Brevity is the soul of wit.
Shakespeare 1564 - 1616
An infinite God would not have stopped at a finite universe.
Giordano Bruno D. 1600
A statement, if he actually made it, that got him burned at the stake by one of those Popes with the heavenly names. (I think it was Clement VIII, although Bruno may have been arrested by Innocent IX). Giordano is one of my heroes. I really need to do serious research into his story; I may have a significant dollop of fiction about him in my brain packets. He was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and John Crowley, the fantasy writer, writes about him about movingly. And I have a dream like connection with this as well. It goes like this: I was working on the Washington Post crossword and I came across a series of interrelated clues. “Romain de Tirtoff’s nom de peinture, which I translated as Tirtoff’s pen name, and “ [his] genre. Well I was able to work out the genre part using the verticals and it appeared to be “art deco” and the nom was apparently “Erte” which I sort of remembered, and Chris confirmed. Then the fun began. I went to the dictionary to double check and there was no entry for Art Deco, Tirtoff, Erte, deco, or anything even close. I tried two other dictionaries including the OED; nothing. I tried two encyclopedias; nothing. I tried two Art history books; nothing. Now for the strange part:
John Crowely has written several books with the premise that the world (the universe) is not fixed, but may, in an instant change. You may awaken one morning with memories of things that no longer exist, actually never existed in the accepted history of your world or conversely, awaken with “new” memories of things you somehow don’t believe that you believed them yesterday (it’s convoluted). You may have these memories as shared “hallucinations” with a few others, but there is no way to prove or disprove their existence. In Crowely’s book, when Giordano (AH HA! I SEE!) conceives the universe to be infinite; it becomes so. As I struggled with the “Erte/art deco” disappearance, I felt that a universe change had happened to me. I can of course deal more than nicely with the “disappearance” of French words in cross word puzzles; I could also deal nicely with the disappearance of French words in general, and even with the disappearance of France, it’s people, history, products (have you ever tried to clean a Cuisanart, or heard Click and Clack talk about Renault and Peugeot?), language, and culture (really, this is way too strong; but this IS a rant). But the disappearance of the words “art deco and Erte” out of all the other words that I recall bothers me.
Then I just “googled”it. There it all was, just like it had always been there. Tirtoff and Erte and art deco… So why couldn’t I find it yesterday?
If it disappears again and this essay doesn’t exist tomorrow; I'll know that Crowely’s premise is true. Or at least that I may have awakened one more time from a dream (what happens if you awaken more or fewer times than you’ve slept?). Now, if only France would fade.....
Now are the ancient times... Not those which we account ancient by computation backward from ourselves.
Cena di Cenere 1584
I like this because of the twist of perspective. Certainly the world is older now than it was long ago. So why does now seen “new”? Which way is time really “moving”? But what of the past? I recall a fiction where a time traveler went back, and of course he was struck by the ancientness of the great trees and the untrammeled wilderness, the undammed rivers and unexplored lands. They were all so much older than the works of man; they were part of the “ancient times”. Things were newer than now but seemed old.
Such truth as opposeth no man’s profit nor pleasure is to all men welcome.
Thomas Hobbs 1588 - 1679
Now this may be something new. The spirit of rebellion is nicely separated from the passion of the mob. So called revolutionaries that rabble rouse do so among their supporters; they preach to the choir. But stand up at an unsympathetic forum and state your case. That is very hard to do. I know, I’ve chickened out myself. I recall a public hearing about bear hunting regulations where one could offer written comments and/or speak. I wrote my comments for the record but the facilitator called my name for an oral presentation of what I’d written (I suspected that he’d made the “mistake” on purpose.) And I looked around for the guy that they called on just like everybody else, wondering why he didn’t get up and speak his piece. Live to fight another day, I say (“Discretion is the better part of valor.” - Shakespeare again). I’m not going to hang a “kick me” shingle out unless it counts for something. My written comments were going into the official record, regardless as to whether I spoke them out loud or not. Screw the facilitator if he wanted me to be recognized by the 90 % majority of bear hunters in the room. And even better, spoken during his trial for treason, John Brown:
Had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends... every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.
John Brown 1800- 1859
Also by Hobbs (and I’d love to chat with Waterson about what Thomas Hobbs said that so inspired him to name his tiger Hobbs...):
No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worse of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
Certainly short, probably somewhat solitary, if you consider any group less than a thousand to be small... But the rest? I believe that Hobbs is showing his adherence to the theory of “Original Stupidity”. I’ve read conflicting theories about our stoneage ancestors. It may be anti intuitive but Marvin Harris postulates that given low human population densities (less than one per square mile) hunter gatherer cultures have to “labor” less than two hours a day for their sustenance, every day, for their life times. It’s agriculture that increases population density and increases the work hours per day necessary for survival. And as civilization and technology increase so does the work day. Certainly, the average work week today supports the theory. All these labor saving devices and we work 45 to 50 hours a week to pay for them.
Am I working more hours today in order to pay someone else to do the things that I could do for myself, if only I didn’t have to work so much?
(Although I probably got the gist of this from The Whole Earth Catalog.
I think therefore I am.”
Renee Decartes 1596 - 1650
Now this may be meaningful in light of existential debates of reality. But it’s also something we took for granted both before and after the question of existence was raised. It’s one of those answers that isn’t necessary until the question is asked. Reminds me of the bureaucracy. There was always some dumb-dumb willing to ask for a “clarification” of some policy and it always resulted in the loss of any common sense, discriminating application of the rules. The “by the book” answer was always worse than what everyone had been applying, even the bosses. So even thSome people have missed out on the Anonymous Truisms: “Obtaining forgiveness is always easier than getting permission.” And “No good deed goes unpunished.” And where else should we put Murphy's Law (and corollaries) but right here:
What ever can go wrong, will go wrong.
Dropped bread lands butter side down.
The level of interest in a subject is proportional to it’s proximity to the corner of the map.
Weather channel talking heads can’t remember to stand in front of the Atlantic Ocean.
Old people like to give good advice as solace for no longer being able to provide bad examples.
Everyone complains of his memory, and no one complains of his judgment.
There is great skill in knowing how to conceal one’s skill.
Francois La Rochfoucauld 1613 - 1680
This is the inspiration for the “Columbo” program. And it really does work. Nothing puts a liar into a more dangerous position of hubris than to have him believe that he’s talking to an idiot. At DEQ we ran up against a politically powerful, millionaire businessman that believed that “we couldn’t find our own butts with both hands…” and that he could “squash us [our inspectors] like a bug”. When all was said and done, by allowing him to believe that he was right, resulted in the man using white out to cook his books for all the world to see. We gave him the confidence to be as much of a jerk as he wanted to be. He obliged. He may be a confident, politically powerful rich man, but he’s also a convicted felon (fraud through the US mail).
This is the inspiration for the “Columbo” program. And it really does work. Nothing puts a liar into a more dangerous position of hubris than to have him believe that he’s talking to an idiot. At DEQ we ran up against a politically powerful, millionaire businessman that believed that “we couldn’t find our own butts with both hands…” and that he could “squash us [our inspectors] like a bug”. When all was said and done, by allowing him to believe that he was right, resulted in the man using white out to cook his books for all the world to see. We gave him the confidence to be as much of a jerk as he wanted to be. He obliged. He may be a confident, politically powerful rich man, but he’s also a convicted felon (convicted of fraud through the US mail).