onsdag, februar 01, 2012

Stay Calm

I wish to state, for the sake of any who may be interested in the subject, that I shall treat it, not by ridicule, but by argument; perhaps with great freedom, but with good temper and in peaceable language; with very little hope of reclaiming converts, with no desire of making enemies, but with a firm belief that its pretensions and assertions cannot stand before a single hour of calm investigation.


As one humble member of a profession which for more than two thousand years has devoted itself to the pursuit of the best earthly interests of mankind, always assailed and insulted from without by such as are ignorant of its infinite perplexities and labors, always striving in unequal contest with the hundred-armed giant who walks in the noonday, and sleeps not in the midnight, yet still toiling, not merely for itself and the present moment, but for the race and the future, I have lifted my voice against this lifeless delusion, rolling its shapeless bulk into the path of a noble science it is too weak to strike, or to injure.

-Oliver Wendell Holmes

lørdag, februar 26, 2011

Emile Zola on the Oscars

Has it ever struck you that posterity may not be the fair, impartial judge we like to think it is?

Suppose the artist's paradise turned out to be as nonexistent as the Catholics, and future generations prove just as misguided as the present one and persisted in liking pretty pretty dabbling better than honest to goodness painting. There are some accepted masterpieces for which I myself wouldn't give a twopenny damn.

Classical training has given us a wrong view of everything and forces us to acclaim as geniuses a lot of fellows who are no more than well-balanced, facile painters, while what we might really prefer is the work of more emancipated but less even artists known only to an initiated few. Immortality at present depends entirely on the average, middle-class mind and is reserved only for the names that have been most forcibly impressed upon us while we were still unable to defend ourselves...

Perhaps that's the sort of thing that's best left unsaid. It's certainly the sort of thing that gives me the shudders!
Emile Zola

tirsdag, februar 01, 2011

The Myth of American Religious Freedom

Using bad history does not help public debate and it does not make stable law. Liberals should acknowledge that the past did not feature a harmonious arrangement of freedom that sprang from the minds of Jefferson and Madison. By reframing their arguments away from that bad history, I actually think liberals would strengthen their own position because the most powerful argument for liberal jurisprudence is historical. It goes something like this: Once upon a time, the individual was subject to religious oppression that used the apparatus of the state. But then the Supreme Court realized that the Bill of Rights, which defines the rights of American citizens, should apply to the states because the states were infringing upon the rights of the individual guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. As the Supreme Court began applying the Bill of Rights to the states, it made a host of questionable historical arguments. But it did so for a still legitimate purpose that is now under attack by religious partisans in the present. The Court sought to free the individual from oppression in order to make the United States into a liberal democracy. We can uphold those rulings while not repeating the same bad history, because acknowledging past Protestant power helps to show why the liberal jurisprudence is necessary.

-David Sehat, author of The Myth of American Religious Freedom.

onsdag, januar 26, 2011

On Discovering a Butterfly

I found it and I named it, being versed
in taxonomic Latin; thus became
godfather to an insect and its first
describer -- and I want no other fame.

Wide open on its pin (though fast asleep),
and safe from creeping relatives and rust,
in the secluded stronghold where we keep
type specimens it will transcend its dust.

Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss,
poems that take a thousand years to die
but ape the immortality of this
red label on a little butterfly.

-Vladimir Nabokov, Poem #1498

søndag, november 14, 2010


Taste is not stable and peaceful, but a means of strategy and competition. Those superior in wealth use it to pretend they are superior in spirit. Groups closer in social class who yet draw their status from different sources use taste and its attainments to disdain one another and get a leg up. These conflicts for social dominance through culture are exactly what drive the dynamics within communities...

torsdag, november 11, 2010

The Last Solider Killed

There was one incident that captured the essence of war on the western front, the distillation of its arbitrary violence. At two minutes to eleven in the vicinity of Mons a Canadian private named George Price was hit by a sniper’s bullet. He died instantly. The man who killed him remains unknown. That man made a choice. He was a marksman, a skilled soldier. He had just moments remaining in which it was legal for him to kill. There was no need to fire, no purpose, and some risk at least to himself and any comrades near him. If he waited until eleven, and then put his gun down, the only consequence would be that a young stranger would go home. Instead, the shot rang out. Two minutes ticked past. The war ended. George Price lay dead.

lørdag, oktober 09, 2010

On Madmen

In an era where a show like Mad Men has become so popular all across the board, it is easy to forget that for many, its nostalgic take gilds the era in a way that seems to be not quite complete or accurate. In the shadow of these Madison Avenue Mad Men types, a new kind of American was emerging—one typified by Ferlinghetti—that was looser, that put a paper back book in his or her pocket and mulled the post World War 2 American dream/landscape and said “no thanks.” - John.

lørdag, juli 03, 2010

The only representative of the Empire of China

Reported in the New York Times, July 12, 1863:

Among the killed at Gettysburgh was a young Chinaman, known as JOHN TOMMY. He was attached to the First regiment Excelsior brigade, Capt. PRICK's company. JOHN TOMMY was the only representative of the Central Flowery Kingdom in the Army of the Potomac, and was widely known both from that circumstances and certain peculiarities of this own. JOHN TOMMY came to this country immediately after the breaking out of the war, and was induced to enlist in Gen. SICKLES' brigade, at that time being raised in [New York.] He was then a mere lad, entirely ignorant of our language. Being bright, smart and honest, he soon become a favorite at Red Hook, States Island, and was at once the butt and the wit of the whole regiment.

Before he became located on the Maryland shore of the Potomac opposite Aquia Creek, in one of the reconnaissances on the south side of the river, TOMMY was taken prisoner and soon become a lion in the rebel camp. He was brought before Gen. MAGRUDER, who surprised at his appearance and color, asked him was he a mulatto, Indian or what? When TOMMY told him he was from China, MAGRUDER was very much amused, and asked him how much he would take to join the Confederate army. "Not unless you would make me a Brigadier-General," said TOMMY, to the great delight of the secesh officers who treated him very kindly and sent him to Fredericksburgh.

Here TOMMY become a great lion, and his picture was published in the Fredericksburgh papers. Subsequently he was sent to the Libby Prison, Richmond, where he met his captain, BENJAMIN PRICE, who had been taken prisoner at Williamsburgh. After his parole TOMMY [returned] to New York City. where he employed his time in attending upon his sick and wounded comrades. He was the kindest of [nurses] and [spent] his little means in providing delicacies for sick fellow soldiers. In the subsequent engagements at Frederick and last at Gettysburgh. JOHN TOMMY was one of the bravest soldiers in that bravest of brigade, the Excelsior. He seemed not to know what fear was and was the universal favorite of all his fellow soldiers. He had not been wounded up to Gettysburgh, but in Friday's night he was wounded by a shell, which tore off both legs at the thighs, and he shortly [bled] to death. The company he was in went into the action with twenty eight men and lost twenty in killed and wounded. TOMMY's [service] is peculiar as he was the only representative of the Empire of China in the finest army on the planet [or in the] World.

lørdag, februar 20, 2010

From Ebert

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear, he writes in a journal entry titled “Go Gently into That Good Night.” I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

torsdag, januar 28, 2010

For a Zinn - Maybe I could be like him.

Your honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
-Eugene Victor Debs

onsdag, november 04, 2009


mandag, juli 13, 2009

On Children

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

-Kahlil Gibran

fredag, juni 26, 2009

A Father

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

–Rudyard Kipling

fredag, februar 13, 2009

Answer within / Keats

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thou express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunt about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal - yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Written in 1819, 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'

søndag, februar 08, 2009

Crick / Ridley

He trained his mind to be exquisitely good at solving nature's puzzles using logic, had the courage to take on the biggest problems, and threw himself exuberantly into the task, never letting prejudice stand in the way of reason. Throughout, he stayed true to himself: ebullient, loquacious, charming, sceptical, tenacious. He would have liked to find the seat of consciousness and to see the retreat of religion. He had to settle for explaining life.

fredag, januar 16, 2009

I Want to Believe

And do you think that unto such as you;
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew:
God gave the secret, and denied it me?--
Well, well, what matters it! Believe that, too.
(Le Gallienne)

Drink wine! and then as Mahmud thou wilt reign,
And hear a music passing David's strain:
Think not of past or future, seize to-day,
Then all thy life will not be lived in vain.

غیاث الدین ابو الفتح عمر بن ابراهیم خیام نیشابوری
The Quatrains of Omar Khayyam: Three Translations of the Rubaiyat

lørdag, juni 28, 2008

a haircut / in the mood for love / and bin

Can there be a transition from quantitative qualification to a qualitative one without a leap? And does not the whole of life rest in that? iv c 87 n.d 1842-43.

lørdag, juni 07, 2008

Chinese Beautiful Losers / Cohen

Dear Reader,

Thank you for coming to this book. It is an honor, and a surprise, to have the frenzied thoughts of my youth expressed in Chinese characters. I sincerely appreciate the efforts of the translator and the publishers in bringing this curious work to your attention. I hope you will find it useful or amusing.

When I was young, my friends and I read and admired the old Chinese poets. Our ideas of love and friendship, of wine and distance, of poetry itself, were much affected by those ancient songs. Much later, during the years when I practiced as a Zen monk under the guidance of my teacher Kyozan Joshu Roshi, the thrilling sermons of Lin Chi (Rinzai) were studied every day. So you can understand, Dear Reader, how privileged I feel to be able to graze, even for a moment, and with such meager credentials, on the outskirts of your tradition.

This is a difficult book, even in English, if it is taken too seriously. May I suggest that you skip over the parts you don't like? Dip into it here and there. Perhaps there will be a passage, or even a page, that resonates with your curiosity. After a while, if you are sufficiently bored or unemployed, you may want to read it from cover to cover. In any case, I thank you for your interest in this odd collection of jazz riffs, pop-art jokes, religious kitsch and muffled prayer æ an interest which indicates, to my thinking, a rather reckless, though very touching, generosity on your part.

Beautiful Losers was written outside, on a table set among the rocks, weeds and daisies, behind my house on Hydra, an island in the Aegean Sea. I lived there many years ago. It was a blazing hot summer. I never covered my head. What you have in your hands is more of a sunstroke than a book.

Dear Reader, please forgive me if I have wasted your time.

Los Angeles, February 27, 2000

Leonard Cohen

fredag, maj 16, 2008

He was going to stay here.

mandag, april 21, 2008

Church Going / Philip Larkin

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new-
Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
"Here endeth" much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognizable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for whom was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.