Sunday, May 31, 2009

Purpose, 1776 edition

To do something to instruct, but more to undeceive, the timid and admiring student:--to excite him to place more confidence in his own strength, and less in the infallibility of great names:--to help him to emancipate his judgment from the shackles of authority:--to let him see that the not understanding a discourse may as well be the writer's fault as the reader's:--to teach him to distinguish between shewy language and sound sense:--to warn him not to pay himself with words:--to shew him that what may tickle the ear, or dazzle the imagination, will not always inform the judgment...

--From A Fragment on Government--

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Eternal things, 1815 edition

paperasserie - red tape; massive amounts of paperwork.

I went looking with Google Book Search and this was the earliest use I could find:

...cette éternelle paperasserie...

...this eternal paperwork...

Even though we can get rid of the paper, we can't seem to get rid of the paperwork. Perhaps it really is eternal.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Simple truths, 1776 edition

Now and then, it is true, one error may be driven out, for a time, by an opposite error: one piece of nonsense by another piece of nonsense: but for barring the door effectually and for ever against all error and all nonsense, there is nothing like the simple truth.

--From A Fragment on Government--

Sometimes I feel as if simple truths are like a feather blowing in a hurricane. When you find them you have to hold on for dear life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Kindred spirits, 1776 edition

For my part, if ever I stand forth and sing the song of eulogy to great men, it shall be not because they occupy their station, but because they deserve it.

--From A Fragment on Government--

Sometimes you just have to agree completely with what someone else says.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A different way of thinking, 1776 edition is their duty to obey, just so long as it is their interest, and no longer.

--From A Fragment on Government--

This is Bentham talking about the social contract, where citizens agree to follow the rules set down by their government so long as their rulers govern well. But we don't seem to talk about our system of government in terms of a social contract anymore. Instead we talk about rights and responsibilities.

Which got me to asking: do rights come with responsibilities, as we are always told? Yes, but I suspect the idea is something of a fraud. When we talk about rights and responsibilities we are only thinking about getting citizens to conform to the rule of law. We never think to question whether the government is fulfilling its obligation to govern well.

It's as if rights are a commodity and responsibilities are the price we have to pay for them. But if someone were to have complete control of a commodity and charge exorbitant prices wouldn't we call that a monopoly and try to break it up?

So, the next time someone says, "rights come with responsibilities," ask yourself if you're being asked to pay too much.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Seasons, 1776 edition

...the season of Fiction is now over...

--From A Fragment on Government--

It's not pretty when such a season ends. You don't have people coming to watch the leaves change colors, you have historians coming to figure out what went wrong.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Voyeurism, 1781 edition

Two ladies getting ready to kiss, and a putto watching in the background. Dirty! But have the woman in blue (Diana) be the God Jupiter in disguise (the final title was Jupiter and Callisto) and everything is fine. So, if you're ever worried about lesbianism offending people, just make one of the women a transvestite and everything becomes tasteful.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Predictions, 1776 edition

The age we live in is a busy age; in which knowledge is rapidly advancing towards perfection.

--From A Fragment on Government--

Reading this you feel like a child riding in the back of a car: "Are we there yet?"

Friday, May 22, 2009

A way to wisdom, circa 2300 BC

Don't be proud of your knowledge,
Consult the ignorant and the wise;

The limits of art are not reached,

No artist's skills are perfect;

Good speech is more hidden than greenstone,

Yet may be found among maids at the grindstones.

--An Egyptian maxim--

Arrogance and pride, how many things do they make us overlook? I hear people dismiss ideas because they came from popular culture or someone without the right background and I have to wonder.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Our troubled youth, 1699 edition

The next was a Crew of Extravagant Blades,
Tho' Born to Estates, yet are Bred up to Trades:
As Merchants Apprentices, Sons of the City,
Who think to be Lewd, is the way to be Witty;
Or finely to Dance, or to Sing a new Song,
Are the only true Graces to Man do belong:
Thus led by the Fury of Youth, without thinking,
To Bawdy-House, Play-House, to Gaming and Drinking.

--From A Walk to Islington--

Kids these days, what with their music and dancing all night and filthy mouths!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Something extra

Why is there a point on this arch? Why is there an arch at all? It serves no structural purpose; it's entirely decorative. But it adds charm and shows the architect was proud of what he was doing. Now the structure sits abandoned on an island but it's still nice to look at and walk around.

Add something extra to something with purpose and maybe it will have value when its purpose is gone.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's Great to be King circa 2000 BC

Let there be brought to me twenty women with the shapeliest bodies, breasts, and braids, who have not yet given birth. And let there be brought to me twenty nets and give these nets to the women in place of their clothes!

--From Three Tales of Wonder--

What does the king do after he has all these women clothed in full-body fishnet stockings? Have them row him around in a boat and let him watch them, of course.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Questions circa 2000 BC

Are you not a man? Are you not alive? What do you gain by complaining about life like a man of wealth?

--From The Dispute Between a Man and his Ba--

The person's soul was asking these things. It's not just people who don't like to hear constant complaining.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Tabloid wisdom, 1708 edition

...the unhappy Eccho of other Peoples Failings.

--Fragment of The London Terraefilius--

I wonder how many people (and blogs) are an unhappy echo of other people's failings.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Why does architecture always have to be functional? We need more ruins. If we can't make them by destroying the buildings we already have we should try building them from scratch. It could be a whole new school of architecture.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ayn Rand circa 2300 BC

If you are poor, serve a man of worth,
That all your conduct may be well with the god.
Do not recall if he once was poor,
Don't be arrogant toward him
For knowing his former state;
Respect him for what has accrued to him,
For wealth does not come by itself.
It is their law for him who they love,
His gain, he gathered it himself;
It is the god who makes him worthy
And protects him while he sleeps.

--An Egyptian maxim--

I guess they didn't have to worry about wealth producers "going Galt" back then, but they did have to worry about them going Moses!