arcana imperii :: the book of j


refreshing our memory

«clean your finger before you point at my spots.»
~benjamin franklin

«with affection beaming in one eye, and calculation shining out of the other.»
~charles dickens

«the only thing worse than a liar is a liar that's also a hypocrite!»
~tennessee williams

«a hypocrite despises those whom he deceives, but has no respect for himself. he would make a dupe of himself too, if he could.»
~william hazlitt

«the true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity»
~andre gide

«ignorance is natural. stupidity takes commitment.»
~solomon short

«how many people make themselves abstract to appear profound. the most useful part of abstract terms are the shadows they create to hide a vacuum.»
~joseph joubert

«it is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument.»
~william g mcadoo

«silence is the virtue of fools.»
~francis bacon



quotations of the week

«the absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.»
~henry kissinger

«he that climbs the tall tree has won right to the fruit.»
~sir walter scott



must-read entry: «an atheist responds»

it's splendidly refreshing to find reason and logic elegantly yet forcefully triumph over the blah-blah-blahs of theists like Michael Gerson and in mainstream media of all arenas. please take a moment to read a most brilliant op-ed piece, published by The Washington Post saturday, 14 july.

An Atheist Responds by Christopher Hitchens

It's uncommonly generous of Michael Gerson [«What Atheists Can't Answer», The Washington Post, op-ed, 13 July] to refer to me as «intellectually courageous and unfailingly kind», since (a) this might be taken as proof that he hardly knows me and (b) it was he who was so kind when I once rang him to check a scurrilous peacenik rumor that he was a secret convert from Judaism to Christian fundamentalism.

However, it is his own supposedly kindly religion that prevents him from seeing how insulting is the latent suggestion of his position: the appalling insinuation that I would not know right from wrong if I was not supernaturally guided by a celestial dictatorship, which could read and condemn my thoughts and which could also consign me to eternal worshipful bliss (a somewhat hellish idea) or to an actual hell.

Implicit in this ancient chestnut of an argument is the further -- and equally disagreeable -- self-satisfaction that simply assumes, whether or not religion is metaphysically «true», that at least it stands for morality. Those of us who disbelieve in the heavenly dictatorship also reject many of its immoral teachings, which have at different times included the slaughter of other «tribes», the enslavement of the survivors, the mutilation of the genitalia of children, the burning of witches, the condemnation of sexual «deviants» and the eating of certain foods, the opposition to innovations in science and medicine, the mad doctrine of predestination, the deranged accusation against all Jews of the crime of «deicide», the absurdity of «Limbo», the horror of suicide-bombing and jihad, and the ethically dubious notion of vicarious redemption by human sacrifice.

Of course Gerson will -- and must -- cherry-pick this list (which is by no means exhaustive) and patter on about how one mustn't be too literal. But in doing this, he makes a huge concession to the ethical humanism to which he so loftily condescends. The game is given away by his own use of G.K. Chesterton's invocation of Thor. We laugh at this dead god, but were not Norse children told that without Valhalla there would be no courage and no moral example? Isn't it true that Louis Farrakhan's crackpot racist group gets young people off drugs? Doesn't Hamas claim to provide social services to the downtrodden? If you credit any one religion with motivating good deeds, how (without declaring yourself to be sectarian) can you avoid crediting them all? And is not endless warfare between the faiths to be added to the list of horrors I just mentioned? Just look at how the «faith-based» are behaving in today's Iraq.

Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any reader of this column think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first -- I have been asking it for some time -- awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain.

Essentially conceding that philosophy and secularism do not condemn their adherents to lives of unbridled selfishness, and that (say) the Jewish people did not get all the way to Mount Sinai under the impression that murder and theft and perjury were okay, and also that we could not have evolved unless human solidarity was in some way innate, Gerson ends weakly by posing what is a rather moving problem.

«In a world without God» he writes, »this desire for love and purpose is a cruel joke of nature -- imprinted by evolution but designed for disappointment». Again, he substitutes the wish for the thought. We very probably are, as he admits, not the designed objects of the Big Bang or of the process of natural selection. But this sober conclusion, objective as it is, is surely preferable to the delusion that we have been created diseased, by a capricious despot, and then abruptly commanded to be whole and well, on pain of terror and torture. That sick joke is one that we can cease to find impressive, that belongs in the infancy of our species, and gives a false picture of reality that we would do well to outgrow.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author of «God Is Not Great».

© 1996-2007 The Washington Post Company.

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«age is a number and mine is unlisted.»

«there was a star danced, and under that was i born.»
~by whomever wrote «much ado about nothing»
believed by some to be william shakespeare

happy birthday to me.



pessimism vs optimism

the nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.
~george f will
we are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.
~john w gardner

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fourth of july two thousand seven

happy birthday, America!

«I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the same coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilised society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.»

~Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 12 July 1810


as it appears on the fourth panel at the Jefferson Memorial:

«I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.»

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the fourth of july

i've previously written (also here) to indeed celebrate this day in history, but this year, with politics as they are here in the US (you've heard, the libby commutation and talk of pardon, the continued and flawed involvement in iraq's RELIGIOUS wars and the like), i'd rather sing to the United Kingdom, as they've just been under terrorist attack and remember a time when we were not quite free yet and Founding Brothers and Sisters invented a nation based on principles now often dismissed by government and citizenry alike.

Rule, Britannia!

When Britain first, at Heaven's command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sung this strain:
«Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
«Britons never will be slaves.»

The nations, not so blest as thee,
Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall;
While thou shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.
«Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
«Britons never will be slaves.»

Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
More dreadful, from each foreign stroke;
As the loud blast that tears the skies,
Serves but to root thy native oak.
«Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
«Britons never will be slaves.»

Thee haughty tyrants ne'er shall tame:
All their attempts to bend thee down,
Will but arouse thy generous flame;
But work their woe, and thy renown.
«Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
«Britons never will be slaves.»

To thee belongs the rural reign;
Thy cities shall with commerce shine:
All thine shall be the subject main,
And every shore it circles thine.
«Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
«Britons never will be slaves.»

The Muses, still with freedom found,
Shall to thy happy coast repair;
Blest Isle! With matchless beauty crown'd,
And manly hearts to guard the fair.
«Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
«Britons never will be slaves.»

note: please observe that «Rule, Britannia! rule the waves» is a COMMAND and so the verb is in the imperative and to sing, «Britannia, rules the waves» is a mistake. and one sings «never, never, never shall be slaves».

this version is taken from The Works of James Thomson by James Thomson, published 1763, Volume II, page 191.

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quotation of the week

«when nothing is done, nothing is left undone.»
~from lao-tse's dao de jing.