Oklahoma River

Warm Words on Cold Days

I’m exceedingly late to posting this, but here is some some of my favorite quotes from my fall and winter of 2017 reading list.  Authors include Walter Isaacson, David McCullough, the glorious Barbara W. Tuchman, and Leo Tolstoy.

Most of my reading at the end of 2017 was history.  Honestly the single biggest genre of literature I read is almost always history, but the end of 2017 especially so.  Partly that is due to a single book (War and Peace) filling so much time in my fiction category that I needed to read 10 other books to “even the playing field” so to speak.

I’m going to totally ignore The Story of Civilization by Will & Ariel Durant because every one of their books is one of my favorites and it doesn’t seem fair to the other books I read.  Some of my favorite books were The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman, Freedom from Fear by David M Kennedy, and Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick.  Non of the books I read was especially bad this time.

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley

Today the word hero had been diminished, confused with celebrity but in my father generation the word meant something.  Celebrities seek fame.  They take actions to get attention.  Most often the actions they take have no particular moral content.  Heroes are heroes because they have risked something to help others.  Their actions involve courage. Often those heroes have been indifferent to the public’s attention but at least the hero could understand the focus of the emotion.  However he valued or devalued his own achievement it did stand as an accomplishment.

There are no great men, just great challenges which ordinary men out of necessity are forced by circumstances to meet.

–William F. “Bull” Halsey

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

He marveled that George Orwell could have so understood the Korean brand of Totalitarianism.

North Korean defectors often find it hard to settle down.  It is not easy for someone who has escaped a Totalitarian country to live in the free world.  Defectors have to re-discover who they are in world that offers endless possibilities.  Choosing where to live, what to do, even which close to put on in the morning is tough enough for those of us accustom to making choices.  It can be utterly paralyzing for people who’ve had decisions made for them by the state their entire lives.

Freedom from Fear by David M. Kennedy

Despite the new deals exertions and innovations, and contrary to much later mythology, in no subsequent year in the 1930 would the unemployment rate fall below 14%.  The average for the decade as a whole was 17.1%.  The depression and the new deal in short were Siamese twins enduring together in a painful but symbiotic relationship that stretched to the end of the decade.

If the aroma of radicalism clinging to the CIO repled many so increasing did its reputation fro a kind of undisciplined wildcat unionism permitting unauthorized work stoppages to break out repeatedly.  The sit down tactic in particular was so easily emulated that scatter groups of workers began employing it indiscriminately after the spectacular victory at flint.

The radical potential of the sit down tactic had always rattled middle class Americans.  2/3rd of respondents in a gallop pole in Feb 1937 believed that  GM was right not to negotiate with the sit-downers and strong majorities sympathized with employers.

Just as workers ensued the overthrow of capitalist to embrace bread and butter unionism; so did they repudiate radical politics and attach themselves one of the existing mainstream parties.  In the processes they wrote the epitaph for American socialism and stifled American communism in its cradle.

Its (the New Deal) failure to produced economic recovery.  Much mythology and New Deal rhetoric not withstanding.  It did not substantially redistribute the national income.  Americas income profile in 1940 closely resembled that of 1930, and for that matter 1920.  The falling economic tide of the depression lowered all boats but, by in large, they held their relative positions.  What little economic leveling there was resulted more from depression diminished returns to investments, not redistribution tax policies.

The war was a contest between two systems of organization.  The Americans, he insisted, knew how to act with organizationally simple methods and therefore achieved greater results.  Whereas we were hampered by superannuated forms of organization and therefore could not match the others feats.  If we did not arrive at a different system of organization it would be evident to posterity that our outmoded, tradition bound, and arthritic organizational system had lost the struggle.  –Albert Speer

In the long sweep of time Americas half  century long ideological, political, and military face-off with the Soviet Union may appear far less consequential than Americas leadership in inaugurating an era of global economic interdependence.

Who could deny that globalization, the explosion in world trade, investment, and cultural mingling was the signature and lasting international achievement of the post war era.  One likely to overshadow the cold war and it’s long term historical consequences.

The Age of Louis XIV, The Story of Civilization Volume 8 by Will & Ariel Durant

Probably it is social and not biological hereditary that makes civilization.

It had taken him almost half a century to discover that to be loved is worth monogamy.

The historian, like the journalist, tends to loose the normal  background of an age in the dramatic foreground of his picture for he knows his readers will relish the exceptional and will wish to personify processese and events.

Wealth is necessary to great art, but wealth is disgraceful and art is unpleasant when they flourish at the expense of widespread poverty and debasing superstition

The beautiful cannot long be divorced from the good.

If later he graduated from politics to statesmanship it was because the difference between politics and statesmanship is philosophy. The ability to see the moment and the part in the light of the lasting and the whole.

That transformation had to be economic as well as political, for no purely agricultural society could long maintain its independence against states enriched and armed by industry.

A nation exporting chiefly raw material and agricultural products would soon become vassal to states producing and exporting chiefly manufactured goods.

History is a race between art and war.

If there were no ignorance, there would be no history.

So, year by year, and mind by mind, the impenetrable immensity surrenders some teasing, luring fragment of its mystery.

The absolutist polity is a child of war and democracy is a luxury of peace.

Every art should accept the moral obligation to be intelligible… or silent.

Political supremacy naturally and rightly follows economic supremacy; only in that accord can a state enjoy stability.

The larger souls, that have traveled the diverse climates of opinions, are more cautious in their resolves and more sparing to determine.

Three stages in the revolt of business against birth, of money against land.

Persecution comes from lust for power and from jealousy mascaraing as religious zeal.  Persecution creates hypocrites,  toleration promotes knowledge and truth.

Reason can teach us to doubt but it rarely moves us to act.

Progress too is a delusion; we mistake movement for advance, but probably it is merely oscillation.

In poetry and art there had been no visible progress, for these depend upon feeling and imagination, which hardly change from generation to generation; but in science and learning, which depend upon the slow accumulation of knowledge, we may expect to surpass antiquity.

For in modern states the men who can manage men manage the men who can manage only things; and the men who can manage money manage all.

That a  mans vices are usually the influence of his time while his virtues are his own.

 Vitium est temporis potius quam hominis  (aka Vices are of the age rather than of the man.)

The Bonfire by Marc Wortman

Revolution thus ran its course from city to city, and the places which it arrived at last, from having heard what had been done before, carried to a still greater excess the refinement of their inventions, as manifested in the cunning of their enterprises and the atrocity of their reprisals. Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any.

–Thucydides

Captive Paradise, A History of Hawaii by James L. Haley

Modern academic studies have been rooted in the reigning “politically correct” paradigm of race, gender, and exploitation—which as it turns out are highly appropriate lenses through which to view the islands’ history.

Early in the process I had coffee with a distinguished history professor friend of mine, to discuss my possible return to graduate study, looking toward completing along-abandoned Ph.D. He asked how my Hawai’i work was coming, and I said that while I was finding little to change my opinion that the 1893 overthrow was indefensible, I was also increasingly surprised and troubled by the pervasive oppression of the common people by their own chiefs and kings before Americans ever showed up.  I cited several examples; the professor nodded and allowed that this was indeed the case, but he warned me that if I if I wrote the book that way and did not “position” the Hawaiians as victims of American racism and exploitation, as he said,  “it won’t help you get accepted back into grad school,”

It also seemed clear that when the actual facts or history conflict with the reigning theoretical model, it may fall to nonacademic writer to disseminate a more nuanced narrative.

People who espouse reincarnation always fancy themselves to by Henry VIII or Marie Antoinette. No one channels his past as some humble, downtrodden medieval plowman.

Modern cultural sensitivity obscures an important fact.  Hawaii never was a paradise.

The Age of Voltaire, The Story of Civilization Volume 9 by Will & Ariel Durant

Word peddlers tend to idealize the countryside if they are exempt from its harassments, boredom, insects, and toil.

There would be no great mistake, at least in politics, in expecting every man to pursue his own interest as he sees it; let us suspect any politician who pretends anything else.

There are few histories without lies and none without some mistakes.  The lying spirit has gone forth from ecclesiastics to other historians but the resolute student, by confronting liar with liar, can wriggle his way between them to the truth.

The heart is a faculty of which we despoil ourselves everyday by giving it no exercise while the mind is continually sharped and refined.

History is full of religious wars but it is not the multiplicity of religions that have produced wars.  It is the intolerance spirit animating that one which believed itself in the ascendant.

Nearly all democracies are oligarchies.  Minorities can organize for action and power, majorities cannot.

By philosopher we shall mean anyone who tries to arrive at reasoned opinions on any subject whatever as seen in a large perspective.  …we shall apply the term to those who seek a rational view of the origin, mature, significance, and destiny of the universe, life, or man.

Conservatives stress the differences and influence of heredity, and the need for caution in changing institutions rooted in natural and native inequalities of ability and character.

Reformers stress the differences and influences of environment, by which inequalities of ability, power, and wealth seem due to chance–to the accidents of birth and the privileges of condition rather than to innate merit.

…in philosophy nearly all original ideas are foolish, and lack of originality is a sign of wisdom.

…for when a religion consents to reason it begins to die.

Heaven and utopia are the rival buckets that hover over the well of fate: when one goes down the other goes up; hope draws up one ar the other in turn.  Perhaps when both buckets come up empty a civilization loses heart and begins to die.

It is difficult to be brilliant and conservative; there is little char, for active minds, in standing for tradition and authority; it is tempting to be critical, for then you can feel the pleasure of individuality and novelty.

But in philosophy it is almost impossible to be original without being wrong.

Tradition is to the group what memory is to the individual; and just as the snapping of memory may bring insanity, so a sudden break with tradition may plunge a whole nation into madness

…universal love is the delusion of children who do not know the universal enmity that forms the law of life…

I believe that we should be allowed to question traditions and institutions, but with care that we do not destroy more than we can build… and always with a modest consciousness that experience of generations may be wiser than the reason of a transitory individual.

Reason is the noblest gift that God has given us. No; love is.

They have discovered that your philosophy has no answer but ignorance and despair.

man is born with individualistic instincts formed in thousands of years of primitive conditions; that his social instincts are relatively weak; and that a strong code of morals and laws is needed to tame this natural anarchist into a normally peaceful citizen.  Our theologians called those individualistic instincts original sin, inherited from our “first Parents” –that is, from those harassed, lawless men, ever endangered hunters, who had always to be ready to fight and kill for food or mates

You wish to keep the morality and discard the theology; but it is the theology that makes the morality sink in to the soul.

Society is based upon morality, morality is based upon character, character is formed in childhood  and youth long before reason can be a guide.

The intellect is a constitutional individualist, and when it is uncontrolled by morality it can tear a society to pieces.

All restraint of instinct is unnatural, and yet without many such restraints society is impossible.

The hopeful revolutionists talked of liberty, equality, and fraternity.  But these idols never get along together.  If you establish liberty you let natural inequalities multiply into artificial inequalities; and to check these you have to restrain liberty so your utopias of freedom sometimes become straitjackets of despotism, and in the turmoil fraternity becomes only a phrase.

Truth is not truth unless it remains true through generations.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don’t matter so much and a lot of them just turn off.

The job of art is to chase ugliness away.

What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.

You should never start a company with the goal of getting rich. Your goal should be making something you believe in and making a company that will last.

The older I get, the more I see how much motivations matter.

Form follows emotion.

Brave Companions by David McCullough

The way to all learning, the backbone of education, was to know something well.  A smattering of everything is worth little.

Facts are stupid things until brought into conjunction with some general law.

It was a great and common fallacy to suppose that an encyclopedic mind is a desirable thing.  The mind was made strong not through much learning but by the thorough possession of something.