Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Southern Living

We just walked the 3/8ths of a mile of our driveway to get the mail and paper (neither were there). But we did clear the snow from the CRV parked at the bottom near the county road and the sun tomorrow will take care of the rest. The inadequately plowed trench through the 30 some inches of snow had started to drift over as the 40 mph winds continued to gust across Western Virginia. Ah! Winter! Those who live in southern climes, like Virginia have forgotten what it’s like. We here have also been allowed to forget what it’s like to live in winter. The last few years I haven’t really worn a coat; if I’m working outside, I generate enough heat to the point that if I wear a hat I sweat. If I’m not working, I’m on my way to somewhere and the time not spent in a car (even one not warmed up yet) isn’t a hardship. But in this kind of weather when I go out, I have to be protected.
If I want to see, I have to wear my glasses (with strap so I don’t lose them). Then there’s a tube "scarf" open on both ends so it can be a scarf or a balaclava or baklava (one's a dessert and the other is head and face protection....) or even an almost full face mask; a very flexible item. So then there’s a hat with a brim needed to keep the hood out of my eyes. If I’m running the tractor, I need ear protection muffs and they have to be over the balaclava and hat but under the hood. Then maybe I want to take my camera so there’s a strap around my neck too. Then I can put on my gloves if I don’t have to fish around for tractor keys or tools or maybe a pocket knife. Well, That was easy! I can’t tell you the number of times that I have had to completely start the dressing process over because I’ve forgotten something, or forgotten to do something before I go out....

But then after a time out in the wind and blowing snow you come back in, your glasses fog up and with the accumulated snow starting to melt you have to get out of all this stuff. Do you remember each and every item? In the correct order? HA! You end up thrashing your way out of the clothing, maybe dropping your glasses or camera or maybe just pirouetting around in circles trying to get your camera strap out from under the hood you’re no longer wearing up over your hat. All the while leaving puddles on the floor. Ah! Winter!

In the summer you can go naked. Ah! Summer!
As a pessimist I have always said that winter is better because if you’re cold you can always put on more clothing, but in the summer if you’re too hot you can only get just so much naked.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Truth, genius, and satire

In calm weather every man’s a pilot.
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
John Ray 1628 - 1705

Truth often suffers more by the heat of its defenders than from the argument of its foes.
William Penn 1644 - 1718

When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.
Jonathan Swift 1667 - 1745

If you haven’t read it, The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O’Toole is just great. I appreciate humor so much but the only kind I seem to be capable of generating is very dark and cynical. Unrelated here, but I encourage everyone I meet to read the books in the “Disk World” fantasy series by Terry Pratchett. The books are indescribable (except to say that they incorporate EVERY fantasy and gothic creature you can imagine – pretty much all just trying to get along with each other. Not cynical at all; and I know that book jacket “blurbers” are known for hyperbole, but I have heard Pratchett described as the greatest satirist since Swift in more than one place.) The books are loaded with wry humor, bald humor, wisdom and insight into the human condition and some of the best little sayings that anyone has ever penned – quotable stuff. And the good news is that if you like them, there are over thirty! Jonathan Swift really had a way with words; he was the consummate master of satire, and even about satire said:

Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.

Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.

But Solon (638 - 559 BC) has already said; Laws are like spiders’ webs, which stand firm when any light, yielding object falls upon them, while a larger thing breaks through them and escapes.

Obviously Swift has read his Classics. We forgive him his plagiary; he certainly improved on the original. Anyway, I saw the truth of this at DEQ. We’d hound the little guys but especially during the politicized periods, (I’ll not be coy; DURING GEORGE ALLEN’S TENURE) management was instructed to let the big guys pollute to their hearts’ content. And somehow when the newly appointed CEO’s own business was found to have an illegal discharge; he was allowed to fix it without penalty (or publicity). In fact, no one outside of the Agency ever heard about it. The inspector (same one dealing with the felon mentioned under Francois La Rochoucauld) was told that if she wanted to keep her job, no one outside the Agency was going to ever hear about it. So I have kept mum; we’re both outside the Agency now. What a jerk George Allen was! The best thing that ever happened in Virginian politics (and for the USA) was that Allen lost his bid for re-election to the US Senate (and stepping stone for a run for the Presidency of the USA if you believe the so called conservative pundits). My god! Allen makes George W. Bush look smart! Back to Swift:

Every man desires to live long, but no man would be old.

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ‘em;
And so on ad infinitum.
Thus every poet, in his kind,
Is bit by him that comes behind.

The sight of you is good for sore eyes.

He was a bold man that first eat an oyster.

She wears her clothes, as if they were thrown on her with a pitchfork.

I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl on the surface of the earth.

To that, Shakespeare would have said; Well said, that was laid on with a trowel.

Swift could be so cruel; but you get the impression that his victims deserved it.

Truth lies within a little certain compass, but error is immense.
Henry St. John 1678 - 1751

All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Second it is violently opposed. Third it is accepted as being self-evident.
Schopenhauer 1788 - 1860

Those not present are always wrong.
Phillipe Nericault 1680 - 1754

I take back what I said about the French. I wouldn’t want to imagine a world without Voltaire, (soon to be heard from) Balzac, Pasture, La Place, Curie, and many many others. It’s just that the French language so messes up crossword puzzles! Next we enter the period of clear speech and lucid thought setting behind the roiling and clouded horizon of grandiose and exalted oratory....

And what are these fluxions? The velocities of evanescent increments. And what are these same evanescent increments? They are neither finite quantities, nor quantities infinitely small, nor yet nothing. May we not call them ghosts of departed quantities?
George Berkeley 1685 - 1753

Some adage, huh? I wonder whether George knew what it was he was talking about. Some statements are crafted in the hope that they will be quoted and “well said” has gone through some fashion changes. We will return to this form of “clear speech” shortly. Remember that these guys are not trying to be funny. I am amazed to read some Plutarch and then pick up a Victorian novel. What were they (the Victorians) thinking of?

Blessed is he that expects nothing for he will not be disappointed.
Alexander Pope 1688 - 1744

Useless laws weaken the necessary laws.
Charles de Secondar 1689 - 1755

This one has seen application. The old Soviet Union always made sure that everybody had to break at least one law, that way the state could “legally” come after those they wanted to silence any time they wanted. Get picked up for hoarding toilet paper and never be seen again, in reality because you said something perfectly legal that somebody in power didn’t like. And we’ve got the sodomy laws in the US. Fortunately, (or unfortunately depending on your sexual persuasion) they’re only being abused against the homosexuals at present. But the good news is that they’re there waiting to be abused any time the government feels it needs them. And their use is being expanded. In a Christian Theocracy, suspicion of sodomy even between married couples may soon be a valuable law enforcement tool. After all, the most consistent element of all religions is the one that declares: “You must believe and act as I tell you to; God talks to ME.” Just recently, one of the southern states declared all “sexual toys” to be obscene and therefore, those who manufacture, sell, or own them are committing offenses against the State. Against the State? What next? Viagra? These holey that thou crackers better watch out; with the kind of profits that Pfizer Inc. is pulling down, they might just buy Alabama and dissolve the legislature. I am so sorry; I don’t have the exact quote here now but, our esteemed jurist Antonin Scalia has officially opined that whether or not YOU masturbate is a legitimate concern of the Federal Government! I’ll look this one up; it’s too precious to be left unreferenced. Antonin is a wingnut of the highest order. I also want to research a few of his more… “Creative” rulings that he has shared with planet earth since I first wrote this piece. This guy is “conservative”? What the hell is conservative about invading the bedroom? OH! I forgot. If you are right; you can’t be wrong. And I may have said it elsewhere but the genesis of “The end justifies the means.” comes from the belief in GOD. Hard as it is for me; I’ll try to be a little more positive for a while. See Horace Walpole below.

Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.
Philip Dormer Stanhope 1694 - 1773

Surely this has been said prior to Stanhope. I think I like the modern variation;

If you don’t have time to do right the first time, when are you going have time to do it over?

It is better to risk saving a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.
Voltaire 1694 - 1778

Unfortunately, no one pointed this out to the DEA, who up until a very recent Supreme Court decision, was confiscating “drug money” property prior to the convictions of the accused. Many of the “accused” were later found to be innocent, but their property had not only been confiscated, but had already been sold at auction as well. Coincidentally, the Law enforcement establishments doing this got to keep the money. Just who is addicted to drugs here? I say that the judicial system is addicted to drug money. If marijuana wasn’t illegal, it would cost about 25 cents a pound (about like tomatoes in the summer; it’s easier to grow and keeps better). You couldn’t force drug “pushers” to deal in it. No money for them; no money for the cops when they catch ‘em. So farmers or pot smokers would grow their own and wouldn’t even encounter the guys selling the heroin and the cocaine. We wouldn’t want that situation; one stop shopping is the backbone of modern commerce. And by the way, penalties for growing your own pot so that you don’t support the “pushers” are an order of magnitude greater than those imposed for buying it from Central and South American murderers. The narco thugs of the world are on their knees in gratitude to the American Government’s drug policy. And speaking of censorship, the definition of crime, and the debate about both, Voltaire also said:

I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Had he said and done nothing more that this he still would have achieved more than 99% of all the people that ever lived.

Common sense is not so common.
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.

And just maybe we did. Now this next guy is a true original. Search in vain, you will not find antecedent for his statements. They are original and perfect pearls for the ages.

All along the untrodden paths of the future I can see the footprints of an unseen hand.
Sir Boyle Roche ca. 1700?

Now don’t you wish you’d said that? Sir Roche has the Yogi Berra gene and he just knew that he was going to be quoted. I believe that he was speaking to parliament concerning the poor when he said:

Little children who could neither walk nor talk were running in the streets cursing their Maker.
Many thousands of them were destitute of even the goods they possessed.
I don’t see, Sir, why we should put ourselves out of the way to serve posterity. What has posterity ever done for us?

We’ll have to wait a long time, until Dan Quayle and George W. Bush, before we hear finer words of wisdom than these. But the comparison to Yogi isn’t fair. Yogi, we’ll see when we get to him, makes a sort of “meta-sense” that’s hard to define but none the less is profound in its own way. Bush and Quayle just babbled. We have to thank Bush for one great achievement; he proved that ANYONE can be president.