hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Arthur Silber - Once Upon A Time. . .

R.K. Narayan - A Writer's Nightmare


If I had the time and resources I should soon be starting an organization called S.P.C. - Society for the Promotion of Curiosity. . .

. . .The old type of question that an aged lady puts a stranger, "How many children have you? What is your husband's salary? How much has he saved?" is one of the most spontaneous acts on earth. The modern tendency is to shudder at such `personal' questions. What question is worth asking unless it be personal? When it is discredited, naturally, a lot of coldness creeps in, and all intimacy and warmth goes out of human relationship. When two persons meet, they are obliged to talk of the weather, test-scores, ministerial crises and such other impersonal matters, and waste precious hours of existence. . .One may outwardly be engaged in discussing political questions with a friend, while really wanting to know what are the latest antics of that pugnacious brother demanding a share of the ancestral estate. . .one might discourse on comparative religion while one would rather ask of one's hearer if so and so and his wife are still quarreling like wild cats and if not, why not? All this is tabooed in polite company. This is one of the reasons why club-life has become somewhat dull nowadays. Members disappear into the cards room or billiard room or sit morosely reading weekly papers in a corner. . .nothing in their talk which is not found in the day's paper and known to one lakh of persons already.

It seems to me that the old town planning was based on the principle that curiosity must be kept alive. Rows and rows of houses stuck side by side, thin partition walls through which you could follow all the conversation in the next house. . .No one could flaunt suddenly his prosperity or suffer adversity without everyone being aware of all the reasons for it. . .

It is only through curiosity that children learn to understand the world around them, it is only through curiosity that artists and writers gather material for their work, it is only through curiosity that science has progressed. If Newton had ignored the fall of the apple as an unwanted personal question pertaining to the tree and the apple, mankind would probably never have known of gravitation.

C.S. Lewis - Present Concerns

My First School

. . .Whether the hirsute old humbug who owned it would have run the place by espionage if the boys had given him the chance, I do not know. The treacle-like sycophancy of his letters to my father, which shocked me when they came into my hands years afterwards, does not make it improbable. But he was given no chance. We had no sneaks among us. The Head had, indeed, a grown-up son, a smooth-faced carpet-slipper sort of creature apt for the sport; a privileged demi-god who ate the same food as his father though his sisters shared the food of the boys. But we ourselves were (as the Trades Unions say) "solid". Beaten, cheated, scared, ill-fed, we did not sneak. And I cannot help feeling that it was in that school I imbibed a certain indispensable attitude towards mere power on the one hand and towards every variety of Quisling on the other. So much so that I find it hard to see what can replace the bad schoolmaster if he has indeed become extinct. He was, sore against will, a teacher of honour and a bulwark of freedom. . .Of course one must wish for good schoolmasters. But if they breed up a generation of the "Yes, Sir, and Oh, Sir, and Please, Sir brigade", Squeers himself will have been less of a national calamity. . .

. . .What is the moral of this? Not, assuredly, that we should not try to make boys happy at school. The good results which I think I can trace to my first school would not have come about if its vile procedure have been intended to produce them. They were all by-products thrown off of a wicked old man's desire to make as much as he could out of deluded parents and to give as little as could in return. That is the point. While we are planning the education of the future we can be rid of the illusion that we shall ever replace destiny. Make the plans as good as you can, of course. But be sure that the deep and final effect on every single boy will be something you never envisaged and will spring from little free movements in your machine which neither your blueprint nor your working model gave any hint of.

J.R.R. Tolkien - Tree and Leaf

. . .It is easy for the student to feel that with all his labour he is collecting only a few leaves, many of them now torn or decayed, from the countless foliage of the Tree of Tales, with which the Forest of Days is carpeted. It seems vain to add to the litter. Who can design a new leaf? The patterns from bud to unfolding, and the colours from spring to autumn were all discovered by men long ago. But that is not true. The seed of the tree can be replanted in almost any soil, even in one so smoke-ridden (as Lang said) as that of England. Spring is, of course, not really less beautiful because we have seen or heard of other like events: like events, never from world's beginning to world's end the same event. Each leaf, of oak and ash and thorn, is a unique embodiment of the pattern, and for some this very year may be the embodiment, the first ever seen and recognized, though oaks have put forth leaves for countless generations of men.

We do not, or need not, despair of drawing because all lines must be either curved or straight, nor of painting because there are only three “primary” colours. We may indeed be older now, in so far as we are heirs in enjoyment or in practice of many generations of ancestors in the arts. In this inheritance of wealth there may be a danger of boredom or of anxiety to be original, and that may lead to a distaste for fine drawing, delicate pattern, and “pretty” colours, or else to mere manipulation and over-elaboration of old material, clever and heartless. But the true road of escape from such weariness is not to be found in the wilfully awkward, clumsy, or misshapen, not in making all things dark or unremittingly violent; nor in the mixing of colours on through subtlety to drabness, and the fantastical complication of shapes to the point of silliness and on towards delirium. Before we reach such states we need recovery. We should look at green again, and be startled anew (but not blinded) by blue and yellow and red. We should meet the centaur and the dragon, and then perhaps suddenly behold, like the ancient shepherds, sheep, and dogs, and horses— and wolves. This recovery fairy-stories help us to make. In that sense only a taste for them may make us, or keep us, childish.

Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re-gaining — regaining of a clear view. I do not say “seeing things as they are” and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say “seeing things as we are (or were)meant to see them” — as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness. Of all faces those of our familiares are the ones both most difficult to play fantastic tricks with, and most difficult really to see with fresh attention, perceiving their likeness and unlikeness: that they are faces, and yet unique faces. This triteness is really the penalty of “appropriation”: the things that are trite, or (in a bad sense) familiar, are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.

Of course, fairy-stories are not the only means of recovery, or prophylactic against loss. Humility is enough. . .

. . .Fantasy is made out of the Primary World, but a good craftsman loves his material, and has a knowledge and feeling for clay, stone and wood which only the art of making can give. By the forging of Gram cold iron was revealed; by the making of Pegasus horses were ennobled . . .It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of the words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine. . .

‘I Can’t Believe What I’m Confessing to You’: The Wikileaks Chats

. . .(02:31:02 PM) Manning: i think the thing that got me the most… that made me rethink the world more than anything
(02:35:46 PM) Manning: was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police… for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the “bad guys” were, and how significant this was for the FPs… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki… i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…
(02:35:46 PM) Lamo : I’m not here right now
(02:36:27 PM) Manning: everything started slipping after that… i saw things differently. . .

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