"I date my spiritual rebirth -- the day I finally began to live -- to August 13, 2004, the day I ran down my first helpless, shrieking pedestrian in Grand Theft Auto.'
-- Jürgen Habermas
I'm reading the latest edition of Lawrence Friedman's A History of American Law. It's actually a pleasure to read, which is no mean feat for that sort of book. I'm pretty sure it would also be comprehensible to non-lawyers. Friedman has an eye for the colorful quotation, such as this description of 'The Chinese', from the remarks of John F. Miller during the 1878 constitutional convention in California. See if you can tell what sort of immigration policy the new constitution favored:
[The Chinese] is a sinewy, shriveled human creature, whose muscles are as iron, whose sinews are like thongs, whose nerves are like steel wires, with a stomach case [ed. 'stomach case'!!] lined with brass; a creature who can toil sixteen hours of the twenty-four; who can live and grow fat on the refuse of any American laborer's table.
(p. 263). Actually, they sound pretty handy (unless they become, er, sentient). Where can I get one?
Every now and then, I dip into The Literary Guide to the Bible, which contains essays on every canonical book of the Bible. They range in quality, but some are excellent. Including Bernard McGinn's essay on Revelation, which includes this deathless Voltaireism:
The great age of English commentary on Revelation did not end with the Restoration, but there was little innovative thought.... Isaac Newton perfected the mathematical approach to prophetic calculations of world history with a monotony that led Voltaire to remark that "Sir Isaac Newton wrote his comment upon the Revelation to console mankind for the great superiority he had over them in other respects."
For purposes of clarity, Martin Amis, back when he was young, could insult with the best of them (in context, his quotation is a mea culpa for this phase). Two examples, from a 1986 book of essays about the U.S. called The Moronic Inferno:
"Pretty Nancy Reagan sat down beside her husband. As I was soon to learn, her adoring, damp-eyed expression never changes when she is in public. Bathed in Ronnie's aura, she always looks like Bambi being reunited with her parents." (p.89)
On William Burroughs: "Most of Burroughs is trash, and lazily obsessive trash too -- you could chuck it all out and not diminish what status he has as a writer. But the good bits are good. Reading him is like staring for a week at a featureless sky; every few hours a bird will come into view, or if you're lucky, an aeroplane might climb past, but things remain meaningless and monotone. Then, without warning (and not for long, and for no coherent reason, and almost always in The Naked Lunch), something happens: abruptly the clouds grow warlike, and the air is full of portents." (p.144)
And for good measure, the Lonely Planet Guide to Germany calls Heino a "tranquilised albino Ken-doll."
Speaking of Germany, you may be asking yourself, 'hey, isn't this blog supposed to be about Germany?' Well yes, but really there's not much interesting going on in Germany these days, if I do say so myself. Coming up: a review of a Slovenian novel, and perhaps a few comments about Greece. Then back to Germany, I promise!
Some good solid common sense from Australian ethicist John Mackie:
"It is much easier, and commoner, to display a self-sacrificing love for some of one's fellow men if one can combine this with hostility to others."
-- J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Penguin 1977), p. 132.
"People will be able more fully to get what they desire if they are made to desire what they are going to get."
-- Ibid., p. 147.