Past Quotes of the Week/Month
"You may be right that 'you have to bend morality into a
pretzel to fabricate a reason for an offensive war as a
Christian or a Buddhist,' but I think it’s obvious that humans
are extremely good at bending their moral precepts into
pretzels to fabricate reasons for whatever they want to do
anyway. Even a brief historical or psychological study will
make it clear that you should never underestimate the power of
"It’s like the oft-repeated observation that “we need to have
a national conversation on $ISSUE” actually means “I need to
talk, and you need to listen”.
"But being an
independent scientist, it is much easier to say you made a
mistake than if you are a government department or an
employee or anything like that."
(James Lovelock, originator
of the "Gaia Hypothesis," on his mistake in overestimating
the effects of climate change. Interview.
" I also thought it was a good idea to move on and
let others pursue the work in this area. You don't want to get
stuck in a position where you're essentially defending your
(David Card, explaining one
reason he did not do more work on minimum wages. I agree. It's
the principle I describe as "fire and forget.")
Mostly, the NSA has spent $250,000,000 per year on a program
of sabotage, through which they have inveigled proprietary
hardware and software companies, as well as standards bodies,
into deliberately introducing back-doors into their
technology. This is much more frightening than the idea that
the NSA has made profound mathematical breakthroughs -- such
breakthroughs might stay within the NSA's walls for years or
decades. But a program of systematic sabotage against common
crypto tools means that anyone of sufficient skill and
attentiveness is likely to discover and exploit those same
back-doors -- that means that organized crime, totalitarian
states, and other entities even less savory than the NSA
should now be assumed to have full access to the financial
system, government databases, and other sensitive systems.
(Cory Doctorow post
on boing boing. I particularly liked "even less savory than
"Krugman, whether he
likes it or not, has to become like the Limbaugh’s, etc. that
I’m sure he would claim to loathe, in order to succeed in his
latest career move"
(Commenter on a post
discussing a piece by Krugman)
in the world that social psychologists see women or
minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our
minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr.
Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned
centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are
underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100,
suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate
(From a NY Times article
on political discrimination among academics)
Now it is not very
hard to find out, if you spend a little while reading in
evolution, that Gould is the John Kenneth Galbraith of his
subject. That is, he is a wonderful writer who is beloved
[sic] by literary intellectuals and lionized by the media
because he does not use algebra or difficult jargon. Unfortunately, it appears that he
avoids these sins not because he has transcended his
colleagues but because he does does not seem to understand
what they have to say; and his own descriptions of
what the field is about - not just the answers, but even the
questions - are consistently misleading. His impressive
literary and historical erudition makes his work seem profound
to most readers, but informed readers eventually conclude that
there's no there there.
It is, perhaps, a fact
provocative of sour mirth that the Bill of Rights was designed
trustfully to prohibit forever two of the favorite crimes of
all known governments: the seizure of private property without
adequate compensation and the invasion of the citizen's
liberty without justifiable cause.... It is a fact provocative
of mirth yet more sour that the execution of these
prohibitions was put into the hands of courts, which is to
say, into the hands of lawyers, which is to say, into the
hands of men specifically educated to discover legal excuses
for dishonest, dishonorable and anti-social acts.
"Crutchley was about as much convinced by this
assurance as were the Allies, on being informed by Mr.
Keynes, after the conclusion of the Peace Treaty, that they
might whistle for their indemnities, since the money was not
there. It is impossible for human nature to believe that
money is not there. It seems so much more likely that the
money is there and only needs bawling for."
Dorothy Sayers, Busman's Honeymoon, suggested by my wife after
"Remember, we have no enemies, only opponents,"
Mitch Daniels at CPAC
"Reality is that which, when you
stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
"When you're young, you worry that people will steal your
ideas. When you're old, you worry that they won't."
"Because in the Society, real wealth is the ability to say
"I have an idea" and have people agree to work to support
it. The rarest coin of the realm is when other people
give you chunks of their leisure time.
Losing the confidence that
others have in you, that you can make things fun for them,
is SCA Bankruptcy."
Schuldenfrei, aka Baron Tibor, talking about the Society for
His point applies more generally.)
"I think that probably everyone
is aware that this period of time - that period between 1.8
and just over two million years [ago] - is one of the most
poorly represented in the entire early hominid fossil
( Professor Lee Berger of
the University of the Witwatersrand speaking to BBC News
about a new hominid fossil discovery).
For a very restricted definition of "everyone"
When persons are presumably robbers and all their
property is presumably obtained by robbery, because they are
robbers by occupation, such as tax collectors and bandits,
it is forbidden to benefit from them since the presumption
is that their occupation involves robbery.
(qualified a little later in
the text, however)
Why is it that it is generally assumed that the owner abandons
hope of recovery in the case of an Israelite brigand but not
in the case of a heathen? Because the owner knows that heathen
courts reclaim property from a robber on the basis of
circumstantial evidence and conjecture, even though there are
no witnesses that he committed robbery.
Mishneh Torah, Sefer
Nezikin, The Book of Torts, Hyman Klein tr.)
Zakaria is incorrect to suppose that these traits separate
Gov. Palin from other candidates for high political
office. Calls by Senators McCain
for cracking down on "speculators" are full of classic and
wrongheaded catchphrases, as is Sen.
Obama's vocal skepticism about free trade. Gov.
Palin is merely less skilled in passing off inanities and
claptrap as profundities.
Don Boudreaux at Cafe
experience, badly conducted regression analysis is the norm
rather than the exception in social science and legal
(Analytical Methods for Lawyers by Jackson et. al.)
"The biggest immigration problem we got in America is a government
that's not doing its job," says Armey. "I don't like illegal
immigration, but I'll tell you something: I don't run stop lights.
But you put me out on the road at two o'clock in the morning on
the way to the all-night drugstore to get medicine for my babies,
and you give me a stop light that is stuck on red, and no traffic
in sight, and I'm gonna go through that red light."
(Dick Armey, ex majority leader, currently
head of Freedomworks,
in defense of illegal immigrants. The whole talk.)
"If the human race
doesn't get wiped out by robots, nanotech replicators, or an
invading alien species then at some point we are going to need to
do large scale climate engineering to compensate for future
periods of intense volcanic activity."
(Randall Parker of FuturePundit)
"I've written five chapters in the last month.
Unfortunately, all of them were Chapter 11."
author Patricia Wrede on rec.arts.sf.composition)
"Life isn't a rehearsal"
(Jacey Bedford in a post on rec.arts.sf.composition.
But she thinks she probably stole it from someone else.)
"For reasons that are
pragmatic, scientific, demographic, economic, political, social,
emotional, and secularly spiritual, I am committed to the notion
that both individual fulfillment and the ecological balance of
life on this planet are best served by dying when our inherent
biology decrees that we do. I am equally committed to making that
age as close to our biologically probable maximum of approximately
120 years as modern biomedicine can achieve, and also to efforts
at decreasing and compressing the years of morbidity and
disabilities now attendant on extreme old age. But I cannot
imagine that the consequences of doing a single thing beyond these
efforts will be anything but baleful, not only for each of us as
an individual, but for every other living creature in our world."
(Dr. Sherwin Nuland, in an
interesting, and in some ways sympathetic, article
de Grey, a leading figure in the attempt to defeat aging.
I will be grateful to anyone who can offer me a plausible
defense of Dr. Nuland's position in the strong form in which he
puts it—absolutely in favor of using science to extend life to
its current biological maximum, absolutely opposed to going one
step beyond that.)
merely took this process of reasoning one step further. They
rightly judged that if youth, barbarism, and lack of education
were criteria of a glorious future, they had an even more
powerful hope of it than the Germans. Consequently the vast
outpouring of German romantic rhetoric about the unexhausted
forces of the Germans and the unexpended German language with
its pristine purity and the young, unwearied German nation,
directed as it was against the 'impure', Latinised, decadent
western nations, was received in Russia with understandable
(Isaiah Berlin, "The Birth of
the Russian Intelligentsia.")
"A contract," said my B-law
professor back when, "should be written under the
assumption that you and the nice person you're dealing with will
both be hit by a truck as you leave the building
arm-in-arm after signing it, and your heirs will hate each
other's guts." I have always considered
this an extremely wise bit of advice.
(Patricia Wrede, on rec.arts.sf.composition)
There is unembarrassed talk in Washington of a future
under control, in which sailors will undergo meaningful
background checks and will be supplied with unforgeable,
biometrically verifiable IDs by honest, appropriately equipped,
and cooperative governments. Panama, for instance, will vouch
for the integrity of, say, an Indonesian deckhand working on a
ship operated by a Cayman Island company on behalf of an
anonymous Greek. This is a vision so disconnected from reality
that it might raise questions about the sanity of the United
(The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos and Crime
by William Langewiesche)
"If only they'd stop changing the date every day, I'd have a
much easier time remembering it."
Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your
parrot to the town gossip.
"IN AMERICA, WE have a two-party
system," a Republican congressional staffer is supposed to have
told a visiting group of Russian legislators some years ago.
"There is the stupid party. And there is the evil party. I am
proud to be a member of the stupid party."
He added: "Periodically, the two parties get together and do
something that is both stupid and evil. This is
From a column
by Peter Brimelow, the rest of which I disagree with.
The story has also been told
Stanton Evans; I don't know who originated it.
I don't think there was any Arab in the seventies
who did not want Saddam Hussein to have an atomic weapon. They
wanted him to have military parity. Israel had atomic weapons.
The Arabs wanted an Arab country to have atomic weapons. Iraq
was the head of the pack and therefore all Arabs supported
Saddam Hussein. I have news for you: I don't think there are
many Arabs at this moment in time--you can exclude me out of
this statement at this moment in time--who do not want Saddam
Hussein to have an atomic weapon now. They don't look at it as
weapons of mass destruction. They look at it as transfer of
technology. That the Arabs have done it. The Arabs have joined
the modern world. That's the way they see it. And that pleases
them. The fact that Saddam Hussein eliminates people, kills
innocent men, uses a chemical weapon against his own people, is
actually in a way secondary to this image. The Iraqi people are
concerned with the latter. They suffer because of the latter. But
the Arab people outside of Iraq do not suffer because Saddam
Hussein eliminates people, because he doesn't eliminate them.
He eliminates Iraqis.
Iraqi journalist Saïd K. Aburish, in a webbed interview.
Of the mothers who commented on the baby's resemblance to
one of the parents, 81 percent indicated that the baby was more
similar to the father ...
- Subjects [in an experiment where they were
shown pictures of three adults and the child of one of them]
correctly matched one-year-old children with their actual
fathers 49.2 percent of the time. ... In contrast, subjects
were not able to correctly match one-year-olds with their
biological mothers at a rate greater than chance.
(David Buss, Evolutionary Psychology,
discussing ways in which
- humans deal with the problem of paternal
"The politician will make the good decision only when there
are no other options left. "
- We're not fighting for slaves.
- Most of us never owned slaves and never expect to,
- It takes money to buy a slave and we're most of us poor,
- But we won't lie down and let the North walk over us
- About slaves or anything else.
Confederate soldiers in John Brown' Body,
a book length poem by Stephen Vincent Benét. On my web page
during the Iraq war.
... place at the apex of your order of creation a fiction. If
you are born in the Middle Ages, call it God. If you live now,
call it the Ecological Balance. Identify a perturbation in nature,
then interpret it as a warning that we are living wrongly and
should change our ways. Finally, earn yourself status, a pulpit, a
Commons cheer, a living, or a research grant by elaborating on the
perturbation and enumerating the ways we should change. ...
Note that in every case the voice crying 'I told you so' has an
ulterior motive. Science is wheeled on just as God was once
wheeled on, as corroborating evidence (from a superior source) for
something upon which the voice of moral reproof wanted to insist
anyway. Many and loud have been the voices crying that Aids was
God's way of punishing an unnatural practice. One day, perhaps, an
inoculation against HIV may be discovered. A bottle of champagne,
then, for whoever cites me evidence of one of those voices crying
that the breakthrough is God's way of telling us to bugger each
Matthew Parris, from a (webbed) column
"...Then in the midst of it all came a bulletin that Ecuador
had declared war on Japan. ... . It was an absurd thought that
Ecuador had come to the rescue of the United States of America, it
was like a bad line in a play, and yet what was happening to my
emotions had no least connection with either thinking or
playwriting. Something within me burst, and I ached with my
gratitude to Ecuador, I ached with my love for my country, I ached
with horror at the Japanese deception, I ached with sickness for
the American loss. ...
Robert Ardry, The Territorial Imperative,
discussing his and his contemporaries' reaction to Pearl
...The generation that was to respond to the last man on Pearl
Harbor's dawn had been conditioned to the last man to believe that
wars accomplish nothing. Had America been an enormous laboratory
and had we all been albino rats, no more elegant experiment could
have been devised to test the powers of social conditioning.
Perhaps its only equal has been that of the Soviet Union in its
total effort half a century long to induce the Russian farmer to
put his heart into crops raised on land not his own. Ours was as
total in its way, and it lasted for twenty-three years, and it
failed in a dawn's bad hour. Yet human gullibility is such that a
generation who survived the experiment will instruct another
generation that patriotism is something we are taught.
"Young man, there's a great deal of ruin in a
Adam Smith, responding to a student who told
him that a recent British reversal in the American Revolution
would be the ruin of England
The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you've gotten
the fish you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because
of the rabbit. Once you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the
snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you've gotten the
meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has
forgotten words so I can talk with him?
Chuang-tzu, quoted in The Age of
Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil.
"Since there is a limit to how brilliant you can be and want
to go to law school ..."
(Judge Richard Posner, The Problematics
of Moral and Legal Theory--a very entertaining book)
"Yet because the woman's spheres were largely removed from
contact with the outside market economy, she had little leverage
upon her husband. … The roles she was obliged to perform in
relation to him and the outside world were all inferior,
subjugated ones, in which the autonomy she enjoyed within the
domestic sphere did her no good. Only when wives gained direct
contact with the market economy--by means of cottage industry
and later by means of factory work--did they seize hold of a
solid lever with which to pry themselves loose from these
(about French women in the 18th c.):
(Shorter, Edward, The Making of the
But I eventually came to realize that working biologists regard
Gould much the same way that economists regard Robert Reich:
talented writer, too bad he never gets anything right.
(Paul Krugman on Stephen Jay Gould. For
justification, click here.)
"What this new technique, and so many others like it, tell
us is that there is nothing special about human reproduction,
nor any other aspect of human biology, save one. The specialness
of humanity is found only between our ears; if you go looking
for it anywhere else, you'll be disappointed."
Mouse geneticist Lee Silver, responding to a
bioethicist concerned that a technique that might make it
possible to produce human sperm from the testes of an animal
challenged "the specialness of humanity." From Remaking
The causal world imposes a nonarbitrary distinction between
detecting in one's visual array the faint outline of a partly
camouflaged stalking predator and not detecting it because of
alternative interpretative procedures. Nonpropagating designs
are removed from the population, whether they believe in naive
realism or that everything is an arbitrary social construction.
(Tooby and Cosmides, in The Adapted
Mind, Barkow, Cosmides and Tooby, editors )
In the thirteenth century, movement was to be noted everywhere:
there was general prosperity and the population was increasing by
leaps and bounds; popular culture was effervescing in bubbles that
researchers are only now beginning to pick up. Then, in the late
Middle Ages, a long term regression set in (for reasons much too
complicated even to suggest in this short book), and a period of
economic, demographic, and cultural retrenchment began which was
to continue until the early nineteenth century. It is this epoch
of decline and stagnation in the grand sweep of Western life that
one might call "traditional." During this epoch the popular values
and patterns of doing cultural business were nailed into place
that subsequent folklorists would think had begun with the Druids.
Shorter, Edward, The Making of the
Modern Family, pp. 20-21
"Had natural selection not worked this way--had it instead
harnessed human intelligence so that our pursuit of fitness
was entirely conscious and calculated--then life would be very
different. Husbands and wives would, for example, spend no
time having extramarital affairs with contraception; they
would either scrap the contraception or scrap the sex."
(Robert Wright, The Moral Animal)
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