There’s a nice little interview with Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of NYC, in the this month’s Monocle (July/August 2012) in which he discusses the benefits immigrants bring to a city and country. It’s almost moving.
M: you have made strong speeches in support of immigration. Why?
MB: The solution to America’s problems is getting immigrants from around the world who come in and start businesses with a work ethic that is almost always better than the people who have been there for multiple generations, because we all get comfortable.
Immigrants are self-selected. They are people who want to make it better. And anyone willing to give up their friends, family, culture, housing, everything they know, to take the risks—those people work harder almost by definition. And that’s what you need to encourage those who have been there for generations, to challenge them and make them understand that they gotta do it too.
America has a terrible immigration policy. If anybody gets through that, New York is probably where they want to come and that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to create jobs. Our cuisine, our culture, our language, everything is all mixed together in New York. And the other thing is that New York City lives as a mixture and so in the ultimate Irish Catholic neighborhood of Bay Ridge, for example, there are probably more Muslims per capita than anywhere else. New Yorkers mix in the streets, they stand next to each other at Starbucks, buy a newspaper at the same kiosk. Strangers look different, sound different, smell different, act different, but they become non- threatening just because of proximity. You are with them all the time. Even if you don’t build personal relationships or go and break bread together, you can still live together and that is New York’s great strength.
A little while ago this blog published a post summarising Plato’s arguments against books and writing (taken from Harper’s). A seemingly indefensible position, you’d think—but Plato had a few more arguments in favour of this than I would have guessed possible.
In a similar way, I recently came across a Wikipedia article on the sale of Army commissions. Until 1800 or so, most European armies allowed the purchase of ranks—and the British Army in particular was especially keen on this system. Again, it seems that this system would have little to recommend it, but Wikipedia advises:
- It preserved the social exclusivity of the officer class.
- It served as a form of collateral against abuse of authority or gross negligence or incompetence. Disgraced officers could be cashiered by the crown (that is, stripped of their commission without reimbursement).
- It ensured that the officer class was largely populated by persons having a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, thereby reducing the possibility of Army units taking part in a revolution or coup.
- It ensured that officers had private means and were unlikely to engage in looting or pillaging, or to cheat the soldiers under their command by engaging in profiteering using army supplies.
- It provided honourably retired officers with an immediate source of capital.
How common was it for commissions to be awarded on merit?
The first two sentences of Proust’s Swann’s Way, as translated by man and machine.
Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure. Parfois, à peine ma bougie éteinte, mes yeux se fermaient si vite que je n'avais pas le temps de me dire: “Je m'endors.”
Quite a lot of variation!
Moncrieff (Project Gutenberg):
For a long time I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, when I had put out my candle, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say: “I’m going to sleep.”
Moncrieff, as updated by Kilmartin and then Enright (ISBN 9780099362210):
For a long time I would go to bed early. Sometimes, the candle barely out, my eyes closed so quickly that I did not have time to tell myself: “I’m falling asleep.”
For a long time, I went to bed early. Sometimes, my candle scarcely out, my eyes would close so quickly that I did not have time to say to myself: “I’m falling asleep.”
Was expecting better—Google is the best by far, but they’re all pretty awful, especially considering how well they do on non-literary text.
Long time, I went to bed early. Sometimes just my candle extinguished, my eyes would close so quickly that I did not have time to tell me: “I fall asleep.”
Long, am coated me early. Sometimes, just my candle hydrated, my eyes closed so quickly that I didn’t have time to tell me: “I sleep.”
A long time, I lay down early. Sometimes, hardly my extinct candle, my eyes were closed so quickly that I had time to tell me: “I fall asleep.”
Perhaps this is 80% scripted, but it sure is amusing.
Marc Jacobs releases a t-shirt featuring a picture of the tag, priced at $689 unsigned, and $680 “signed” by Kidult, again announced on Twitter.
Kidult releases his own t-shirt, priced at 6,89€.
I discovered the most amazing thing today: in the UK, if Charity Shops are to claim Gift Aid on your donation (a tax incentive worth about 20% of its value), they are required by law to first offer you the proceeds of the sale. I got a letter explaining this from Sue Ryder the other day: “If you want to reclaim the proceeds from the sale of your donations for yourself, please write to us within 21 days…”
There’s more information about this surprising situation in the HMRC’s “Carrying out the sale on behalf of the owner.” What I don’t understand now is how Charities are supposed to prevent people from using them to sell their stuff—Sue Ryder, for example, only charge a 2% commission for handling the sale. (I think this is low because they’re not allowed to claim Gift Aid on the “commission” in the event that the proceeds are donated.)
I guess they could refuse to take on a consignment from a regular offender? Perhaps if there’s no attempt to claim Gift Aid they can keep the entire proceeds?
“Once the item has been sold the individual must be told how much it was sold for and be given the opportunity to choose whether to keep all or part of the proceeds or donate all or part of those proceeds to the charity.” — Claiming Gift Aid when goods are sold by, and the proceeds gifted to, charities
Here’s Samuel Johnson at age 73, upon waking in the night and discovering that he couldn’t speak (he’d had a stroke):
Dear Sir, It hath pleased almighty God this morning to deprive me of the powers of speech; and, as I do not know that it may be his farther good pleasure to deprive me soon of my senses, I request you will, on the receipt of this note, come to me, and act for me, as the exigencies of my case may require. (From Oliver Sacks, The Mind’s Eye.)
(c.f. oh I don’t know, the entirety of Twitter.)
One of my favourite ever “long reads” is a piece by Guy Lawson in the January 1998 Harper’s: “Hockey nights: The tough skate through junior-league life.”
It’s an account of ice-hockey as played in the rural Canadian town of Flin Flon, Manitoba by an under-20 team called the Bombers. Hockey there is pretty tough. (This might not be a surprise.) There’s a fairly casual attitude toward on-rink punch-ups, but violence is also deployed surprisingly dispassionately in other situations, like evaluating potential recruits.
Here’s a sampling:
“Meeks isn’t the right guy. He’s too good a fighter,” Razor said to me. “We’ll send someone else, and if the kid [Sides, a prospective recruit] answers the bell and stands up for himself, he’ll be accepted by the team. If he doesn’t, we’ll go from there.” Sides scored three goals that session. The next afternoon he fought Ferlie, a man-child six inches shorter than Sides but an absurdly eager and able fighter. Skate-to-skate, lefts and rights were thrown in flurries. Sides’s head bounced off the Plexiglas as he and Ferlie wrestled each other to the ice. The players on the benches stood and slapped their sticks against the boards in applause. Sides and Ferlie checked their lips for blood, shook hands, exchanged a grin.
Now Razor addressed the topic of fighting. Because of the SJHL’s penalty of compulsory ejection from the rest of the game for fighting, Razor said, other teams would send mediocre players out to try and goad Flin Flon’s best players into scraps. “I know things are going to happen out on the ice. It’s the nature of the game,” Razor said as he paced the room. “But Rodge, Lester, Schultzie, the goal scorers, you can’t fight unless you take an equally talented player with you. If we lose one of our best, we need them to lose one of their best.” “You told Ferlie to fight against Dauphin,” Rodge said. “No,” Razor explained, “I didn’t tell Ferlie to fight. We were getting beaten and I said, ‘If you want to start something, now would be a good time.’” The Bombers all laughed.
A few of the Bombers had told me about the present that Meeks’s older brother—a giant of a man and an ex-Bomber, with 30 points and 390 penalty minutes in one season—had given Meeks for his eighteenth birthday: a beating. “Yeah, he did, Scoop,” Meeks said sheepishly. “My brother would say, ‘I can’t wait until you turn eighteen, because I’m going to lay a licking on you.’ The day of my birthday he saw me and started coming after me. I grabbed a hockey stick and started swinging, nailing him in the back, just cracking him. It didn’t even faze him. Next thing you know, my jersey’s over my head and he’s beating the crap out of me. My mom and one of my brother’s friends hopped in and broke her up.” “Why did your brother do that?” I asked. Meeks shrugged. “I turned eighteen.”
“I hate rye,” Holly announced. “I get into fights when I drink rye.” She told me about the Boxing Day social last year. “This girl pissed me off, so me and a friend tag-teamed her. My friend slapped her and I threw my drink on her and she started blabbing at me so I grabbed her and kicked her in the head and ripped all her hair out. She was bald when I was done.” The girl had to go to the hospital to have her broken nose set, Holly said, now speaking in quiet tones because she had noticed the girl’s aunt a few tables down from us. “And then she went to the cop shop and filed charges, even though she was four years older than me.”
Meeks had explained his fighting technique to me back in Flin Flon: “I can’t punch the other guy first,” he said. “That’s why I’ve got a lot of stitches. The other guy always gets the first punch and then I get mad.” Meeks took the first punch from Seventeen square in the jaw. Meeks’s head jerked back. He grabbed Seventeen by the collar and threw a long, looping, overhand right. He pulled Seventeen’s jersey over his head. Another shot, a right jab, an uppercut; switched hands, a combination of lefts. A strange sound came from the audience, a mounting, feverish cry: Seventeen was crumpling, arms flailing, as the linesmen stepped in and separated the two. Meeks waved to his teammates as he was led off the ice by the officials to the screams of the Weyburn fans. The Bombers scored four minutes later. Between periods in the dressing room Razor shook Meeks’s hand. “Great job.”
Meeks couldn’t play and wasn’t sure when he would be able to play again. “I called Meghan and told her I broke my hand,” he said. “She said, ‘You did not.’ I said I did, I had to fight. She said I shouldn’t fight. She said that I always have a choice.”
I went to see The Cult of Beauty – The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 at the V&A on the weekend, and very enjoyable it was too. The idea of the Aesthetic Movement seems to be that art need not have a purpose—whether it be didactic or moral or social—it need only be beautiful. And so its practitioners went about painting beautiful pictures, making beautiful furniture, and wearing beautiful clothes. As you might expect, a Victorian movement that not only lacked intellectual depth, but asserted it unnecessary, attracted a good deal of satire and parody.
Indeed, one suggestion for the cause of the movement’s decline was that “satire and parody overwhelmed the movement”—a possibility that is damning even in its “could be true” form. Gilbert and Sullivan went to the trouble of writing an entire comic opera in this spirit (Patience), but I particularly like the efforts of Punch. The cartoon below, “The Six-Mark Tea-Pot” is George du Maurier’s response to Oscar Wilde’s remark to visitors that he finds it “harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china.”
The Six-Mark Tea-Pot
Aesthetic Bridegroom. “It is quite consummate, is it not?”
Intense Bride. “It is indeed! Oh, Algernon, let us live up to it!”
Emerson, from his essay “Manners”:
I could better eat with one who did not respect the truth or the laws than with a sloven and unpresentable person. Moral qualities rule the world, but at short distances the senses are despotic.
Orwell, from “The Road to Wigan Pier”:
You can have an affection for a murderer or a sodomite, but you cannot have an affection for a man whose breath stinks—habitually stinks, I mean. However well you may wish him, however much you may admire his mind and character, if his bream stinks he is horrible and in your heart of hearts you will hate him.
Also, Orwell turns out to be a bit more, well, human that I took him to be: whilst he certainly has a great deal of sympathy toward the working class (to say the least), he’s somewhat snobbish toward them. (He is aware of this propensity, but doesn’t appear to feel very guilty about it.)
All my notions—notions of good and evil, of pleasant and unpleasant, of funny and serious, of ugly and beautiful—are essentially middle-class notions; my taste in books and food and clothes, my sense of honour, my table manners, my turns of speech, my accent, even the characteristic movements of my body, are the products of a special kind of upbringing and a special niche about half-way up the social hierarchy.
And he’s also a little bit racist, in an “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” kind of way:
A shabby-genteel family is in much the same position as a family of ‘poor whites’ living in a street where everyone else is a Negro. In such circumstances you have got to cling to your gentility because it is the only thing you have; and meanwhile you are hated for your stuckup-ness and for the accent and manners which stamp you as one of the boss class.
A little list of the things I’ve done incorrectly for a very long time, or things I’ve overlooked for ages:
- For a very long time, I thought the yellow and grey tabs and the end of a Swiss Army knife were part of the design—I didn’t realise that these were the ends of the tooth pick and tweezers.
- I didn’t realise that nail scissors were supposed to be used with the curve opposing the curve of the fingernail, instead of following it.
- When using an eye dropper, it’s much more pleasant if you look away when actually doing the dropping!
Does everyone have realisations like this? I guess they mostly concern things that are done privately—since you so very rarely see other people do them, you don’t realise that everyone else’s way is superior to yours.