If that figure captures their admiration, their intelligence soon capitulates.
Machiavelli tried to find princes to admire, but when he found none he was forced to invent a Prince on paper.
-Patrick Boucheron, Machiavelli: The Art of Teaching People What To Fear
Sunday, January 10, 2021
To make the decision, Bezos used a mental exercise that would become a famous part of his risk-calculation process. He called it a "regret minimization framework." He would imagine what he would feel when he turned eighty and thought back to the decision. "I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have," he explains. "I knew that when I was eighty, I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed, I wouldn't regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day.
-Walter Isaacson, from the Introduction to Invent & Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos
It is said of Cato that even from his infancy, in his speech, his countenance, and all his childish pastimes, he discovered an inflexible temper, unmoved by any passion, and firm in everything. He was resolute in his purposes, much beyond the strength of his age, to go through with whatever he undertook. He was rough and ungentle toward those that flattered him, and still more unyielding to those who threatened him. It was difficult to excite him to laughter, his countenance seldom relaxed even into a smile; he was not quickly or easily provoked to anger, but if once incensed, he was no less difficult to pacify.
When he began to learn, he proved dull, and slow to apprehend, but of what he once received, his memory was remarkably tenacious. And such in fact, we find generally to be the course of nature; men of fine genius are readily reminded of things, but those who receive with most pains and difficulty, remember best; every new thing they learn, being, as it were burnt and branded in on their minds. Cato's natural stubbornness and slowness to be persuaded may also have made it more difficult for him to be taught. For to learn is to submit to have something done to one; and persuasion comes soonest to those who have least strength to resist it.
-Plutarch's Lives, Translated by John Dryden, from the chapter, Cato The Younger
Machiavelli is a hunter, always on the lookout for the mechanism that moves human passions and acts on the lives of others. Where is politics to grasped if not among ordinary people, when differences of opinion arise? At the tavern are "a butcher, a miller, and two kiln tenders. With these men I dawdle all day playing cards and backgammon, which results in a thousand quarrels with streams of spiteful and wounding words."
At nightfall, finally, it is time for Machiavelli to pay a visit to his invisible friends who live in ancient books. They died a long time ago, but they sustain us. They, too, can be asked for news. But for that, you need to go to a little trouble, make yourself presentable, to join solemnly in conversation with the men of antiquity:
When the evening comes, I return home and go into my study. At the door I take off my everyday clothes, covered with mud and dirt, and don garments of court and palace. Now garbed fittingly I step into the ancient courts of men of antiquity, where, received kindly, I partake of food that is for me alone and for which I was born, where I am not ashamed to converse with them and ask them the reasons for their actions. And they in their full humanity answer me. For four hours I feel no tedium and forget every anguish, not afraid of poverty, nor terrified of death.
-Patrick Boucheron, Machiavelli: The Art Of Teaching People What To Fear
In Faust, Goethe wrote,
'Tis writ, "In the beginning was the Word."/ I Pause, to wonder what is here inferred./The Word I cannot set supremely high:/A new translation I will try./I read, if by the spirit, I am taught,/This sense, "In the beginning was the Thought. . . ."
Upon "the Word" rested authority, stability, and law; "the Thought" roiled and ripped apart and created—without knowledge or concern of what it would create. . . .
If a society does set Goethe's "Word . . . supremely high," if it believes it knows the truth and that it need not question its beliefs, then that society is more likely to enforce rigid decrees, and less likely to change. If it leaves room for doubt about the truth, it is more likely to be free and open.