May 21st, 2012


no one leaves this world uneaten

To claim an interest, I have been in social media for over 21 years, and signed up on Facebook long before it opened beyond Harvard students and alumni. From this perespective, I am reminded of an anecdote told by Jerry Weintraub:
Samuel and Rose Weintraub came west to visit their older son, the one who would not go into the gem trade, to see what kind of life he had made for himself. “Now I have a big mansion in Beverly Hills, a Rolls, a chauffeur, fresh flowers, butlers, swimming pools—everything,” Jerry told me. “My mom and dad arrive, and I pick them up with my driver, and my mom is beaming. We get to my house and we’re serving caviar, Havana cigars for my father, and champagne—the whole deal. After a couple of days of this, my dad says, ‘I want to talk to you. Let’s take a walk.’ We get outside and he says, ‘I want to ask you a question and I want you to tell me the truth and I don’t want any bullshit from you. Are you in the Mafia? How did you get all this? You were never that smart.’”
    I’m creative. I did it.
    Where’s your inventory? How can you have this much money and not have an inventory? It doesn’t make sense to me.
    “The next day I made arrangements. My mother’s favorite was Cary Grant. And horses. We drove to Hollywood Park [racetrack] and Cary Grant was waiting for us. He opened the door and looked at my mother and said, ‘Rose, I’m your date for lunch.’
    “They had lunch and he made her bets for her and sat with her. I don’t think my father liked it so much. That evening I made a dinner party with all the stars. And Cary came. I remember going to the bar, and my mom was having a glass of champagne. And Sinatra came up and said, ‘Hey, Rose, I heard you had a great date for lunch today.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, but I like my Sammy better.’”
— Rich Cohen, “Jerry Weintraub Presents!”, Vanity Fair, March 2008
In the instant conversation, I am struck by the preponderance of cutting edge XXIst century cinematographers channeling an itinerant Jewish jeweler from a century ago. Lighten up. Everyone serves as inventory to all sorts of entities, from governments to maggots. No one leaves this world uneaten. My favorite strategy is enjoying the set and its setting whilst pacing my consumption, as an agent and patient alike.

thorstein veblen on the business of nations

Thorstein Veblen Farmstead: National Historic Landmark
16538 Goodhue Avenue, Nerstrand, Minnesota

In the last analysis the nation remains a predatory organism, in practical effect an association of persons moved by a community interest in getting something for nothing by force and fraud. There is, doubtless, also much else of a more genial nature to be said for the nation as an institutional factor in recent times. The voluminous literature of patriotic encomium and apology has already said all that is needed on that head. But the irreducible core of national life, what remains when the non-essentials are deducted, still is of this nature; it continues to be self-determination in war and politics. Such is the institutional pedigree of the nation. It is a residual derivative of the predatory dynastic State, and as such it still continues to be, in the last resort, an establishment for the mobilization of force and fraud against the outside, and for a penalised subservience of its underlying population at home.
    In recent times, owing to the latterday state of the industrial arts, this national pursuit of warlike and political ends has come to be a fairly single-minded chase after unearned income to be procured by intimidation and intrigue. It has been called Imperialism; it might also, in a colloquial phrasing, be called national graft. By and large, it takes the two typical forms of graft: official salaries (The White Man’s Burden), as in the British crown colonies and the American dependencies; and of special concessions and advantageous bargains in the way of trade, credits and investments, as, eg, the British interests in Africa and Mesopotamia or the American transactions in Nicaragua and Haiti. The official salaries which are levied by this means on the underlying population in foreign parts inure directly to the nation’s kept classes, in their role of official personnel, being in the nature of perquisites of gentility and of political suction. The special benefits in the way of profitable trade and investment under national tutelage in foreign parts inure to those special Interests which are in close touch with the nation’s official personnel and do business in foreign parts with their advice and consent.
    All the while, of course, all this trading on the national integrity is carried on as inconspicuously as may be, quite legally and morally under democratic forms, by night and cloud, and is covered over with such decently voluble prevarication as the case may require, prevarication of a decently statesmanlike sort; such a volume and texture of prevarication as may serve to keep the national left hand from knowing what the right hand is doing, the left hand in these premises being the community at large, as contrasted with the Interests and the official personnel. In all such work of administrative prevarication and democratic camouflage the statesmen are greatly helped out by the newspapers and the approved agencies that gather and purvey such news as is fit to print for the purpose in hand. The pulpit, too, has its expedient uses as a publicity agency in furtherance of this gainful pursuit of national enterprise in foreign parts.
    However, the present argument is not concerned with the main facts and material outcome of this imperial statecraft considered as a “gainful pursuit,” but only with the ulterior and residual consequences of the traffic in the way of a heightened sense of national integrity and a closer coalescence of this national integrity with the gainful pursuits of all these dominant business Interests that engage the sympathies of the official personnel. By this means the national integrity becomes ever more closely identified, in the popular apprehension, with the security and continued enlargement of the capitalised overhead charges of those concerns which do business in foreign parts; whereby the principles of business and absentee ownership come in for an added sanction; so that the official personnel which has these matters in charge is enabled to give a more undivided attention and a more headlong support to any manoeuvres of strategic sabotage on industrial production which the exigencies of gainful business may dictate, whether at home or abroad.
    Statecraft as a gainful pursuit has always been a furtive enterprise. And in due proportion as the nation’s statecraft is increasingly devoted to the gainful pursuit of international intrigue it will necessarily take on a more furtive character, and will conduct a larger proportion of its ordinary work by night and cloud. Which leads to a substitution of coercion in the place of consultation in the dealings of the official personnel with their underlying population, whether in domestic or foreign policy; and such coercion is increasingly accepted in a complaisant, if not a grateful, spirit by the underlying population, on a growing conviction that the national integrity is best provided for by night and cloud. So therefore it also follows that any overt expression of doubt as to the national expediency of any obscure transaction or line of transactions entered into by the official personnel in the course of this clandestine traffic in gainful politics, whether at home or abroad, will presumptively be seditious; and unseasonable inquiry into the furtive movements of the official personnel is by way of becoming an actionable offense; since it is to be presumed that, for the good of the nation, no one outside of the official personnel and the business Interests in collusion can bear any intelligent part in the management of these delicate negotiations, and any premature intimation of what is going on is likely to be “information which may be useful to the enemy.” Any pronounced degree of skepticism touching the expediency of any of the accomplished facts of political intrigue or administrative control is due to be penalised as obnoxious to the common good. In the upshot of it all, the paramount rights, powers, aims, and immunities of ownership, or at least those of absentee ownership, come in for a closer identification with the foundations of the national establishment and are hedged about with a double conviction of well-doing.
    In that strategy of businesslike curtailment of output, debilitation of industry, and capitalisation of overhead charges, which is entailed by the established system of ownership and bargaining, the constituted authorities in all the democratic nations may, therefore, be counted on to lend their unwavering support to all manoeuvres of business-as-usual, and to disallow any transgression of or departure from business principles. Nor should there seem any probability that the effectual run of popular sentiment touching these matters will undergo any appreciable change in the calculable future. The drift of workday discipline, as well as of deliberate instruction, sets in the conservative direction. For the immediate future the prospect appears to offer a fuller confirmation in the faith that business principles answer all things. The outlook should accordingly be that the businesslike control of the industrial system in detail should presently reach, if it has not already reached, and should speedily pass beyond that critical point of chronic derangement in the aggregate beyond which a continued pursuit of the same strategy on the same businesslike principles will result in a progressively widening margin of deficiency in the aggregate material output and a progressive shrinkage of the available means of life.
— Thorstein Veblen, Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times: the Case of America,
New York, N.Y.: B.W. Huebsch, 1923, pp. 442-445

fowler on pedantry and purism

Henry Watson Fowler
10 March 1858 – 26 December 1933

Pedantic Humour. No essential distinction is intended between this & Polysyllabic Humour; one or the other name is more appropriate to particular specimens, & the two headings are therefore useful for reference; but they are manifestations of the same impulse, & the few remarks needed may be made here for both. A warning is necessary, because we have all of us, except the abnormally stupid, been pedantic humourists in our time. We spend much of our childhood picking up a vocabulary; we like to air our latest finds; we discover that our elders are tickled when we come out with a new name that they thought beyond us; we devote some pains to tickle them further, & there we are, pedants & polysyllabists all. The impulse is healthy for children, & nearly universal—which is just why warning is necessary; for among so many there will always be some who fail to realize that the clever habit applauded at home will make them insufferable abroad. Most of those who are capable of writing well enough to find readers do learn sooner or later that playful use of long or learned words is a one-sided game boring the reader more than it pleases the writer, that the impulse to it is a danger-signal—for there must be something wrong with what they are saying if it needs recommending by such puerilities—, & that yielding to the impulse is a confession of failure. But now & then even an able writer will go on believing that the incongruity between simple things to be said & out-of-the-way words to say them in has a perennial charm. Perhaps it has for the reader who never outgrows hobbledehoyhood; but for the rest of us it is dreary indeed. It is possible that acquaintance with such labels as pedantic & polysyllabic humour may help to shorten the time it takes to cure a weakness incident to youth.
    An elementary example or two should be given. The words homoeopathic (small or minute), sartorial (of clothes), interregnum (gap), or familiar ones:—To introduce ‘Lords of Parliament’ in such a homoeopathic doses as to leave a preponderating power in the hands of those who enjoy a merely hereditary title./While we were motoring out to the station I took stock of his sartorial aspect, which had change somewhat since we parted./In his vehement action his breeches fall down & his waistcoat runs up, so that there is a great interregnum.
    These words are like most that are much used in humour of either kind, both pedantic & polysyllabic. A few specimens that cannot be described as polysyllabic are added here, & for the large class of long words, the article Polysyllabic Humour should be consulted:—ablution; aforesaid; beverage; bivalve (the succulent); caloric; cuticle; digit; domestics; eke (adv.); ergo; erstwhile; felicide; nasal organ; neighbourhood (in the n. of, = about); nether garments; optic (eye); parlous; vulpicide.

    Pedantry may be defined, for the purpose of this book, as the saying of things in language so learned or so demonstratively accurate as to imply a slur upon the generality, who are not capable or desirous of such displays. The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else’s ignorance. It is therefore not very profitable to dogmatize here on the subject; an essay would establish not what pedantry is, but only the place in the scale occupied by the author; & that, so far as it is worth inquiring into, can better be ascertained from the treatment of details […].

    Polysyllabic Humour. See Pedantic Humour for a slight account of the impulse that suggests long or abstruse words as a means of entertaining the hearer. Of the long as distinguished from the abstruse, terminological exactitude for lie or falsehood is a favourable example, but much less amusing ad the hundredth than at the first time of hearing. Oblivious to their pristine nudity (forgetting they were stark naked) is a less familiar specimen. Nothing need here be added to hat was said in the other article beyond a short specimen list of long words or phrases that sensible people avoid. Batavian, Caledonian, Celestial, Hibernian & Milesian for Dutch, Scotch, Chinese, Irish. Solution of continuity, femoral habiliments, refrain from lacteal addition, & olfactory organ for gap, breeches, take no milk, & nose. Osculatory, pachydermatous, matutinal, diminutive, fuliginous, fugacious, esurient, culinary, & minacious, for kissing, thick-skinned, morning, tiny, sooty, timid, hungry, kitchen, & threatening. Frontispiece, individual, equitation, intermediary, cachinnation, & epidermis, for face, person, riding, means, laughter, & skin. Negotiate & peregrinate for tackle & travel.

    Purism. Now & then a person may be heard to ‘confess’, in the pride that apes humility, to being ‘a bit of a purist’; but purist & purism are for the most part missile words, which we all of us fling at anyone who insults us by finding not good enough for him some manner of speech that is good enough for us. It is in that disparaging sense that the words are used in this book; by purism is to be understood a needless & irritating insistence on purity or correctness of speech. Pure English, however, even apart from the great number of elements (vocabulary, grammar, idiom, pronunciation, & so forth) that go to make it up, is so relative a term that almost every man is potentially a purist & a sloven at once to persons looking at him from a lower & a higher position in the scale than his own. The words have therefore not been very freely used; that they should be renounced altogether would be too much to expect considering the subject of the book. But readers who find a usage stigmatized as purism have a right to know the stigmatizer's place in the purist scale, if his stigma is not to be valueless. […]

—Henry Watson Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage: The Classic First Edition,
Oxford University Press, 2009 (1926), pp. 426-427, 444, 474-475