Interesting stuff

These are things I’ve read, heard or seen - and enjoyed last year.

Of course I believe in luck. How else does one explain the success of those you don’t like?

Jean Cocteau 

Of course I believe in magic – what do you think explains how much stuff I’ve sold over the years?

Damien Hirst 

As a child, when his father was in the Marshalsea prison for debt, Dickens was sent to work in Warren’s Blacking Warehouse. This humiliating experience shaped his life and work.

From that hour until this at which I write (a quarter of a century later), no word of that part of my childhood which I have now gladly brought to a close has passed my lips to any human being. I have no idea how long it lasted; whether for a year, or much more, or less. From that hour until this, my father and my mother have been stricken dumb upon it. I have never heard the least allusion, however far off and remote, from either of them. I have never, until now I impart it to this paper, in any burst of confidence with any one, my own wife not excepted, raised the curtain I then dropped, thank God. Until old Hungerford-market was pulled down, until old Hungerford-stairs were destroyed, and the very nature of the ground changed, I never had the courage to go back to the place where my servitude began. I never saw it. I could not endure to go near it. For many years, when I came near to Robert Warren’s in the Strand, I crossed over to the opposite side of the way, to avoid a certain smell of the cement they put upon the blacking-corks, which reminded me of what I once was. It was a very long time before I liked to go up Chandos Street. My old way home by the borough made me cry, after my eldest child could speak.

Can a President who tweets the wrong Theresa May be trusted to nuke the right Korea?

Hugo Rifkind 

The problem with being beautiful is that it’s like being born rich and getting poorer.

Joan Collins

A crucial lesson of my political life is this very simple psychological analysis. When you have two persons in a room, you do not have two, you have six: what each person is; what each person thinks he or she is; and what each person thinks the other is. This is the reason personal relationships are so complex. But what is true for persons is true for groups and countries.

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General 

A true liberal is someone who doesn’t take their own side in an argument.

Robert Frost 

Sex is the most compressed set of circumstances we’ve got. Everything is in that collision.

Arthur Miller 

So the world’s most famous smile is inherently and fundamentally elusive,and therein lies Leonardo’s ultimate realization about human nature. His expertise was in depicting the outer manifestation of inner emotions. But here in the Mona Lisa he shows something more important: that we can never fully know true emotion from outer manifestations. There is always a sfumato quality to other people’s emotions, always a veil.

Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci

For whom, it suddenly occurred to him to wonder, was he writing this diary? For the future, for the unborn. His mind hovered for a moment round the doubtful date on the page, and then fetched up with a bump against the Newspeak word doublethink. For the first time the magnitude of what he had undertaken came home to him. How could you communicate with the future? It was of its nature impossible. Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him: or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless.

Orwell: 1984

We may stop ourselves when going up, never when going down.


According to the Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, as of Monday November 20th, 2017 Bitcoin’s current estimated annual electricity consumption stands at 29.05TWh. That’s the equivalent of 0.13% of total global electricity consumption. While that may not sound like a lot, it means Bitcoin mining is now using more electricity than 159 individual countries. More than Ireland or Nigeria.

It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

J.K. Rowling

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

Fish do not have a back bottom. Like birds they have a cloaca - a single all purpose vent. If you ask me letting evolution do away with our cloacas was a design faux pas. You know how it happened: the architect and the client were looking over the plans for protomammals and the architect said. “….. I’m toying with something radical in the cloaca department. We’ve got space for two, which will avoid confusion and give a great deal of added comfort.” “I don’t know said the client, “wouldn’t it be a lot more work and expense?” “No, no today’s mammal is all about leisure time…. Leisure options that’s the future.” “OK” says the client. “But what are you going to call this new arrangement?” “Well” says the architect, “I thought Piers and Morgan had quite a ring to it".

AA Gill

The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office.

Joseph Stiglitz

I and the public know

What all schoolchildren learn

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.

WH Auden 

The British are an indecipherable millefeuille of politeness, awkwardness, embarrassment, irony, self-depreciation, arrogance, defensiveness and deflective humour.

Sarah Lyall: The New York Times 

Education is what you get when you read the fine print; experience is what you get if you don’t.

Pete Seeger

Diving is an up and down sport.

Tom Daley

In German, guilt and debt are the same word - ‘shuld’ 

If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Moral principle is a looser bond than pecuniary interest.

Abraham Lincoln

I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself. 

Edward Snowden

Truth is not fact, nor is truth the corruption of fact, nor is the corruption of fact equivalent to literary fiction. The privilege that fiction has is that of being able to drop from one mentality to another and for the reader to be persuaded that they are in the presence of another subjectivity. The complexity of truth and the enlargement of sympathy – those are things the novel will do better than anything else.

Edward St Aubyn

Free trade assumes that if you throw men out of work in one direction you re-employ them in another. As soon as that link is broken the whole of the free trade argument breaks down.


Corbyn has brought together some of the most vital forces on the contemporary scene: the anti-capitalist radicalism of young people who are innocent of history, a bourgeois cult of personal authenticity and naked self-interest expressed as self-admiring virtue.

John Gray in the New Statesman

Politics does not consist of saying everything you think all the time. It consists of never saying the opposite of what one thinks, which is different.

Bernard Cazeneuve, former Prime Minister of France 

Write drunk, edit sober.


Friends are not necessarily the the people you like best, they are merely the people who get there first.

Peter Ustinov

Strictly speaking, austerity is the Anglo-Saxon way of describing a solid financial policy, which doesn’t necessarily see more or higher deficits as a good thing.

Wolfgang Schauble, German Finance Minister

The biggest mistake I made in my life was to put all my eggs into one bastard.

Dorothy Parker 

In The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote, "He who was ready to sacrifice his life, as many a savage has been, rather than betray his comrades, would often leave no offspring to inherit his noble nature." And yet, as Darwin knew, altruism is everywhere, a stubborn anomaly of nature. Bats feed hungry brethren; honeybees commit suicide with a sting to defend the hive; birds raise offspring that aren't their own; humans leap onto subway tracks to save strangers. The ubiquity of such behaviour suggests that kindness is not a losing life strategy.

Jonah Lehrer: The New Yorker

I was young once. I wasn’t very good at it.

Jacob Rees Mogg

Why should young people believe in capitalism when they have no chance of accruing any capital?

Andrew Neil 

Culturally, the more people who are accustomed to mastering their problems and finding answers, the more distressed they are by ambiguous loss. In the void, mastery orientated cultures are more likely to insist on one extreme or the other to stop the pain – either thinking of the disappeared as 'dead to me' or as 'l know he'll return one day'. With ambiguous loss, truth alludes, so neither absolute works to ease the pain. Instead, a more realistic way of thinking helps families of the missing: 'my missing son is probably dead and maybe not'; my mother who has dementia is still here and yet, gone.' Human strength and family resilience emerge not from one absolute truth - because there is none – but from holding two opposing possibilities in one's mind at the same time.

Pauline Boss: Ambiguous Loss 

The life of the series is generated within it.  Less original novelists tenaciously follow their  protagonists. In the Music of Time  we watch through the glass of a tank: one after another various specimens swim towards us; we see them clearly and then, with a barely perceptible flick of the tail or fin, they are off into the murk. That is how our encounters occur in life.

Evelyn Waugh on Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time 

The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. 

Thucydides: Melian dialogue 

Bicester Village discount shopping centre had 6.4 million visitors in 2016. It was the second most popular tourist destination in Britain only beaten by the British Museum with 6.42 million.

Jeremy Corbyn says that antisemitism is hating Jews for what they are. No. Antisemitism is a conspiracy theory - it's about hating Jews for what they are not. 

Alcohol gives you unlimited patience for stupidity.

Sammy Davis Jnr 

Don't hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft. 

Theodore Roosevelt 

How little money really changes things. It buys  doctors but not health, clothes but not taste, makeup but not beauty. When I was young and didn't have anything, I imagined money had more power.

Suzanne Vega 

Good reality TV exists. Sometimes you also get terrible reality TV, but done so well that the voyeuristic veneer of irony almost makes it worthwhile. This isn't that. This is a lazy and nonsensical idea, executed lazily and nonsensically, with the concept lacking the concentration to concentrate even on itself. And still, the idiots are going to love it. It's their world now.

Hugo Rifkind reviewing The Bromans. The name is the giveaway that he is almost certainly right. 

Fairytales are not about gauzy frocks and ego gratification. They are about  child murder, cannibalism, starvation, deformity, desperate human creatures cast into the form of beasts or chained by spells, or immured alive in thorns.

Hilary Mantel 

Writing is turning life's worst moments into money.

JP Donleavy 

Why I love paragliding - it’s a great tune too.


 If you want to make enemies, change some things. 

Woodrow Wilson 

There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues, that is all. 

Rebecca West 

Nobody will keep the thing he hears to himself, and nobody will repeat just what he hears and no more. 


In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control, and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.... In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions. 

Jerry Pournelle: Pournelle's law of Bureaucracy

'History doesn't repeat itself but it sometimes rhymes' is a much repeated Mark Twain apercu. He also said this - which is rather less elegant...

History never repeats itself, but the kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed out of the broken fragments of antique legends

It was the nation and the race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion’s heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar. 

Winston Churchill 

Leadership: the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. 

Dwight D. Eisenhower 

A man has two lives. The second one starts when he realises he only has one.


I loved this short film made by friends. It’s set in Ireland and is intriguing, funny and beautifully shot.


Password: missionfromGod

Addiction is the no man's land between mental illness and bad behaviour.

Sigrid  Rausing 

The Brexit negotiation is the undefined being negotiated by the unprepared in order to get the unspecified for the uninformed.

Say not you know another entirely, till you have divided an inheritance with him. 

Johan Kasper Lavater  

The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the treasury.

John Maynard Keynes 

In the White House I had influence, at Breitbart I had power.

Steve Bannon

Time was not something then we thought of as an item that possessed an ending, but something that would go on forever, all rested and stopped in that moment. Hard to say what I mean by that. You look back at all the endless years when you never had that thought. I am doing that now as I write these words in Tennessee. I am thinking of the days without end of my life. And it is not like that now. I am wondering what words we said so carelessly that night, what vigorous nonsense we spoke, what drunken shouts we shouted, what stupid joy there was in that, and how John Cole was only young then and as handsome as any person that has ever lived. Young, and there would never be a change for that. The heart rising and the heart singing. Fully alive in life and content as the house-martins under the eaves of the house.

Sebastian Barry: Days without end 

Trump's nothing like Hitler. He couldn't write a book.

Frankie Boyle 

There are many good statements in the world but much of the best part of thought and conversation isn't statement, it's exploration, enquiry, irony. It’s feeling something out. You cant feel anything out any more - people think you are saying what you mean.

Howard Jacobson on Twitter 

History is the memory of states. 

Henry Kissinger 

We can forgive those that bore us, but we can never forgive those that find us boring.

De Rochfoucold 

A runaway monk never speaks well of his monastery.

Italian Proverb 

What3words. This App is simple, sophisticated and will benefit so many - genius.


George Bush Junior was a genial soul, and much sharper intellectually than the outside world usually reckoned. A friend of mine thinks that at school he would have been a natural towel-flicker in the changing room, rather small, a teaser, difficult to dislike, but probably not someone you would seek to emulate.

Chris Patten: First Confession

Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognises genius. 

Arthur Conan Doyle 

You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Why waste your money looking up your family tree? Just go into politics and your opponent will do it for you.

Mark Twain 

The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

George Elliott: Middlemarch

In politics, before considering malevolence, always assume incompetence.

Steve Duprey

Hear no evil, speak no evil - and you will never be invited to a party.

Oscar Wilde

The man who has begun to live more seriously within begins to live more simply without. 

Ernest Hemingway 

Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody. Not a few men who cherish lofty and noble ideas hide them under a bushel for fear of being called different. 

Martin Luther King

The median Briton, who is 40, has no recollection of national crisis: no devaluation, no three-day week, no conscript war, none of the floor-to-ceiling greyness of the postwar years, when austerity entailed the rationing of basics and not just tight public-sector pay settlements, none of the little humiliations that came with being poorer than other European countries and shut out from their embryonic project of union. Even the background spectre of a world-ending nuclear exchange had more or less passed by the time this notional citizen became a teenager. The worst ordeals were an invasion of Iraq conducted by an all-volunteer army and a crash in which unemployment peaked at 8 per cent. 

To remain vigilant after such a benign experience of history is too much to ask. The temptation is to treat order and gradual progress as things ordained by nature — to believe that electoral choices cannot threaten these cosmic entitlements. Politics becomes a kind of elevated sport: a means of venting and expressing oneself at low risk. Nor is it a clinching counter-argument that older voters turned out for Brexit. Even they have spent the past few decades in a secure, well-governed country that steered resources to their own generation. Their propensity to take it all for granted will have grown with each of those passing years.

Janan Ganesh in the FT

The dead are invisible, they are not absent.

St Augustine 

Woody Allen: Hardly ever, maybe three times a week.

Diane Keaton: Constantly, I'd say three times a week. 

Annie Hall

Power may or may not corrupt but it always reveals. 

Robert Caro 

The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost. 

G.K. Chesterson 

I'm not telling you; but I can say it didn't involve pigs or wheatfields. 

David Cameron, when asked what was the naughtiest thing he had done as a child. 

I don’t actually believe in a clash of civilization. I believe in a clash of the civilized and the non-civilized. 

Madeleine Albright,

A great hope fell

You heard no noise

The ruin was within.

Emily Dickinson 

Flattery makes friends, truth enemies. 

Spanish Proverb 

Power is a poison, well known for thousands of years. To the human being who has faith in some  force that holds dominion over all of us and who is therefore conscious of his own limitations, power is not necessarily fatal...But for those, however, who are unaware of anyone higher, power is a deadly poison. For them there is no antidote. 


The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions. 

Oliver Wendell Holmes 

Who are  the worst people to be stuck in a lift with? Jeremy Corbyn and Dianne Abbott: she can't remember the floor number - and he won't press the button. .

Evelyn (Waugh), like Max Beerbohm, but probably for different reasons, had decided to drop an iron visor over all his intimate feelings and serious beliefs and by doing so excluded one from any understanding of his true character…. This deep reticence detracted in a sense from his conversation, which was of the highest order, because however brilliant and witty, one always felt that he was playing some elaborate charade which demanded from him constant vigilance and wariness.

Freddy Birkenhead on his friend Evelyn Waugh

The resultant gap between the pace of change altering the nature of society and the creation and oversight of rules for society should be of great concern. When such gaps have existed in the past, as when the Industrial Revolution changed the social order more rapidly than the elites in charge cared to acknowledge, the result was spasm after spasm of revolution stretching from the late eighteenth century through the early twentieth century. We can ill afford such upheavals. But the question is - whether they have already begun. 

David Rothkopf: The Great Questions of Tomorrow

There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can't fix it you've got to stand it.

The last sentence of Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain

Drink is, at its dark, pickled heart, a sepia pessimist. It draws curtains, pulls up the counterpane. It smothers and softens and smoothes. The bliss of drinking is that it softens and smoothes. The bliss of drink is that it's a small death. The difference between you and us, you civilian amateur hobbyist drinkers and us professional, committed indentured alcoholics is that you drink for the lightness, we drink for the darkness. You want to feel good, we want to stop feeling so bad. All addictions become not about nirvana but maintenance. Not reaching for the stars but fixing the roof. 

AA Gill: Pour Me 

Our almost-instinct almost true:

What will survive of us is love. 

Larkin: An Arundel Tomb

When pitches began to be made of the new synthetic material Joe Namath, the legendary American Football player, was asked in an interview whether he preferred grass or astroturf. ‘I don't know’, he replied, ‘I've never smoked astroturf.’

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.


Luck never made a man wise.


And what you do not know is the only thing you know

And what you own is what you do not own 

And where you are is where you are not. 

T.S. Eliot, ‘East Coker’, The Four Quartets

Banks had become too big to fail, too big to sail, and too big to jail.

Melvyn King: The end of alchemy 

Tell him I was too fucking busy - or vice-versa.

Dorothy Parker

From which fake newsagent would you prefer to get your fake news, X's or Z's? Zuckerberg's Facebook is the one now copping all the flak. Indiscriminately hosting terrorist propaganda and Putin's lies (not to mention live streaming of rape and murder), it leaves us the burden of deciding what to spurn and what to accept. No such problems at the fake newsagent down the road: in President Xi's China, even pornography, under Criminal Law  97, is deemed a cybercrime "harmful to public order, social stability and Chinese morality". Xi's system relies on a vast surveillance operation to weed out "damaging" content. Last week it introduced its own version of Wikipedia, to "guide and lead the public and society", as its editor-in-chief put it. However, being "an important cultural decision of central government," this won't involve the public. Xi has had more than 20,000 scholars to write 300,000 entries.

That the unlimited exercise of free speech bothers us more than the strangulation of it   isn't  entirely surprising; we can at least strive to control Z's abuses. It also reflects, I suspect, a dismal tendency to be so awed by the economic and military prowess of the new kid in town, that we keep shtum about the barbarous nature of his politics. It's there, that genuflectory cringe, in the warning  France's new president gave to Britain: "Tomorrow  you'll have to deal on your own with the Chinese. And good luck to you. Because the UK is definitely not relevant to China." The Achilles heel of democracy is this: that in their secret hearts, too many of its citizens prefer Sparta to Athens.

Jeremy O'Grady

Ambition is not a vice of little people.


Charm is the great English blight. It does not exist outside these damp islands. It spots and kills anything it touches. It kills love; it kills art.

Evelyn Waugh: Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited 

It wasn’t until quite late in life that I discovered how easy it is to say “I don’t know!” 

William Somerset Maugham 

Money never made anyone rich. 


Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 

Matthew 10:16 

How simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea...All that is required to feel that here and now is the happiness of a simple, frugal heart. 

Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek (1946) 

You do not swallow the whole of UKIP at a single sitting without some risk of indigestion.

Matthew Parris

How many Oxford dons does it take to change a light bulb?

What do you mean, change?

No plan survives contact with the enemy.

General Helmuth von Moltke

Change is certain. Peace is followed by disturbances; departure of evil men by their return. Such recurrences should not constitute occasions for sadness but realities for awareness, so that one may be happy in the interim.

Percy Bysshe Shelly - seen written on a notice board in South Kensington Station

What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism. 

Albert Einstein 

In 2010 senior Goldman Sachs executives appeared before a Senate Committee.

Senator Carl Levine: "When you heard that your employees in these emails and looking at these deals said 'God, what's shitty deal,' God what a piece of crap,' when you hear your own employees or read about these in emails, do you feel anything?"

David Viniar, CFO at Goldman Sachs: "I think that is very unfortunate to have on an email."

No bourgeoisie, no democracy

Barrington Moore 

We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offered sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of his freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. 

Viktor E. Frankl 

No man can consider himself truly married until he understands every word his wife is not saying. 

Lord Mancroft 

I always thought Roger Moore was a New Year's resolution.

Alan Johnson 

Ever since Rushdie, people have a sense that if you say anything negative about Islam, angry Muslims will protest. But there is a further anxiety that if you insult Muslims, you're a racist. There is a conflation. Both of those anxieties have a chilling effect on questioning a fundamental issue: to what extent is there an ideological dimension to what is being done in Islam's name? It seems there is a considerable ideological dimension. People acknowledge it but are afraid to say it. That played a substantial part in the Dutch and French elections - the feeling of resentment that people aren't allowed to express it. It's better that we open the windows – for the Muslims too. Because all the time, this is metastasising away. This is like refusing to go to the dentist when you have toothache. Sooner or later it will fall out, and your jaw will go rotten.

Tom Holland

When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing; when you see that money is owing to those who deal not in goods, but in favors; when you see that men get rich more easily by graft than by work, and your laws no longer protect you against them, but protect them against you... you may know that your society is doomed. 

Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged 

From far, from eve and morning 

And yon twelve-winded sky, 

The stuff of life to knit me 

Blew hither: here am I. 

A. E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad

The state incurs debts for politics, war, and other higher causes and 'progress'. The assumption is that the future will honor this relationship in perpetuity. The state has learned from the merchants and industrialists how to exploit credit; it defies the nation ever to let it go into bankruptcy. Alongside all swindlers the state now stands there as swindler-in-chief

Jakob Burckhardt

Tell all the truth but tell it slant 

Success in circuit lies 

Emily Dickinson, Poems

Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not.


Those persons who comprise the independent classes are dependent upon two things: the industry of their fellow creatures; and the injustice which enables them to command it.

John Gray: A lecture on Human Happiness 1825

Cogito, ergo non bibi satis.  I think, therefore I haven't had enough to drink.

Graffiti on a York University wall

This is an article about the French Foreign Legion and its cult of death. I saw them years ago at the Royal Tournament. They were preceded by a bespectacled, pudgy Canadian military band. Then the lights dropped and, to a slow, menacing beat, the Legion appeared chanting their death-march dirge. Every man was V shaped with a shaven head under his white kepi and they were led by men wearing leather aprons and carrying axes. They were terrifying.


All other things to their destruction draw

Only our love hath no decay.

John Donne: The Anniversary 

Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.

Cyril Connelly 

Jobs said America’s education system was hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules. Until the teachers’ unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform...Principals should be able to hire and re based on how good teachers are. Schools should be open until at least 6 p.m. and be in session eleven months of the year...All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time. 

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs 

Those who know the storm dread the calm before it. 

Chinese Proverb 

If all men knew what others say of them, there would not be four friends in the world. 


It isn't quite the same thing to comment on the bull ring, as to be in the bull ring. 

Spanish Proverb 

One does not laugh about truth or goodness. That is why Christ never laughed. Laughter is a case of doubt.

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose 

Alexander died, Alexander was buried, 

Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth; of Earth we made loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel? 

Imperious Caesar, dead and turn’d to clay, 

Might stop a hole to keep the wind away. 

Shakespeare, Hamlet

If we take the really grand view of life, all other things problems and developments are overshadowed by three interlinked processes: 

1. Science is converging on an all-encompassing dogma, which says that organisms are algorithms, and life is data processing. 

2. Intelligence is decoupling from consciousness. 

3. Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than we know ourselves. 

These three processes raise three key questions....

1. Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing? 

2. What’s more valuable – intelligence or consciousness? 

3. What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?

Yuval Noah Harare: Homo Deus 

Do not be possessive. It is one of the most dangerous things, especially in relation to sex. A lot of people think it's indecent not to be possessive when you are married. I think it's fatal. Don't let your passion trap you into trying to own the person. The trick is to love them, not to possess them. 

Diana Athill

The problem is not the liars, it's the millions who want to be lied to.

Nick Cohen

I hate housework. You make the beds and wash the dishes - and six months later you have to start all over again.

Joan Rivers 

This is from The Sense of Style by Stephen Pinker. He is explaining the Classic Style of writing with reference to the astrophysicist, Brian Greene’s, explanation of the theory of multiverses. Both are eloquently explained at the same time.

Greene begins with the observation by astronomers in the 1920s that galaxies were moving away from each other: 

“If space is now expanding, then at ever earlier times the universe must have been ever smaller. At some moment in the distant past, everything we now see—the ingredients responsible for every planet, every star, every galaxy, even space itself—must have been compressed to an infinitesimal speck that then swelled outward, evolving into the universe as we know it. The big-bang theory was born. … Yet scientists were aware that the big-bang theory suffered from a significant shortcoming. Of all things, it leaves out the bang. Einstein’s equations do a wonderful job of describing how the universe evolved from a split second after the bang, but the equations break down (similar to the error message returned by a calculator when you try to divide 1 by 0) when applied to the extreme environment of the universe’s earliest moment. The big bang thus provides no insight into what might have powered the bang itself.”

Greene does not tut-tut over the fact that this reasoning depends on complex mathematics. Instead he shows us, with images and everyday examples, what the math reveals. We accept the theory of the big bang by watching a movie of expanding space running backwards. We appreciate the abstruse concept of equations breaking down through an example, division by zero, which we can understand for ourselves in either of two ways. We can think it through: What could dividing a number into zero parts actually mean? Or we can punch the numbers into our calculators and see the error message ourselves. Greene then tells us that astronomers recently made a surprising discovery, which he illustrates with an analogy: 

“Just as the pull of earth’s gravity slows the ascent of a ball tossed upward, the gravitational pull of each galaxy on every other must be slowing the expansion of space. … [But] far from slowing down, the expansion of space went into overdrive about 7 billion years ago and has been speeding up ever since. That’s like gently tossing a ball upward, having it slow down initially, but then rocket upward ever more quickly.”

But soon they found an explanation, which he illustrates with a looser simile: 

“We’re all used to gravity being a force that does only one thing: pull objects toward each other. But in Einstein’s … theory of relativity, gravity can also … push things apart. … If space contains … an invisible energy, sort of like an invisible mist that’s uniformly spread through space, then the gravity exerted by the energy mist would be repulsive.”

The dark energy hypothesis, however, led to yet another mystery: 

“When the astronomers deduced how much dark energy would have to permeate every nook and cranny of space to account for the observed cosmic speedup, they found a number that no one has been able to explain … : .00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00000​00138.”

By displaying this number in all its multi-zeroed glory, Greene impresses upon us the fact that it is very small yet oddly precise. He then points out that it is hard to explain that value because it seems to be fine-tuned to allow life on earth to come into being: 

“In universes with larger amounts of dark energy, whenever matter tries to clump into galaxies, the repulsive push of the dark energy is so strong that the clump gets blown apart, thwarting galactic formation. 

“In universes whose dark-energy value is much smaller, the repulsive push changes to an attractive pull, causing those universes to collapse back on themselves so quickly that again galaxies wouldn’t form. And without galaxies, there are no stars, no planets, and so in those universes there’s no chance for our form of life to exist.”

To the rescue comes an idea which (Greene showed us earlier) explained the bang in the big bang. 

“According to the theory of inflationary cosmology, empty space can spawn other big bangs, creating a vast number of other universes: a multiverse. This makes the precise value of dark energy in our universe less surprising: 

“We find ourselves in this universe and not another for much the same reason we find ourselves on earth and not on Neptune—we find ourselves where conditions are ripe for our form of life.”

Of course! As long as there are many planets, one of them is likely to be at a hospitable distance from the sun, and no one thinks it’s sensible to ask why we find ourselves on that planet rather than on Neptune. So it would be if there are many universes. But scientists still faced a problem, which Greene illustrates with an analogy: 

“Just as it takes a well-stocked shoe store to guarantee you’ll find your size, only a well-stocked multiverse can guarantee that our universe, with its peculiar amount of dark energy, will be represented. On its own, inflationary cosmology falls short of the mark. While its never-ending series of big bangs would yield an immense collection of universes, many would have similar features, like a shoe store with stacks and stacks of sizes 5 and 13, but nothing in the size you seek.”

The piece that completes the puzzle is string theory, according to which “the tally of possible universes stands at the almost incomprehensible 10 500 , a number so large it defies analogy.

“By combining inflationary cosmology and string theory, … the stock room of universes overflows: in the hands of inflation, string theory’s enormously diverse collection of possible universes become actual universes, brought to life by one big bang after another. Our universe is then virtually guaranteed to be among them. And because of the special features necessary for our form of life, that’s the universe we inhabit.”

In just three thousand words, Greene has caused us to understand a mind-boggling idea, with no apology that the physics and math behind the theory might be hard for him to explain or for readers to understand. He narrates a series of events with the confidence that anyone looking at them will know what they imply, because the examples he has chosen are exact. Division by zero is a perfect example of “equations breaking down”; gravity tugs at a tossed ball in exactly the way it slows cosmic expansion; the improbability of finding a precisely specified item in a small pool of possibilities applies to both the sizes of shoes in a store and the values of physical constants in a multiverse. The examples are not so much metaphors or analogies as they are actual instances of the phenomena he is explaining, and they are instances that readers can see with their own eyes. This is classic style.

By hating vices too much, they come to love men too little.

Edmund Burke on fanatics

Here is the president so far out of his depth that all he can see above him, you might imagine, is the murky orange blur of Iain Duncan-Smith's armbands. 

Sam Leith

Reculer pour mieux sauter  Step back for a better leap.

French Proverb

Won’t you come into the garden? I would like my roses to see you.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan 

As I looked out onto the night sky with all those  infinite number of stars, it made me realise how insignificant they are.

Peter Cook

Untouched by morality and idealism, economics is an arid pursuit, just as politics is an unprofitable one.

RAB Butler 

Always be more than you appear and never appear to be more than you are.

Angela Merkel

Rossi and Marquez have been battling it out to be top dog in the gladiatorial world of superbikes. Their skill and courage is breathtaking - and mad. All this is going on at speed of more than 150mph with brutal gracefulness. 


The best form of flattery is to master the art of listening. 

Chinese Proverb 

Jealousy is all the fun you think they had.

Erica Jung


The woods decay 

The woods decay and fall 

The vapours weep their burthen to the ground 

Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath

And after many a summer dies the swan 

Tennyson: Tithonus

When a man won’t listen to his conscience, it’s usually because he doesn’t want advice from a stranger. 

Lindsey Stewart 

It is always the secure who are humble. 

GK Chesterton 

When you are in any contest, you should work as if there were - to the very last minute - a chance to lose it. This is battle, this is politics, this is anything. 

Dwight Eisenhower 

Patient: Doctor, when you do the rectal examination, please could you use two fingers rather than one?

Doctor: Why?

Patient: I'd like a second opinion 

America cannot care more for your children’s security than you do.

James Mattis: US Secretary of Defence 

When asked to estimate the Muslim population of their country, Britons guessed it would was 15% (it is 4.8%) the French 31% (it is 7.5%) and Americans 17% (it is 1%).

Ipsos Perils of Perception Survey 2016

To be conservative is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.

Michael Oakeshott: On Being Conservative 1956

The liabilities are always 100 per cent good. It’s the assets you have to worry about.

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett's partner 

This is from The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. Danny is the Behavioural Psychologist Daniel Kahneman who grew up as a Jew in Paris during the war.

In Paris, in their old prewar apartment, Danny and his mother found only two battered green chairs. Still, they stayed. For the first time in five years Danny attended school without having to disguise who he was. For years he carried a fond memory of the friendship he struck up there with a pair of tall, handsome Russian aristocrats. The memory was so insistent, perhaps, because he had gone so long without friends. Much later in life he tracked down the aristocratic Russian brothers and sending them a note. One brother had become an architect, the other a doctor. The brothers wrote back to say that they remembered him, and sent him a picture of them all together. Danny wasn’t in the picture: They must have been thinking he was somebody else. His lone friendship was imagined, not real.

When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity. 

Albert Einstein 

No person who is enthusiastic about his work has anything to fear from life. 

Samuel Goldwyn

How can you expect a man that’s warm to understand a man that’s cold.


Was there any before, before the Big Bang?


OWE, n. To have (and to hold) a debt. The word formerly signified not indebtedness, but possession; it means "own," and in the minds of debtors there is still a good deal of confusion between assets and liabilities. 

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary 

Friendships, like marriage, depend on avoiding the unforgivable. 

John D. MacDonald 

Of course, if we had succeeded in losing two world wars, wrote off all our debts – instead of having nearly £30 billion in debt – got rid of all our foreign obligations, and kept no force overseas, then we might be as rich as the Germans.

Harold Macmillan

You seldom improve quality by cutting costs, but you can often cut costs by improving quality. 

Karl Albrecht, founder of the supermarket chain Aldi 

Behind every failure there is an opportunity someone wishes they missed.

Lily Tomlin

The fundamental phenomenon that distinguishes the future from the past is that heat passes from things that are hotter to things that are colder - the direction is sheer chance.

Carlo Rovelli: Seven Brief Lessons in Physics

Wondering if you're happy is a great shortcut to being depressed.

Annette Benning in 20th Century Women

Happy New Year!


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