The voyage and the view

“What’s gratifying about being human, what’s exciting about being part of the scientific enterprise, is our ability to use analytical thought to bridge vast distances, journeying to outer and inner space… it is the depth of our understanding, acquired from our lonely vantage point in the inky black stillness of a cold and forbidding cosmos, that reverberates across the expanse of reality and marks our arrival.” — Brian Greene, The Hidden Reality

Dearly maddened, we gather today in song

“The scheme of providence demands of us all that each man humbly perform his part, sing his own line in the terrestrial hymn, as the planets are singing, unheard, above us, and with charity forgive those to left and right when they falter.  That may sound pompous, simpleminded, but it’s true, or anyway I hope it’s true.  A man can go mad, discarding all tradition, reasoning out for himself the precise details of celestial and terrestrial law.” — John Gardner, “The Temptation of St. Ivo”

Yee-haw! Git along, little dogies

“The best way to do good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.” — Benjamin Franklin (quoted in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVIII, Ch. XXIV, Sec. 3)

What’s the role for unpopular information?

“A popular government, without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.”  — James Madison (quoted in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVII, Ch. XXIII, Sec. 18)

Indirectly can be any direction

“The knowledge of what tends neither directly nor indirectly to make better men and better citizens is but a knowledge of trifles. It is not learning but a specious and ingenious sort of idleness.” — The Rev. Dr. William Smith (Provost, University of Pennsylvania, 1755-1779), quoted in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVII, Ch. XXIII, Sec. 15

Ignorance and silence in the name of God

“Learning has brought disobedience and heresy and sects into the world and printing has divulged them and libels against the best of governments. God keep us from both.” — Sir William Berkeley (Governor of Virginia, 1641-1677), quoted in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVII, Ch. XXIII, Sec. 3

I’ll have a slice of happiness, thank you, and a cup of joy on the side

“To despair was to wish back for something already lost.  Or to prolong what was already unbearable.  How much can you wish for a favorite warm coat that hangs in the closet of a house that burned down with your mother and father inside of it?  How long can you see in your mind arms and legs hanging from telephone wires and starving dogs running down the streets with half-chewed hands dangling from their jaws?  What was worse, we asked among ourselves, to sit and wait for our own deaths with proper somber faces?  Or to choose our own happiness?” — Amy Tan, “The Joy Luck Club”

Minding everyone’s business

“Gradually public opinion concerning the scope and purpose of government in its relation to the general welfare underwent a transformation. The view which had long been dominant was that national prosperity depended upon the prosperity of the manufacturing and commercial classes of the country; when they flourished the labourer would enjoy a ‘full dinner pail,’ the shopkeeper a good trade, the farmers high markets, and the professional classes would collect their fees; consequently it was only right that such important matters as the tariff and monetary standards should be determined according to the ideals of the great business interests of the country. The new view was that the object of legislation should be to aid all citizens with no special privilege or regard to any one class. Its birth was in the Granger movement. It was more widely disseminated by Populism, but its ablest presentation was by William Jennings Bryan, notably in his speech before the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1896:  ‘You have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. A man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer. The attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis. The merchant at the crossroads store is as much a business man as a merchant of New York. The farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day—who begins in the spring and toils all summer—and who, by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country, creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain. The miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs and bring forth from their hiding place the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade, are as much business men as the few financial magnates, who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak for this broader class of business men.’” — The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVII, Ch. XXI, Sec. 36

Making the magic

“It’s in words that the magic is—Abracadabra, Open Sesame, and the rest—but the magic words in one story aren’t magical in the next.  The real magic is to understand which words work, and when, and for what; the trick is to learn the trick.” — John Barth, “Dunyazadiad”

Some things you just can’t buy

“You cannot conjure madness out of a cabbage.  You cannot craze a block of wood with an axe.  You cannot blow the brains from a squash.  You cannot sell such a fine fierce commodity as madness and pass it over a grocer’s counter.” — Joseph Stanley Pennell, The History of Rome Hanks and Kindred Matters

Not even for fifteen minutes?

“Calmness, forbearance, candor, and soft speech—these virtues of the good are by the insolent taken for the effects of incompetency.  The person who is self-laudatory, wicked, badly bold, and who publishes his own praise and metes out chastisement everywhere, is honored in the world.  By moderation one cannot attain celebrity; by moderation one cannot obtain fame.” — Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddhakanda Sarga 21

A different kind of profit and loss

“Even a wicked-minded enemy, if he with folded palms and a poor heart craves for your shelter, should not be slain.  If an enemy, proud or terrified, seeks shelter in fear, he should be saved by a great man even at the risk of his own life.  One who from fear, ignorance, or willfulness does not protect him who seeks his shelter perpetrates a mighty iniquity and is blamed by all.  When a person is slain before him  whose shelter he has taken, he takes away all the virtues of his protector.  So great is the sin in not affording shelter unto those who seek it; it stands in the way of going to heaven, bringing in calumny and destroying strength and prowess.” — Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddhakanda Sarga 18

A moment’s rash action, a lifetime of regret

“The king who, arriving at certain conclusions, carries on his regal affairs agreeable to justice, has no need to repent afterwards.  But those actions that are done without deliberation, like unto clarified butter poured onto an unclean sacrifice, conduce only to harm.” — Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddhakanda Sarga 12

That tower looks like it may fall

“So long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings goes but to build up great fortunes, to increase luxury and make sharper the contrast between the House of Have and the House of Want, progress is not real and cannot be permanent. The reaction must come. The tower leans from its foundations, and every new story but hastens the final catastrophe. To educate men who must be condemned to poverty, is but to make them restive; to base on a state of most glaring social inequality political institutions under which men are theoretically equal, is to stand a pyramid on its apex.” — Henry George, Progress and Poverty (1879)

The binding ties

“If Americans want the U.S. to continue to exist in something like its current form, they will need to respect the fundamental tenets of our unlikely union. It can’t survive if we end the separation of church and state or ban the expression (or criticism) of offensive ideas. We won’t hold together if presidents appoint political ideologues to the Supreme Court, or if party loyalists try to win elections by trying to stop people from voting. The union can’t function if national coalitions continue to use House and Senate rules to prevent decision-making on important issues.  Other sovereign democratic states have central governments more dysfunctional than our own, but most can fall back on unifying elements we lack: common ethnicity, a shared religion or near-universal consensus on many fundamental political issues.  Our constitutional order — an arrangement negotiated among the regional cultures — assumes and requires compromise in order to function at all.  And the U.S. needs its central government to function cleanly, openly and efficiently because it’s one of the few important things that bind us together.” — Colin Woodard, “Real U.S. Map, a Country of Regions”

Paying it forward

“I am like the middleclass housewife who drapes her house with plush horrors: I festoon myself with small beasts and give them to eat and suck and warm them.  I am a truly generous mound of flesh.  I daily lay down my life not for my friends but for those hungry little persons I have never seen.  Stay, says my carrion, do stay and raise a bloody fine family—there’s room for us all here and food for the children.  Thus daily I am camped on, lived in and eaten.” — Joseph Stanley Pennell, The History of Rome Hanks and Kindred Matters

Perhaps not

“If in war time the theatre has made itself necessary, does it not follow that some day the Government, regarding the theatre as a necessary social institution for the American people, will give it Congressional support in its artistic maintenance, and recognize its importance by having it represented in the Presidential Cabinet by a Secretary of Fine Arts? This might do much to give direction and purpose to future American playwriting.” — Montrose J. Moses, The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVII, Ch. XVIII, Sec. 29