Quotes and Excerpts
Last new material added February 14, 2009


And ever shall this law hold good, nothing that is vast enters into the life of mortals without a curse.

The English are not a very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity.

George Bernard Shaw

To kill one man is to be guilty of a capital crime, to kill ten men is to increase the guilt ten-fold, to kill a hundred men is to increase it a hundred-fold. This the rulers of the earth all recognize and yet when it comes to the greatest crime – waging war on another state – they praise it!

It is clear they do not know it is wrong, for they record such deeds to be handed down to posterity; if they knew they were wrong, why should they wish to record them and have them handed down to posterity?

If a man on seeing a little black were to say it is black, but on seeing a lot of black were to say it is white, it would be clear that such a man could not distinguish black and white. Or if he were to taste a few bitter things and call them bitter, but on tasting a lot were to pronounce them sweet, clearly he would be incapable of distinguishing between sweetness and bitterness. So those who recognize a small crime as such, but do not recognize the wickedness of the greatest crime of all – the waging of war on another state.but actually praise it – cannot distinguish right and wrong. So as to right or wrong, the rulers of the world are in confusion.

.the Chinese philosopher, Mozi (c. 470 BCE.c. 390 BCE)

You listen to me. You say you don't want to tell me how to live my life. So what do you think you've been doing? You tell me what rights I've got or haven't got, and what I owe to you for what you've done for me. Let me tell you something. I owe you nothing! If you carried that bag a million miles, you did what you're supposed to do! Because you brought me into this world. And from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me like I will owe my son if I ever have another. But you don't own me! You can't tell me when or where I'm out of line, or try to get me to live my life according to your rules. You don't even know what I am, Dad, you don't know who I am. You don't know how I feel, what I think. And if I tried to explain it the rest of your life you will never understand. You are 30 years older than I am. You and your whole lousy generation believes the way it was for you is the way it's got to be. And not until your whole generation has lain down and died will the dead weight be off our backs! You understand, you've got to get off my back!

.William Rose in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)

At eighty-one Franklin was too feeble to address the convention on its handiwork, and so a friend read for him the following words: "I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such: because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no Form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well-administred; and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administred for a Course of Years and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other.

.Gore Vidal in Inventing a Nation
Venus to Adonis:

I'll be a park and thou shalt be my deer;
Feed where though wilt, on mountain or in dale;
Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry,
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.
Within this limit is relief enough,
Sweet bottom grass, and high delightful plain,
Round rising hillocks, brakes obscure and rough ...

.William Shakespeare

We have enough troubles in our daily lives. There are so many great and beautiful things to discuss in this world of ours it would be wasting these precious moments if we told each other the vulgar details of how we earn our daily bread.

.The Shop Around the Corner

Who Knew Rats Could Be So Regular?
I have noticed that it is only in ships and hotels which still employ the odious Chinese gong, that you find rats. The reason would seem to be, that as a rat cannot tell the time of day by a clock, he won't stay where he cannot find out when dinner is ready.

.Mark Twain, Following the Equator (p. 328)

Upon seeing his first daguerreotype in 1839:
"From today, painting is dead!"

.Paul Delaroche

Another Paul with a French surname, 141 years later:
Photography did not kill painting, but caused its derangement into abstraction.

.Paul Theroux in "The Past Recaptured" (Sunrise With Seamonsters)

Just four:
There are four kinds of people in this world: cretins, fools, morons, and lunatics.

.Umberto Eco, in Foucault's Pendulum

Which would you rather play?
The trumpet is warlike, angelic, apocalyptic, victorious; it sounds the charge. The saxophone plays so that young punks in the slums, their hair slicked down with brilliantine, can dance cheek to cheek with sweating girls.

.Umberto Eco, in Foucault's Pendulum

Thought on September 25, 2001:
Do you really think
it was a coincidence
that 9/11
was the day he picked
for America to call 9-1-1?

Sub Rosa:
When we desire to confine our words, we commonly say they are spoken under the rose.

.Sir Thomas Browne's Pseudoxia Epidemia, 1646
[In Roman mythology Cupid used a rose to induce Harpocrates, the god of Silence, to remain discreet about an amorous indiscretion of Venus. The term came into English use during the Tudor era. Perhaps the roses worn on the head and representations of them in public halls were reminders to keep quiet things said while drunk there?]

Bernard de Fontenelle was born February 11, 1657:
This French philosopher offered his global view stating: "A philosopher sees the earth as a large planet, traveling through the heavens, covered with fools."

Salad Days?
"A child takes so many things for granted. With time, you start to ask questions."

.Peter Høeg in Smilla's Sense of Snow
"To see the right and not do it is cowardice."
"That is certainly a refined and ingenious recreation," said Federico, "but it seems to me to possess one defect; namely, that it is possible for it to demand too much knowledge, so that anyone who wishes to become an outstanding player must, I think, give to it as much time and study as he would to learning some noble science or performing well something or other of importance; and yet for all his pains when all is said and done all he knows is a game. Therefore as far as chess is concerned we reach what is a very rare conclusion: that mediocrity is more to be praised than excellence."
.Baldesar Castiglione, Etiquette for Renaissance Gentlemen (1528)
He who speaks the truth must have one foot in the stirrup.
.said to be an Armenian proverb

To look at a thing is quite different from seeing a thing. To see a thing is to see its beauty.

.Oliver Parker (from his film An Ideal Husband)

On Play:
The child who doesn't play is not a child, but the man who doesn't play has lost forever the child who lived in him and he will certainly miss him.

.Pablo Neruda, the Chilean Poet (Memoirs)
You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of discussion.
– Plato

Always true?
You can't get to the top of your profession without having lived a life where a lot of people are trying to take care of you. It's an adulated, isolated life, and you're vulnerable. These people who have developed [themselves in such an obsessive way] haven't necessarily developed the rest of themselves.

.A. Bartlett Giamatti, late commissioner of baseball

Left Coast, Right Coast
Everyone should live in NYC at least once, but leave before it makes you hard.
Everyone should live in California at least once, but leave before it makes you soft.

The Two Q's
The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of meeting the schedule has been forgotten.

A friend knows how to allow for mere quantity in your talk, and only replies to the quality.
.William Dean Howells
Do what you're doing with quality and intensity for as long as it lasts.

What's In a Name
The beginning of wisdom is learning to call things by their right names.

.Ancient Chinese Proverb

Where We Fit
In size, the human body is approximately midway on a scale between an atom and a star.

L.M. Boyd

Nervous? Anxious??
Don't fret, it will turn out differently.

Dutch proverb, as reported by Audrey Hepburn
Nothing gives one person so much of an advantage over another as to remain unruffled in all circumstances.
Thomas Jefferson
The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind.
William Blake
To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.
Oscar Wilde
I am never alone when I am alone.
Ludwig von Beethoven
Every busy man should go to bed for a year when he is forty.
George Bernard Shaw
Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.
Benjamin Franklin
Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.
Thomas Jefferson's version

Why study the past:
History doesn't repeat itself;
it rhymes.

Mark Twain

On Christmas shopping:
December used to be a month; now it's a whole year.

Seneca the Younger (1st century AD)

Why the Experienced tend to Cynicism:
He who knows nothing, doubts nothing.

Italian Proverb

A nation is a society united by a common error about its origin and a common aversion to its neighbors.

unknown historian

On legislating morality and good taste:
He who tries to fix ... everything by law will inflame rather than correct the vices of the world.

Baruch Spinoza, Dutch philosopher

Perhaps neither:
If you think nobody is evil, can anybody be good?


Cai yuan shi ma, yan zhi fei fu
Even though the man who lives at the border has lost his horse, who knows if it is not luck?
(A horseless man could not be drafted.)

ancient Chinese saying

This probably explains rock "music", probably explains a lotta things:
The male gorilla in the wild has it pretty rough as an adolescent. He doesn't get along any too well with others his age. He's not old enough to impress a female. Older males would just as soon kick him out of the family group as look at him. He lives on the fringe, sort of. He can't get counseling. He can't join a gang. He can't click onto the Internet.

L.M. Boyd

On achieving goals:
Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they're yours.

Richard Bach

On transitions:
It's the transitions in life which make it unbearable ... and worth living.


Including this one:
Every statement of fact carries within it the seeds of its own denial.


Making Sense of Our Modern World:
Capitalism reduces everything to a commodity.


Department of Repetitive Redundancy Department:
"Creative writing"
(Isn't all writing creative?)


What's Your Emphasis?
Time flies like an arrow. (sure and swift)
Time flies like an arrow. (but not mosquitoes)
Timeflies like an arrow. (but the bow is not to their taste)

Do people get more colds in winter because of the cold weather?
No, the viruses are always there. We get more colds in winter partly because we're more often indoors and in closer contact with people and partly because that same indoor air is usually so warm and dry, making our mucous membranes far less resistant to infection. Moist air is much healthier, and even outdoor air in winter is often dry. And, by the way, we don't get colds from sitting in a draft, having wet feet or even walking in a chilly rain.

Marilyn Vos Savant

You and Me
Two things are necessary to keep one's wife happy. First, let her think she is having her way. And second, let her have it.

Lyndon B. Johnson

A woman wants a man who is strong in spirit and who nevertheless will do most everything she tells him. Which applies better here: "oxymoron" or "just plain moron"?


Good manners should be placed right after love in the best recipe for an enduring happy marriage. A couple can avoid divorce by continuing lifelong the etiquette of their engagement.

Madame Dariaux

Nec tecum possum vivere nec sine te
(I can't live with you, or without you.)


Sed modo dilectam scelus est odisse puellam
(It is a crime to hate a girl you once loved.)


Henry James was afraid of life (in other words, of women).

.Italo Calvino

Verum Amicum Qui Intuetur, Exemplar Aliquod Inuetur Sui
(He who looks on a true friend, looks on a sort of image of himself.)

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Why FTF May Work Better than Internet:
Imago Animi Vultus.
(The Face is the Mirror of the Mind)

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Imago Animi Sermo Est
(Speech is the Mirror of the Mind)


Curiously used (unattributed) in the film A Room With a View:
Strike the concertina's melancholy string!
Blow the spirit-stirring harp like anything!
Let the piano's martial blast
Rouse the echos of the past

William S. Gilbert, from his early writings in Fun


The Real Meaning of Star Wars
... when Warner Bros. cancelled the financing for Zoetrope, the Apocalypse Now project was abandoned for a while. After the success of American Graffiti in 1973, George wanted to revive it, but it was still too hot a topic – the war was still on – and notobdy wanted to finance something like that. So George considered his options: What did he really want to say in Apocalypse Now? The message boiled down to the ability of a small group of people to defeat a gigantic power simply by the force of their convictions. And he decided, All right, if it's politically too hot as a contemporary subject, I'll put the essence of the story in outer space and make it happen in a galaxy long ago and far away. The rebel group were the North Vietnamese and the Empire was the United States. And if you have the force, no matter how small you are, you can defeat the overwhelmingly big power. Star Wars is George's transubstantiated version of Apocalypse Now.

.Walter Murch, The Conversations (p. 70)

The Real Meaning of the Unicorn
... everybody knows that to hunt a unicorn you have to put a girl whose still a virgin at the foot of a tree and the animal smells the virgin smell and comes and puts his head in her lap so I took Bergolio's Nena who had come with her father to buy my fathers cow and I said to her come into the woods with me and we'll hunt the unicorn and then I put her under the Tree because I was sure she was a virgin and I said to her sit still like this and spread your legs to make room for the animal's head and she asked spread like this and I sad there right there and I touched her and she began making some noises like a nanny goat dropping a kid and I lost my head and had something like a napocalips and afterwards she wasnt pure like a lily any more and she said o my god now how will we make the unicorn come and just then I heard a voice from Heaven said that the unicorn qui tollis peccata mundis was me and I started jumping around the bushes and crying hip heee frr frr because I was happier than a real unicorn because I had put my horn in the virgin's lap ...

.Umberto Eco, Baudolino (p. 4)

... I was taking a walk with V.S. Naipaul, who said he hated living in Africa. He became ugly-faced with fury. He said, "The weak and oppressed. They're terrible, man. They've got to be kicked." He kicked a stone, very hard. "That's the only thing Africans understand!"
     Naipaul often ranted in Uganda, but he wasn't confidently angry, he was afraid, for the source of his rage was insecurity. Africans looked at him and saw a Muhindi, an Indian. As time passed, Naipaul became more narrowly Indian in his attitudes and prejudices. Subsequently, everything he wrote about Africa was informed by the fear that he had known as an isolated Hindu child in black Trinidad. The childhood fear he brought to Africa became terror in his Uganda months, horror on his Congo trip and as a face-saver he transformed his timid emotions into contempt when he wrote about Africa. In a Free State and A Bend in the River are veiled attacks on Africans and Africa by an outsider who feels weak. Rigid with a Trinidadian Indian's fear of the bush, he never understood that the bush is benign. Africa frightened him so badly he cursed it, wishing it ill until the curse became a dismissive mantra that ignorant readers could applaud: "Africa has no future."

.Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari (p. 209)

Different Drummers:

If you do not want what I want, please try not to tell me that my want is wrong.

Of if my beliefs are different from yours, or at least pause before you set out to correct them.

Or if my emotion seems less or more intense than yours, given the same circumstances, try not to ask me to feel other than I do.

Or if I act, or fail to act, in the manner of your design for action, please let me be.

I do not, for the moment at least, ask you to understand me. That will come only when you are willing to give up trying to change me into a copy of you.

If you will allow me any of my own wants, or emotions, or beliefs, or actions, then you open yourself to the possibility that some day these ways of mine might not seem so wrong, and might finally appear as right – for me. To put up with me is the first step to understanding me.

Not that you embrace my ways as right for you, but that you are no longer irritated or disappointed with me for my seeming waywardness. And one day, perhaps, in trying to understand me, you might come to prize my differences, and, far from seeking to change me, might preserve and even cherish those differences.

I may be your spouse, your parent, your offspring, your friend, your colleague. But whatever your relation, this I know: You and I are fundamentally different and both of us have to march to our own drummer.

.David Keirsey, Please Understand Me II

Randomness and Disconnection in Modern Life:

A man named Flitcraft had left his real-estate-office, in Tacoma, to go to luncheon one day and had never returned. He did not keep an engagement to play golf after four that afternoon, though he had taken the initiative in making the engagement less than half an hour before he went out to luncheon. His wife and children never saw him again. His wife and he were supposed to be on the best of terms. He had two children, boys, one five and the other three. He owned his house in a Tacoma suburb, a new Packard, and the rest of the appurtenances of successful American living.

Flitcraft had inherited seventy thousand dollars from his father, and, with his success in real estate, was worth something in the neighborhood of two hundred thousand dollars at the time he vanished. His affairs were in order, though there were enough loose ends to indicate that he had not been setting them in order preparatory to vanishing. A deal that would have brought him an attractive profit, for instance, was to have been concluded the day after the one on which he disappeared. There was nothing to suggest that he had more than fifty or sixty dollars in his immediate possession at the time of his going. His habits for months past could be accounted for too thoroughly to justify any suspicion of secret vices, or even of another woman in his life, though either was barely possible.

"He went like that," Spade said, "like a fist when you open your hand."

"Well, that was in 1922. In 1927 I was with one of the big detective agencies in Seattle. Mrs. Flitcraft came in and told us somebody had seen a man in Spokane who looked a lot like her husband. I went over there. It was Flitcraft, all right. He had been living in Spokane for a couple of years as Charles – that was his first name – Pierce. He had an automobilie-business that was netting him twenty or twenty-five thousand a year, a wife, a baby son, owned his home in a Spokane suburb, and usually got away to play golf after four in the afternoon during the season."

Spade had not been told very definitely what to do when he found Flitcraft. They talked in Spade's room at the Davenport. Flitcraft had no feeling of guilt. He had left his first family well provided for, and what he had done seemed to him perfectly reasonable. The only thing that bothered him was a doubt that he could make that reasonableness clear to Spade. He had never told anybody his story before, and thus had not had to attempt to make its reasonableness explicit. He tried now.

"I got it all right," Spade told Brigid O'Shaughnessy, "but Mrs. Flitcraft never did. She thought it was silly. Maybe it was. Anyway, it came out all right. She didn't want any scandal, and, after the trick he had played on her – the way she looked at it – she didn't want him. So they were divorced on the quiet and everything was swell all around."

"Here's what happened to him. Going to lunch he passed an office-building that was being put up – just the skeleton. A beam or something fell eight or ten stories down and smacked the sidewalk alongside him. It brushed pretty close to him, but didn't touch him, though a piece of the sidewalk was chipped off and flew up and hit his cheek. It only took a piece of skin off, but he still had the scar when I saw him. He rubbed it with his finger – well, affectionately – when he told me about it. He was scared stiff of course, he said, but he was more shocked than really frightened. He felt like someone had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works."

Flitcraft had been a good citizen and a good husband and father, not by any outer compulsion, but simply because he was a man who was most comfortable in step with his surroundings. He had been raised that way. The people he knew were like that. The life he knew was a clean orderly sane responsible affair. Now a falling beam had shown him that life was fundamentally none of these things. He, the good citizen-husband-father, could be wiped out between office and restaurant by the accident of a falling beam. He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them.

It was not, primarily, the injustice of it that disturbed him; he accepted that after the first shock. What disturbed him was the discovery that in sensibly ordering his affairs he had got out of step, and not into step, with life. He said he knew before he had gone twenty feet from the fallen beam that he would never know peace again until he had adjusted himself to this new glimpse of life. By the time he had eaten his luncheon he had found his means of adjustment. Life could be ended for him at random by a falling beam: he would change his life at random by simply going away. He loved his family, he said, as much as he supposed was usual, but he knew he was leaving them adequately provided for, and his love for them was not of the sort that would make absence painful.

"He went to Seattle that afternoon," Spade said, "and from there by boat to San Francisco. For a couple of years he wandered around and then drifted back to the Northwest, and settled in Spokane and got married. His second wife didn't look like the first, but they were more alike than they were different. You know, the kind of women that play fair games of golf and bridge and like new salad-recipes. He wasn't sorry for what he had done. It seemed reasonable enough to him. I don't think he even knew he had settled back naturally into the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that's the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling."

"How perfectly fascinating," Brigid O'Shaughnessy said....

The Flitcraft Story from The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, 1929

North and South, Never the Twain Shall Meet?
Turning Sunward

There is a shortcut to paradise, in the simple, physical, biblical sense: a place where you don't have to work or wear clothes. A ticket to Florida, Hawaii, or the Caribbean will get your body there in short order. It will take your awareness longer to catch up, to trickle down like a handful of warm sand from your harried head into your body and senses But everything in the tropics seems deliberately designed to hasten that transition: the caress of moist, fragrant air as you walk down the plane's steps; the blaze of tropical flowers along the road in from the airport; the color of the pool at your hotel, a captured gem of lagoon water; and above all, all around you, the silly shape of palm trees.

I am sure that there are very good evolutionary and ecological reasons why palm trees look the way they do. It must have to do with wind and salt, with yielding to hurricanes and hoarding water. And yet those forces made a form that is the quintessence of leisure and liberation Was that by accident? Or is it just that we associate "palm tree" with "vacation"? If we did all our serious work under palm trees, would palms look somber to us (and firs frivolous?) No, I'm afraid we'd just take a lot more siestas. The shape of a palm tree is intrinsically sensuous, whimsical, and daffy. They look like pinwheels, like Quixote's windmills, like slender brown girls with sun-streaked mops, undulating to the merengue. (When castaway Odysseus washed up on a beach at the feet of a beautiful girl, Nausicaa, he compared her to "a magnificent young palm tree" on the island of Delos, under which the gods Apollo and Artemis were said to have been born. The way palms look, the carefree mood they coax, is, to me, one of the two strongest hints that this world was made by an artist. The other is that the vast sun is 93 million miles away, and the modest moon is 240,000 miles away, and they both look the same size in the sky. Go figure.

The word tropics comes from the Greek tropikos, "pertaining to a turn." (Odysseus the wanderer was called polytropos, taking many turns.) Geographically, the tropics are the "torrid zone" between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, the parallels of latitude that mark the sun's most northern and southern points for shedding direct perpendicular rays at noon on midsummer's day and the winter solstice. A "tropic" is the line where the sun "turns" starting its journey back toward the other pole of the seasons. From the same root comes "tropism", a plant's – or a tourist's – instinctive turning to the sun. We incline and year toward the tropics as the other pole of our too-polarized existence. Key West balladeer Jimmy Buffett wrote a song called "Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude": we go "down south" to go "down there," into the hot and humid body. At home we live too much in our minds; on a tropical beach or terrace we are mindless, "spaced out" with our cool drink and fat paperback. At home we work too hard, in the tropics not at all – which also palls. "Vacation" becomes, after a time, vacant. And then back north we go, like the sun, caroming endlessly between two opposite lines of latitude. Rested and sated, we are ready to resume our other half-life.

Yet there is another kind of journey south, one that is not a flight from work into pleasure, but a search for their common root, before mind and senses split. If you've felt drawn to the culture of the Caribbean or Mexico, and not just their resorts, you are on that quest. The gods of voodoo, the masked processionals of Carnival and the Day of the Dead, may stir memories that we once had our own gods (and processionals). An ancestral memory is built into the architecture of the tropics and subtropics, for the ships of the Spanish came first to Florida and the Caribbean, bringing the pastel walls and red-tiled roofs of another southern sea: the Mediterranean.

As James Hillman points out, Northern culture is monotheistic. There is only one right way, and that way is Up, away from the earth with its multiple temptations, toward the One God (or, after his death, toward the One Truth: scientific objectivity in hits heaven, Progress). Every little village clusters around a church with its heaven-pointing spire. Every psyche clusters around a heroic ego, with its striving to rise above, control, unify, and improve the contrary impulses of human nature. To turn and go "down south," then, is a subversive move toward our ancient pre-Christian, polytheistic roots and their survival in our perversely diverse dream life.

"Venturing South is a journey for explorers," Hillman has written. And: "'South' is both an ethnic, cultural, geographic place and a symbolic one. It is both the Mediterranean culture ... its sensual and concrete humanity, its Gods and Goddesses and their myths" and "the direction down into depth" – what Northern psychology has darkly called "the unconscious," but Hillman calls soul or imagination. For centuries, crossing the Alps has held both allure and danger for the Northern mind. Even the late great divers of the dream suffered "archetypal disorientation"; "Once when Jung tried to venture beyond his psychic borders toward Rome, he fainted at the railroad station," according to Hillman. A similar "mysterious inhibition" kept Freud away from Rome for years, and he experienced a "disturbance" while visiting the Acropolis in Athens. "Now the old man went mad," wrote Lawrence Durrell, "for everything undressed and ran laughing into his arms." Perhaps today we are ready to venture deeper into that welcoming landscape, to experience subversion as seduction, disorientation as delight.

From Voyage to Paradise / A Visual Odyssey, text by Annie Gottlieb

English Words from Chinese

Nougat of the Day

Comments on the play Opus