“The Soviet Union was created as a federation of national units. That was precisely because everybody, including internationalists like Lenin, understood in 1917, ’18, ’19, ’20, ’21, ’22, that the Ukrainian question was real. A century ago, this was not actually a big debate, even on the far left. Several years of watching people being willing to fight and die for Ukraine convinced the Communists who founded the Soviet Union that there was a real question here, and they had to have a real answer for it. So in that sense, it would be truer to say, ‘Ukraine created the Soviet Union,’ because without the general acknowledgment of a Ukrainian question, the Soviet Union wouldn’t have been set up the way that it was.” – Timothy Snyder (interviewed by Noel King in “The Real and Imagined History of Ukraine,” Vox, February 25, 2022)
Month: December 2023
“No disease suffered by a live man can be known, for every living person has his own peculiarities and always has his own peculiar, personal, novel, complicated disease, unknown to medicine—not a disease of the lungs, liver, skin, heart, nerves, and so on mentioned in medical books, but a disease consisting of one of the innumerable combinations of the maladies of those organs.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“Not only does a good army commander not need any special qualities, on the contrary he needs the absence of the highest and best human attributes—love, poetry, tenderness, and philosophic inquiring doubt. He should be limited, firmly convinced that what he is doing is very important (otherwise he will not have sufficient patience), and only then will he be a brave leader. God forbid that he should be humane, should love, or pity, or think of what is just and unjust. It is understandable that a theory of their ‘genius’ was invented for them long ago because they have power! The success of a military action depends not on them, but on the man in the ranks who shouts, ‘We are lost!’ or who shouts, ‘Hurrah!’” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“A Frenchman is self-assured because he regards himself personally, both in mind and body, as irresistibly attractive to men and women. An Englishman is self-assured, as being a citizen of the best-organized state in the world, and therefore as an Englishman always knows what he should do and knows that all he does as an Englishman is undoubtedly correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and other people. A Russian is self-assured just because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe that anything can be known. The German’s self-assurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows the truth—science—which he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“Nine months after the Selective Service Act passed in 1940 with a provision to exempt fathers from the draft, there was a sudden spurt in the birthrate. Even when the exemption was withdrawn, rates stayed high as young people married in great numbers, casting their lot with an uncertain future. The ‘good-bye’ babies resulting from these marriages represented the first wave of a baby boom that reached new heights after the war’s end.” – Sara M. Evans, “Women at War: The 1940s,” Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America
“If you watch videos of falling cats, you will see that a lot of them use their tails to turn over. But we also know that cats without tails can turn over just fine. So from a physics point of view, the problem has reached a level where the details depend on the specific cat. People will still argue about it. I think a lot of physicists don’t realize how complicated the problem is, and they’re often just looking for a single simple solution. Physicists have an instinct to look for simple solutions, but nature’s always looking for the most effective solution. And those two approaches are not always the same.” – Greg Gbur, “The Surprisingly Complicated Physics of Why Cats Always Land on Their Feet” (interview by Jennifer Ouellette in Ars Technica, December 25, 2019)
“Driving across the US this summer, from Brooklyn to Santa Barbara, in my hot rod – okay, with a six week pause in Denver; and up and down California, coastal and inland, just now; I have learned the following about our imperiled democracy:
Everyone under age 60 has a tattoo.
Nearly everyone under age 60 – and also over 60, though for different reasons, depending on age group – has blue hair; or pink hair; or green hair; or corn rows; or dreadlocks.
I saw more gender-queer people in Utah than I have ever seen in Brooklyn.
The cars lacquered with Trumpy stickers are not beaters picked up at police auctions – they’re big expensive Jeeps and $50,000 ATVs.
People with nowhere to live except the sidewalk, the park, the doorway, the parking lot, the freeway underpass, are everywhere, and are perhaps the most unifying presence in America – the population and problem that links Madison Avenue to Main Street. We are a country undivided in the following: everyone likes to have people around who are living openly in desperate poverty on your doorstep. Democrats love this as much as Republicans; Richy Rich loves it as much as the-struggling-middle-class. If we’re addicted to fossil fuels (I am!), we’re also addicted to the need to have unhoused people in our communities.
Women over age 60 are our genealogists and historians and record keepers in smalltown libraries and historic societies everywhere. A lot of them are Mormons!
Everyone in America knows, is related to, works with or for, has shared bathrooms with, loves, is raising, orders coffee from, is neighbors with, is married to a transgender person.
I don’t know what Ron DeSantis and his pack of neo-Nazis and conservative evangelical Christians are on about. Good grief. As the LGBTQ community said to Anita Bryant in the 1970s when she was worrying that homosexuals were corrupting her children:
“We are your children.”
The USA’s in bad shape, climate wise – to quote stand-up comedian Naomi Ekperigin, “This would be the part in the movie where America coughs into a rag and then pulls it away and sees blood.”
But the things that are not a problem are: queer kids. Critical Race Theory. History! Facts.
Weirdos and aging punk rockers and whiteguys with Walt Whitman beards on motorcycles zipping past you on the Hollywood Freeway.
Everybody in America knows somebody weird; is weird; and this bullshit that the GOP is feeding us about how difference is destroying America – is just utter bullshit. I can’t believe that more than 12 people believe it. Look around, motherfuckers. Half the people you know are letting their freak flag fly, and the other half are sticking a US flag on their back and pretending it means they’re “normal.”
The new normal is: there’s no normal!
It’s hard to think about how to deal with 106° weather in Arizona for weeks. Way easier to get upset that your kid’s reading a book.
The country is beautiful! The landscape. OMeffingG. The industrial waste just as beautiful as the Utah desert.
Nothing I said is true of Carson City, Nevada, though! There are always exceptions. . .
Dogs are everywhere.
Every conceivable kind of dog.”
– John Weir, Facebook, August 13, 2023
“We are forced to fall back on fatalism as an explanation of irrational events (that is to say, events the reasonableness of which we do not understand). The more we try to explain such events in history reasonably, the more unreasonable and incomprehensible do they become to us. Each man lives for himself, using his freedom to attain his personal aims, and feels with his whole being that he can now do or abstain from doing this or that action; but as soon as he has done it, that action performed at a certain moment in time becomes irrevocable and belongs to history, in which it has not a free but a predestined significance. There are two sides to the life of every man, his individual life, which is the more free the more abstract its interests, and his elemental hive life in which he inevitably obeys laws laid down for him. Man lives consciously for himself, but is an unconscious instrument in the attainment of the historic, universal, aims of humanity. A deed done is irrevocable, and its result coinciding in time with the actions of millions of other men assumes an historic significance.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“The trees cry out as they die, but you cannot hear them.” – Hayao Miyazaki & Neil Gaiman, Princess Mononoke
“By February 13, 2021, the date the Senate voted to acquit Donald Trump of inciting an attack on Congress, Republicans had put loyalty to Donald Trump over defense of the country and the Capitol in which they worked.” – Marcy Wheeler, emptywheel, February 23, 2022
“There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to worry; a little goes a long way.” – Averil Dean, “Iceberg,” December 26, 2022
“Balancing involves making a correction for what is going wrong. And this is not possible, in general, if there are several things going wrong at once.” – Richard P. Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. II
“Women often have not any sense of danger, after all a hen screams pitifully when she sees an eagle but she is only afraid for her children, men are afraid for themselves, that is the real difference between men and women.” – Gertrude Stein, The Mother of Us All
“What is man, what are men, what are they. I do not say that they haven’t kind hearts, if I fall down in a faint, they will rush to pick me up, if my house is on fire, they will rush in to put the fire out and help me, yes they have kind hearts but they are afraid, afraid, they are afraid, they are afraid. They fear women, they fear each other, they fear their neighbor, they fear other countries and then they hearten themselves in their fear by crowding together and following each other, and when they crowd together and follow each other they are brutes, like animals who stampede.” – Gertrude Stein, The Mother of Us All
“‘Traditional values’ are ignorant and grotesque and usually code for sexism, homophobia or transphobia. No one ever talks about ‘traditional values’ when it does not relate in some way to subjugating people.” – Robyn Pennacchia, “Right-Wing Incels Lose Their Shit Over ‘Unmarried Concubine’ Nancy Mace,” Wonkette, July 29, 2023
“The total charge in the world is always constant—there is never any net gain or loss of charge.” – Richard P. Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. II
“Men can not count, they do not know that two and two make four if women do not tell them so. There is a devil creeps into men when their hands are strengthened. Men want to be half slave half free. Women want to be all slave or all free, therefore men govern and women know, and yet.” – Gertrude Stein, The Mother of Us All
“The right to sleep is given to no woman.” – Gertrude Stein, The Mother of Us All
“There are so many points of view in a Frenchman, of course he cannot agree with any other Frenchman but he cannot even agree with himself.” – Gertrude Stein, Yes Is For a Very Young Man
“The only best part of death is that it happens to everyone.” – Amanda Goldblatt, Hard Mouth
“We exist with sets of stories or lists: the ways we must feel during loss or solitude, the ways we must present the self to others, the ways we must act. But there are other and scarier ways to be.” – Amanda Goldblatt, Hard Mouth
“To see a door did not mean you had to go through it.” – Amanda Goldblatt, Hard Mouth
“Human sciences dissect everything to comprehend it, and kill everything to examine it.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“My tongue is my enemy.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“Whenever you see a sweeping statement that a tremendous amount can come from a very small number of assumptions, you always find that it is false. There are usually a large number of implied assumptions that are far from obvious if you think about them sufficiently carefully.” – Richard P. Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. II
“I spoke on the phone with Elena, an employee at a zoo outside Kharkiv, an area subject to constant onslaught. She is the director of the zoo’s children’s theater, where children perform together with dogs, mice, and rats. Since the war started, employees have been trying to feed and evacuate the animals. But as soon as the Russian army sees any cars, bullets begin to fly. On March 7, Elena tried to reach the zoo one last time in order to bring food to the animals. On the phone she explained to me that many animals remain in their pens: ‘The deer were shot at. Some of them died. Others managed to escape through the ruined fence into the forest. When we arrived by bus, the shelling started. We ran out of the bus with the feed and made it to the pens. Some great apes had been shot. We ran through the damaged rooms trying to distribute as much of the feed as possible. Then we ran to the bus, but the driver was already dead. We tried to get another car to go back and transport his body to the city. Another colleague was fatally injured. Only one other person and I were able to escape. I can’t cry,’ she went on to say. ‘I can’t even believe what happened. I keep seeing the exhibit window where the monkeys were waiting for us. Many of them were standing there with babies pressed against their bodies. They were hoping for food, but we didn’t manage to feed them that day.’ Elena has stopped going to the zoo for the moment, but other staff members are trying to reach the pens so that the animals, the ones still alive, don’t die of hunger. I don’t want to write a ‘last’ sentence. Every day we encounter our choices.” – Yevgenia Belorusets, “Day 27, Tuesday March 22, The Houses That Disappeared,” War Diary (trans. Greg Nissan)
“Is it possible to condemn me, my city, the people of Mariupol, the people of Melitopol and of all those other cities to death? Is it possible to play this game of annihilation with us, in front of the whole world? I keep thinking about these questions. What happened to us all that this became possible? I think the answer will determine the future of a great many people.” – Yevgenia Belorusets, “Day 25, Sunday March 20, Drones over Kyiv,” War Diary (trans. Greg Nissan)
“During the day I saw many smiling people—for example, a woman who was sitting next to two big shopping bags on a park bench. She spoke to me in an absurdly happy voice, saying that she was waiting for her nephew to help her carry the bags home. ‘I’m so happy to have you standing next to me now, talking to me,’ she said. ‘When there are two of us, I’m less afraid of the artillery.’ She used to work as a museum guide at Saint Sophia Cathedral, and now she’s a pensioner. She is convinced that Ukraine will defeat the Russian invaders: ‘When I think about the frescoes of Saint Sophia, I believe that Ukraine will be protected by the whole world.’ She smiled, tears welling in her eyes. ‘We will win,’ she said. I didn’t know if she was crying more or laughing more, but I felt her courage and admired her. Is today only the third day of the war? Mariupol: fifty-eight civilians wounded. Kyiv: thirty-five people, including two children. This is far from a complete account. It feels strange to find myself in this broad, unarmed, almost delicate category: ‘civilians.’ For war, a category of people is created who live ‘outside the game.’ They are shelled, they must endure the shelling, they are injured, but they do not seem to be able to give an adequate response to it. I don’t believe this to be the case. There is something hidden in the smiles that I saw several times today—a secret weapon, an uncanny one.” – Yevgenia Belorusets, “Day 3, Saturday February 26, Bomb Shelter,” War Diary (trans. Greg Nissan)
“‘Come, let’s argue then,’ said Prince Andrew, ‘You talk of schools,’ he went on, crooking a finger, ‘education and so forth; that is, you want to raise him’ (pointing to a peasant who passed by them taking off his cap) ‘from his animal condition and awaken in him spiritual needs, while it seems to me that animal happiness is the only happiness possible, and that is just what you want to deprive him of. I envy him, but you want to make him what I am, without giving him my means. Then you say, “lighten his toil.” But as I see it, physical labor is as essential to him, as much a condition of his existence, as mental activity is to you or me. You can’t help thinking. I go to bed after two in the morning, thoughts come and I can’t sleep but toss about till dawn, because I think and can’t help thinking, just as he can’t help plowing and mowing; if he didn’t, he would go to the drink shop or fall ill. Just as I could not stand his terrible physical labor but should die of it in a week, so he could not stand my physical idleness, but would grow fat and die. The third thing—what else was it you talked about?’ and Prince Andrew crooked a third finger. ‘Ah, yes, hospitals, medicine. He has a fit, he is dying, and you come and bleed him and patch him up. He will drag about as a cripple, a burden to everybody, for another ten years. It would be far easier and simpler for him to die. Others are being born and there are plenty of them as it is. It would be different if you grudged losing a laborer—that’s how I regard him—but you want to cure him from love of him. And he does not want that. And besides, what a notion that medicine ever cured anyone! Killed them, yes!’ said he, frowning angrily and turning away from Pierre.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“It is not given to man to know what is right and what is wrong. Men always did and always will err, and in nothing more than in what they consider right and wrong.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)