Friday, April 27, 2012

Quote of the Day: Surprised by the Simple

From the book that my class is reading for today:
This is a surprising discovery, though the facts are entirely obvious to us. It is important to learn to be surprised by simple things -- for example, by the fact that bodies fall down, not up, and that they fall at a certain rate; that if pushed, they move on a flat surface in a straight line, not a circle; and so on. The beginning of science is the recognition that the simplest phenomena of ordinary life raise quite serious problems: Why are they as they are, instead of some different way?

-- Noam Chomsky, Language and the Problems of Knowledge, p. 43

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Quote of the Day: What Passes For Hope These Days

A quote from a four-year-old post by Jonathan Schwarz titled Global Warming: Why We're Not 100% Doomed:
Almost all political conflict, especially in the US, boils down to a fight between the Sane Billionaires and the Insane Billionaires. It generally follows this template:

: Let's kill everyone and take their money!

SANE BILLIONAIRES: I like the way you think. I really do. But if we keep everyone alive, and working for us, we'll make even more money, in the long term.


So from a progressive perspective, you always have to hope the Sane Billionaires win. Still, there's generally a huge chasm between what the Sane Billionaires want and what progressives want.
Sadly, Schwartz's title notwithstanding, current indications are that we are, in fact, 100% doomed.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Henry Adams: Links to Works Online, Including His History of the United States

Sadly -- and slightly oddly -- it seems that the work which is arguably Henry Adams's masterpiece -- his History of the United States During the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison -- is not online at Gutenberg. It is, however, available on, so I thought I'd collect links to the nine volumes in one place (since, wonderful as Archive is in many ways, their search function is meh), just as a public service (and since I got obsessive (and had grading to procrastinate on (natch))). Here we are:
All the volumes are also available on google books.

Gutenberg does, however, have Adams's two novels:
as well as his two final works of nonfiction (the latter of which, The Education of Henry Adams, is the other contender for Adams's masterpiece (probably, in all honesty, the stronger contender (despite Wills's articulate plea on behalf of the lengthier book)):
Adams wrote a bunch of other things, but the only other things that the good people at the Library of America have seen fit to collect -- as the tag-end to their three-volume set of the history (in two volumes, one each for Jefferson and Madison) and the novels/nonfiction (the third volume) -- are two of Adams's poems. Taking the storied LoA as my canonical guide, here are links to the two poems to round out this post:
The two poems may be buried somewhere in Gutenberg or Archive -- or both -- but I have simply linked them from the web.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quote of the Day

Kids get about three years old they wake up to the realization that a lullaby is a propaganda song.

-- Pete Singer, in concert
Sanders Theater, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1980

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Quote of the Day

It's been a long time since I stood on a stage in London. It was about fourteen or fifteen years ago. I was sixty years old -- just a kid with a crazy dream...

-- Leonard Cohen, Live in London
July 17, 2008

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why Are Tax Forms So Anoying?

For that matter, if the IRS has all the info, why don't they just fill in the forms?

Turns out there's an answer, and Matt Yglesias has it:
Why do you have to fill out all these complicated forms at all?... [T]he IRS could simply collect all this information and send you a tax bill. You could read it over, sign at the bottom, and either include a check or wait for your refund. It wouldn’t be fun, exactly, but it would sure be simple.

Needless to say, taxpayers should have the right to dispute the veracity of the IRS’s calculations and submit their own form. And some classes of people are going to routinely have unusually complicated tax finances.... But for the vast majority of the population, most of the pain of tax compliance could be eliminated by a few keystrokes at IRS headquarters. So why don’t we do it? Two reasons. One is lobbying by the tax preparation industry to discourage states and the feds from developing easier tax-paying systems, as California recently did. The second is lobbying by anti-tax conservatives. When the Golden State implemented its ReadyReturn system, it did so over the objections of Grover Norquist and his anti-tax pressure group Americans for Tax Reform, which fears that if taxes become less annoying voters might be less unhappy about paying them. After all, if the government did something to make your life easier it would be harder to tout the difficulty of tax compliance as a reason to abolish the progressive rate structure.

From an ideologue’s perspective, it makes perfect sense. But for you, the next time you find yourself struggling with IRS forms, remember that it’s big business aligned with anti-tax conservatives, not the government, that are causing you the pain.

So if you're struggling with annoying forms, remember who to thank. Happy tax day, American readers.

Quote of the Day: America's Self-Image and Reality

In fact, he thought foreigners understood Americans better than Americans understood themselves. Americans thought of themselves as a benevolent, peace-loving people. But benevolent, peace-loving peoples don't cross oceans to new continents, exterminate the natives, expel the other foreign powers, conquer sovereign territory, win world wars, and less than two centuries from their birth stand astride the planet. The benevolent peace lovers were the ones all that shit happened to.

-- Barry Eisler, Fault Line, Chapter 7

Monday, April 16, 2012

Poem of the Day: Continuing to Live

We are discussing (selected chapters from) Richard Rorty's Contingency, Irony and Solidarity today in my class. At the beginning of the second chapter, "The Contingency of Selfhood", Rorty quotes "the last part" of "a poem by Philip Larkin". The last time I read the book, I didn't bother to look up the full poem (why I can't recall). But this time I did, and so I thought I'd share it with all of you.

Continuing To Live

Continuing to live - that is, repeat
A habit formed to get necessaries -
Is nearly always losing, or going without.
It varies.

This loss of interest, hair, and enterprise -
Ah, if the game were poker, yes,
You might discard them, draw a full house!
But it's chess.

And once you have walked the length of your mind, what
You command is clear as a lading-list.
Anything else must not, for you, be thought
To exist.

And what's the profit? Only that, in time,
We half-identify the blind impress
All our behavings bear, may trace it home.
But to confess,

On that green evening when our death begins,
Just what it was, is hardly satisfying,
Since it applied only to one man once,
And that one dying.

-- Philip Larkin