Category: quotations

slowly making my way through Postman’s amazing Amusing Ourselves to Death. On the bombardment of isolated “news” stories from around the world:

You may get a sense of what this means by asking yourself another series of questions: What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime, and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO… the CIA…? I shall take liberty of answering for you: You plan to do nothing about them.

You may, of course, cast a ballot for someone who claims to have some plans, as well as the power to act. But this you can do only once every two or four years by giving one hour of your time, hardly a satisfying means of expressing the broad range of opinions you hold. Voting, we might even say, is the next to last refuge of the politically impotent.

The last refuge, of course, is giving your opinion to a pollster, who will get a version of it through a desiccated question, and then submerge it in a Niagara of similar opinions, and convert them into – what else? – another piece of news. Thus, we have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.

“How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg? Four. Saying that a tail is a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

– Abraham Lincoln

Can’t Read Half Enough

I read my Eyes out, and cant read half enough neither. The more one reads the more one sees We have to read.

— John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams, 28 December 1794

More Ancient Than Mountains 

But more wonderful than the lore of old men and the lore of books is the secret lore of ocean. Blue, green, grey, white, or black; smooth, ruffled, or mountainous; that ocean is not silent. All my days have I watched it and listened to it, and I know it well. At first it told to me only the plain little tales of calm beaches and near ports, but with the years it grew more friendly and spoke of other things; of things more strange and more distant in space and in time. Sometimes at twilight the grey vapours of the horizon have parted to grant me glimpses of the ways beyond; and sometimes at night the deep waters of the sea have grown clear and phosphorescent, to grant me glimpses of the ways beneath. And these glimpses have been as often of the ways that were and the ways that might be, as of the ways that are; for ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and the dreams of Time.

— H. P. Lovecraft, The White Ship

Or Else to Die the Death

As [Richard Chancellor] was preparing himself to depart, he fell in company and speech with certain Scottishmen, who began earnestly to dissuade him from the further prosecution of the discovery, by amplifying the dangers which he was to fall into.

But he persuading himself that a man of valour could not commit a more dishonourable part than for fear of danger to avoid and shun great attempts, was nothing at all changed or discouraged, remaining steadfast and immutable in his first resolution: determining either to bring that to pass which was intended, or else to die the death.

Voyages & Discoveries, ch. XIII (1553), Richard Hakluyt

The Argument of the Growing Heap

Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project books and blog, despite the saccharine appearance and self-helpy feel, rarely fail to yield some useful or enlightening wisdom. For example, her recent post about what she calls the “One-Coin Argument“.

She starts from a long-remembered footnote to the 16th century writing of Erasmus, explaining “the argument of the growing heap”:

“If ten coins are not enough to make a man rich, what if you add one coin? What if you add another? Finally, you will have to say that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him so.”

Which she goes on to put in perspective as follows:

I think the “argument of the growing heap” has stuck with me because it captures a paradox that I grapple with in my own life, and which is very significant to happiness: Often, when we consider our actions, it’s clear that any one instance of an action is almost meaningless, yet at the same time, a sum of those actions is very meaningful. Whether we focus on the single coin, or the growing heap, will shape our behavior.

Take going to the gym. You don’t feel like going to the gym, and you say to yourself, “What difference does one day make? It doesn’t matter if I skip today.”

True, any one visit to the gym is inconsequential, but the habit of going to the gym is invaluable. Does one visit to the gym make a person healthy? Ten visits? Eleven? Finally, you have to say that no one can be healthy unless one visit to the gym can make him or her so.

Who Gets To Be a Geek

This rant/beatdown by sci-fi author John Scalzi, Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be, is a couple of months old, but I just came across it. The beatdown itself is maybe a bit much, given the victim’s subsequent appearance in the (extremely long) comments section with claims of being misunderstood, feeling bad about it, being a big fan of Scalzi’s, etc. And Scalzi does destroy him; it’s Truly Epic.

But regardless of whether and how much of a smackdown was deserved or delivered, I thought the central points in praise of geekiness of all kinds were extremely well put. The following, on the difference between hipsters and geeks, is a great sample, but I recommend you read it all.

Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think — and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking — that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing. It’s the major difference between a geek and a hipster, you know: When a hipster sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “Oh, crap, now the wrong people like the thing I love.” When a geek sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “ZOMG YOU LOVE WHAT I LOVE COME WITH ME AND LET US LOVE IT TOGETHER.”

Shaken, Not Stirred

Scene: James Bond endures terrifying turbulence on a flight across the Caribbean, and gets just a teeny bit morbid about it.

You are linked to the ground mechanic’s careless fingers in Nassau just as you are linked to the weak head of the little man in the family saloon who mistakes the red light for the green and meets you head-on, for the first and last time, as you are motoring quietly home from some private sin. There’s nothing to do about it. You start to die the moment you are born. The whole of life is cutting through the pack with death. So take it easy. Light a cigarette and be grateful you are still alive as you suck the smoke deep into your lungs. Your stars have already let you come quite a long way since you left your mother’s womb and whimpered at the cold air of the world. Perhaps they’ll even let you get to Jamaica tonight.

Live And Let Die, Ian Fleming

Not a Vicarious Pleasure

One thing I know for sure about being a fan is this: it is not a vicarious pleasure, despite all appearances to the contrary, and those who say that they would rather do than watch are missing the point. Football is a context where watching becomes doing . . . When there is some kind of triumph, the pleasure does not radiate from the players outwards until it reaches the likes of us at the back of the terraces in a pale and diminished form; our fun is not a watery version of the team’s fun, even though they are the ones that get to score the goals and climb the steps at Wembley to meet Princess Diana. The joy we feel on occasions like this is not a celebration of others’ good fortune, but a celebration of our own; and when there is a disastrous defeat the sorrow that engulfs us is, in effect, self-pity, and anyone who wishes to understand how football is consumed must realise this above all things.

The players are merely our representatives, chosen by the manager rather than elected by us, but our representatives nonetheless . . . I am a part of the club, just as the club is a part of me; and I say this fully aware that the club exploits me, disregards my views, and treats me shoddily on occasions, so my feeling of organic connection is not built on a muddle-headed and sentimental misunderstanding of how professional football works. This Wembley win belonged to me every bit as much as it belonged to Charlie Nicholas or George Graham . . . and I worked every bit as hard for it as they did. The only difference between me and them is that I have put in more hours, more years, more decades than them, and so had a better understanding of the afternoon, a sweeter appreciation of why the sun still shines when I remember it.

Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby

I’ve long scoffed at people who recount their team’s exploits using the personal pronoun “we”. What’s this “we”? You’re not the person out there doing anything, you’re sitting in the stands, or more probably on your couch at home watching TV.

But in my more recent, soccer fanatic years, I’ve had the impulse to speak this way myself, though I’ve fought against it. After reading the excellent passage above, no more. “They” may not understand it, but it truly is “we”.

Alex Morgan sings ‘Girls Were Made To Love and Kiss’

Odd coincidences: coming across this name-drop at roughly the same time that the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team won gold at the London Olympics.

At the time [1970], the club disapproved of perimeter advertising and pre-match DJs, and so we had neither; Chelsea fans may have been listening to the Beatles and the Stones, but at Highbury half-time entertainment was provided by the Metropolitan Police Band and their vocalist, Constable Alex Morgan. Constable Morgan (whose rank never changed throughout his long Highbury career) sang highlights from light operettas and Hollywood musicals: my programme for the Derby game says that he performed Lehár’s ‘Girls Were Made To Love and Kiss’ that afternoon.

Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby

The Party Has Begun

Suddenly one of these gypsies in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and moving her hands like Frisco dances out alone on the canvas platform. A momentary hush; the orchestra leader varies his rhythm obligingly for her and there is a burst of chatter as the erroneous news goes around that she is Gilda Gray’s understudy from the “Follies.” The party has begun.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Hark, Vagrant Advice

Last thing: Because we’re both on the internet right now and these answers are for people who want to know about webcomics, well, someday you are going to run into some jerks who will tell you your comic sucks the worst forever or something. Even though we’re all grown ups and you know better, you’ll probably feel pretty down about it. Remember that usually they really are jerks because jeez, are we on the internet or are we on the internet? That’s where jerks live. You probably already know the weaknesses in your work because you are a Great Artist in the Making and we are all our own worst critics. Remember that on the internet you can go to a place that reviews Citizen Kane and underneath it someone will have written “this is the most overrated piece of shit on planet Earth.” Then remember that whoever said that doesn’t matter. So keep it up! And nuts to the haters, you’re the best.

FAQ/About page for “Hark, a vagrant”, Kate Beaton

Entertainment piracy is not new

I went to the circus and loafed around the back side till the watchman went by, and then dived in under the tent. I had my twenty-dollar gold piece and some other money, but I reckoned I better save it, because there ain’t no telling how soon you are going to need it, away from home and amongst strangers that way. You can’t be too careful. I ain’t opposed to spending money on circuses when there ain’t no other way, but there ain’t no use in WASTING it on them.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain


The boys dressed themselves, hid their accoutrements, and went off grieving that there were no outlaws any more, and wondering what modern civilization could claim to have done to compensate for their loss. They said they would rather be outlaws a year in Sherwood Forest than President of the United States forever.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain

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