The expendables

“The natural sex ratio at birth is skewed in favor of boys, but they are more likely than girls to be born preterm and die in their first years of life. Women live longer than men and recover faster when they fall ill. Science is yet to find out why.” – “The way we are,” The Economist, July 1, 2017

Pointed

“What is the point. That is what must be borne in mind. Sometimes the point is really who wants what. Sometimes the point is what is right or kind. Sometimes the point is a momentum, a fact, a quality, a voice, an intimation, a thing said or unsaid. Sometimes it’s who’s at fault, or what will happen if you do not move at once. The point changes and goes out. You cannot be forever watching for the point, or you lose the simplest thing: being a major character in your own life.” – Renata Adler, Speedboat

The backhanded compliment

“It certainly does not do to have too low a threshold for being insulted. Even the affectionate insult, or the compliment with any sort of spin on it, can reverberate in memory in awful ways. ‘I love your little fat legs,’ Paul said to Joanne. He had watched her walking toward him on the beach. He was so in love with her that, although he meant it, he may not even have heard what he said, exactly. She never forgave him. She slept with him for another year and then married his enemy and rival, the only man Paul had ever hated in the world. ‘You have beautiful eyes and lovely hands,’ Leroy said to Jane, ‘and when you smile, to me you’re beautiful.’ She never forgave him, either. She married him. Their life together was hell for fifty years. ‘Has anyone ever told you that you’re lovely?’ is, of necessity, a minefield. There is no conceivable proper answer. It all ends in disaster anyway.” – Renata Adler, Speedboat

Parking on the left is now parking on the right

“So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distractions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.” – James Madison, “The Federalist 10”

The rowing or

“There is a mystery in lawyers’ expressions. False and misleading statements, for instance. Always together. False and misleading. Can’t understand what the ‘misleading’ is doing there. It’s always there. And I’ve found, I think, the strongest ‘or’ in language anywhere. It’s the lawyers’ phrase: as he then well knew or should have known. Well knew or should have known. The strongest or.” – Renata Adler, Speedboat

Counting flowers on the wall

“The wallflower sat reading in the Paris restaurant. There used to be so many categories of wallflower: the anxious, smiling, tense ones who leaned forward, trying; the important, busy, apparently elsewhere preoccupied ones, who were nonetheless waiting, waiting in the carpeted offices of their inattention, to be found. There were wallflowers who clustered noisily together, and others who worked a territory, resolute and alone. And then, there were wallflowers who had recognized for years that the thing was hopeless, who had found in that information a kind of calm.” – Renata Adler, Speedboat

Statistically

“Most murder victims in America are black people shot dead by other black people. Blacks represent 13% of America’s population, yet in 2015 they represented 52% of the slain. . . . Criminologists have for decades argued about what makes young black men so much likelier to commit murder than young men of other ethnicities. The answer lies in some combination of poverty, family instability, epidemics of drug use in the wretched inner-city districts into which many blacks were corralled by racist housing policies, and bad, or non-existent, policing.” – “On murderous streets,” The Economist, July 1, 2017

The art of the deal

“It is not at all clear to me what a negotiation is. Union and management, say, terrorist and foreign minister, buyer and seller, kidnapper and F.B.I. agent, husband and wife, at least two parties anyway, disagree. They exchange views. A strike, perhaps, a war, a bankruptcy, a murder, a divorce impends. One side begins, and claims it can accept no less. The other responds, saying it can afford no more. It is clear to both sides, from the start, that both positions are false. They proceed to bargain then, in what is called good faith. Bad faith exists when a side takes both positions to be absolutely true, then deals with something other than negotiation in its heart—stalling for time, for instance, so that friends can arrive and bomb the house. Good faith negotiation requires a liar’s margin of some sort. ‘I can’t stand it,’ somebody says. ‘I can’t help it,’ someone else replies.” – Renata Adler, Speedboat

If you don’t resist, you won’t be hurt

“The idea of hostages is very deep. Becoming pregnant is taking a hostage—as is running a pawnshop, being a bank, receiving a letter, taking a photograph, or listening to a confidence. Every love story, every commercial trade, every secret, every matter in which trust is involved, is a gentle transaction of hostages. Everything is, to a degree, in the custody of every other thing.” – Renata Adler, Speedboat

How do we know this

“Marine insurance is the granddaddy of all insurance. It predates written history. The ancient Phoenicians and Egyptians developed the concept of insurance to reduce their risks in commerce on the Tigris, Euphrates and Nile. Waterborne commerce offered huge rewards. A ship owner could realize a 300-percent profit on a single voyage. The risks, however, were enormous. Ships and their cargo were lost to storms, shoals and pirates. The loss of a ship would ruin the owner financially. To avoid this risk, ship owners formed associations and pooled their resources to compensate ship owners who incurred losses. Insurance was born.” – William C. Stewart, Jr. (ed.), Subrogation Recovery: Principles and Practices

Boys will be like this

“Plastic bat and ball, you were with me when I learned
life’s meanest lesson. That to be a girl and smaller
is always worse. In the park, I’d play with whoever wanted.
Andy and his family or anyone there on picnic.
Under the pavilion where I learned to read bad words
on the rafters, two boys took you away—plastic bat
and ball. Big, hulking boys. Larger than my father
who could hit the ball out of the yard whenever
he wanted. The sandy-haired one held the bat up
to my face and said, ‘There’s a part of a man like this,’
He thrust the bat closer. My face flinched at the cold coming off
of it. He said, ‘It gets hard like this.’ Shook the bat closer.
‘Someday, you will want it up inside you.’ The other boy
laughed. Then one of them, I don’t remember, unzipped
and peed a puddle under the picnic table. Swished
the business end of the bat in it, rolled my ball through,
then told me to go home. I knew then, boys like this,
they were the kings. This was their world.
And I was only visiting.”

– Shaindel Beers, “Ode to Plastic Bat and Ball”

Pulling a national rabbit from an imperial hat

“A remarkable aspect of the Revolution is that for almost seven years, the war was conducted by a government that, strictly speaking, had no governing powers. The wonder of this becomes all the sharper when one reflects that the war was both a struggle with Britain and an internal or civil war. No one has yet convincingly disputed the guess of John Adams that throughout the conflict at least one third of the Americans remained loyal to Great Britain. Another third were neutrals, people who didn’t much care who won and who never caught the spirit of ‘76 until after the definitive American victory at Yorktown in 1781. The Revolution was carried to its successful end by a mere third of the population.” – Milton Lomask, The First American Revolution

Coin of the realm

“Look, the sun is a sort of bribe, you know, and so is a heavy thunderstorm or a snowfall. So is a dawn, though not I think a sunset. So is a warm bath or a shower, and a sound sleep. Bribes all, in the conspiracy of everything to continue to exist.” – Renata Adler, Pitch Dark

And still do

“The ‘Tidewater’—the broad coastal plain along the Atlantic—had spawned one kind of culture. The ‘upcountry’ beyond—the great central plateau or Piedmont and the mountains forming its western border—had engendered a far different one. Tidewater North Carolina was rich. Upcountry was poor. Tidewater was a land of rice and indigo plantations worked by armies of slaves. Upcountry was a warren of small farms, each tillable by ‘a man, a mule, and a nigger,’ provided all three worked from dawn to dusk. In the three lower colonies, the Carolinas and Georgia, the Tidewater planters controlled the legislature, made the laws, fixed the taxes, and dominated the courts.” – Milton Lomask, The First American Revolution

The ghosts that haunt us still

“Colonial policy had always been to exclude Negroes from militia service, but more often than not a need for soldiers had dictated a contrary practice. Many blacks had fought in the French and Indian War. As the dispute with Parliament neared breaking point, Negroes volunteered for the New England militia. All were accepted. . . . In the late fall of 1775 Southern delegates to Congress were complaining that the Continental Army had become ‘a refuge for runaway slaves.’ They insisted that the blacks already enrolled be dismissed and that future volunteers be turned down. The Congress at first rejected these proposals. Then the delegates reversed themselves to the extent of barring future enlistments. On this matter they would alter their position several times during the war. Meanwhile, in the face of changing official edicts, blacks continued to join both their local militia and the Continental Army.” – Milton Lomask, The First American Revolution

The driver on the right has the right-of-way

“Drivers of large cars drive extremely badly. So do old men; men wearing hats; men with thick necks and florid faces; hunters; drivers of cars with dented fenders, or with more than one generation in them, or with college stickers on their rearview windows, or with slogans on their bumpers, or with license plates of names or words instead of numbers, or with New Jersey license plates. I have left out matrons, nuns, dyed blondes, old women; their lapses tend to be blunt and unaggressive, like an inability to park or a wrong turn on a one-way street. That is all I know, categorically and without reservation, about drivers. Two other facts I think I know are these. Nobody ever confides a secret to one person only. No one destroys all copies of a document. Also, that it is children, really, perhaps because so much is forbidden to them, who understand from within the nature of crime.” – Renata Adler, Pitch Dark

Same as it ever was

“This is the age of crime. I’m sure we all grant that. It’s the age, of course, of other things as well. Of the great chance, for instance, and the loss of faith, of the bureaucrat, and of technology. But from the highest public matters to the smallest private acts, the mugger, the embezzler, the burglar, the perjurer, tax chiseler, killer, gang enforcer, the plumber, party chairman, salesman, curator, car or TV repairman, officials of the union, officials of the corporation, the archbishop, the numbers runner, the delinquent, the police; from the alley to the statehouse, behind the darkened window or the desk; this is the age of crime.” – Renata Adler, Pitch Dark

Finding the value

“What’s new? the biography of the opera star says she used to ask in every phone call, and What else? I’m not sure the biographer understood another thing about the opera star, but I do believe that What’s new. What else. They may be the first questions of the story, of the morning, of consciousness. What’s new. What else. What next. What’s happened here, says the inspector, or the family man looking at the rubble of his house. What’s it to you, says the street tough or the bystander. What’s it worth to you, says the paid informer or the extortionist. What is it now, says the executive or the husband, disturbed by the fifteenth knock at the door, or phone call, or sigh in the small hours of the night. What does it mean, says the cryptographer. What does it all mean, says the student or the philosopher on his barstool. What do I care. What’s the use. What’s the matter. Where’s the action. What kind of fun is that. Let me say that everyone’s story in the end is the old whore’s, or the Ancient Mariner’s: I was not always as you see me now. And the sentient man, the sentient person says in his heart, from time to time, What have I done.” – Renata Adler, Pitch Dark (emphasis in original)

We always sacrifice a virgin

“When I learned about the shrew, the poor unevolved, benighted shrew, which will keep jumping high in the air at a place in its accustomed path where an obstacle, a rock perhaps, once was but no longer is, well, I wondered about all those places where, though the obstacles have long been removed, one persists either in the jump or in taking the long way round. It seemed such an unnecessary jolt or expenditure of time and energy. And yet if you have acquired a profound aversion to just such a place simply because of an obstacle that once was there, or an incapacity to discern that the obstacle no longer exists, or an indifference as to whether it exists or not, or if the habit of pointless jumping, or detour, or even turning back dejected has become for you the path itself, or if you have a superstitious need to treat the spot as though the obstacle remained, or even a belief that the discovery that the obstacle is gone is in itself a punishable offense, if any of these things is true for you, then you are lost. Or probably lost, unless the habitual path, the compulsion, the leap, the turning back, the long detour have for you another value. Individuality, for instance, love, obsession. Or for that matter, art.” – Renata Adler, Pitch Dark

And can be led in chants

“The mind of a living public is quickly alarmed and easily tormented. It not only suffers by the stroke, but is frequently fretted by the cure, and ought therefore to be tenderly dealt with, and never ought to be trifled with. It feels first and reasons afterwards.” – Thomas Paine, “The Affair of Silas Deane” (emphases in original)

We can fix that

“There exists an order of social problem that appears to be insoluble, but is not. At least not in the terms in which resolution of it is represented as impossible. A problem of that sort has at least some of the following features: it appears immensely complicated, with a resolution of any part of it seeming to bring about the aggravation of another; it has a long history, in the course of which it seems to grow, to accrete difficulties, and to merge and overlap with other problems, so that an attempt to solve the single problem appears hopeless without an assault (for which no sufficient resources can exist) upon them all; perception of the length and nature of that history must be inaccurate, and the terms in which it has been defined must be so imprecise (or so precise, but inapposite) that any formulation of the problem leads inevitably to argument, and great energy is dissipated in argument of that sort. Ideally, in other words, in its historical dimension, such a problem appears to have existed forever; and in its contemporary manifestation to be inextricable from every other problem in the world. Ideally, too, there should have grown up, over time, a number of industries and professions nominally dedicated to the eradication of the problem but actually committed, consciously or unconsciously, but almost inevitably out of self-interest, to the perpetuation of the problem, and of any misconceptions of it, for all time.” – Renata Adler, Pitch Dark