Saturday, March 24, 2007


A Diary by John McCaughey
Blather [magazine] is here. As we advance to make our bow, you will look in vain for signs of servility or for any evidence of a slavish desire to please. We are an arrogant and depraved body of men. Blather doesn't care. A sardonic laugh escapes us as we bow, cruel and cynical hounds that we are. It is a terrible laugh, the laugh of lost men. Do you get the smell of porter?

---Flann O'Brien, Dublin, 1934
None of us can really be sure that we exist. My whole life, as this Diary shows, is a lie. All the characters in it are invented, none bears any resemblance to anyone living or dead. People who claim to find themselves here must know that the only real existence we can any of us claim is in the imagination of God.

---Auberon Waugh, Diaries 1972-1985

Organic Hot Sox

Has not this "organic" craze gone too far? It was all started by the Greenies and by Prince Charles (Old Bat Ears, as we called him at school, where he was not a very bright boy in the classroom).

Anyway, going out to buy 365 pairs of dress socks recently at Macy's (it would never do to wear the same pair twice) we find, when they are delivered, that they bear the label: "Hot Sox: Organic Cotton. Fiber from pesticide-free crops, preserving a pure environment. Made in Turkey. Natural."

Really! One would have thought that Turkish farmers had better things to do than to make socks. One can grow poppies there and make perfectly good opium, Blather is told. Far more helpful to the environment. And poppy fields make a pretty, elegiac display.

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row..."

Magnificent Madness

A most amusing new book* by California-born Gerard DeGroot, now professor of modern history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

DeGroot became interested in the Apollo program which put 12 American astronauts on the moon between 1969 and 1972.

The professor's latter-day research, he says, revealed "a gang of cynics, manipulators, demagogues, tyrants and even a few criminals. I discovered scheming politicians who amassed enormous power by playing on the public fascination for space and fear of what the Russians might do there....The moon mission was sold as a race the Americans could not afford to lose---a struggle for survival."

DeGroot concludes that Apollo was a $35 billion ego trip---an outrageous waste of money that could far better have been spent on solving terrestial problems and, in essence, achieved nothing for mankind (except, perhaps, for the invention of teflon which is useful in frying pans to stop the egg white from sticking).

The professor has a keen sense of humour and the ridiculous---pointing to NASA's extravagances such as can be illustrated by its penchant for finding the most expensive technological solution to a simple problem. It spent, for example, many millions developing a pen that would write in zero gravity (you can buy one at Staples for les than a dollar today). But the cannier Russians had a more economical solution. Pencils.

It all reminds us of a marginally less expensive (but equally silly) government venture at the time: the nuclear-powered bomber aircraft that could stay aloft for months at a time. Unfortunately, the radiation would have turned the crew glowing-blue long before then but in their greed for funding the advocates brushed that point aside. Our colleague Ken Maize's forthcoming book on the subject is eagerly awaited. One so needs a good laugh nowadays at how inventively they spend our money.

*Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest by Gerard DeGroot, New York University Press/Jonathan Cape, 300 pages.

You Name It....

Every year the Frankfurt Book Fair is made merry by a competition to find the oddest book title of the year. Previous winners include:

Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice;
Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers;
How to Shit in the Woods, an Environmentally-Sound Approach to a Lost Art;
People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It.

Short-listed entries for this year include:

How Green Were the Nazis?;
The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: a Guide to Field Identification;
Tatooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan.

It would be amusing to think that the Frankfurt Book Fair flacks make these up over their evening cocktails. But can one be quite certain that it's not all true?

Believe or Die

It's turning a bit ugly. Scientists skeptical of mankind's impact on global warming are accustomed to being shunned by global warming zealots but now the deal has escalated.

Timothy Ball, a former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg in Canada and a global warming skeptic, reports having received five anonymous death threats by e-mail. One threat told him that he would not live long enough to see further global warming.

Ball doesn't mind being called a skeptic because he thinks that all scientists should be skeptical. But he dislikes being called a "denier" with its connotations of the Holocaust. The death threats he attributes to his more extreme pro-global warming colleagues' fear of losing their lucrative government funding.

No doubt Ball goes out to the local restaurant for dinner as usual. But we surely hope that he is packing heat.


"The anger index is way up in America meanwhile, fueled by road rage, workplace stress, family spats and ideological differences. Assorted surveys reveal we consistently rail against gas prices, the press, the judiciary, the health system, computers, weight loss, consumer culture and failed romance. We seethe over Hollywood, co-workers and the threat of terrorism. Some 16 million of us have 'explosive rage disorder', according to the National Institute of Mental Health."

-----The Washington Times

"The greatest compensation of old age is its freedom of spirit. I suppose that is accompanied by a certain indifference to many of the things that men in their prime think important. Another compensation is that it liberates you from envy, hatred and malice. I do not believe that I envy anyone. I have made the most I could of such gifts as nature provided me with; I do not envy the greater gifts of others; I have had a great deal of success; I do not envy the success of others. I am quite willing to vacate the little niche I have occupied so long and let another step into it. I no longer mind what people think of me. They can take me or leave me. I am mildly pleased when they appear to like me and undisturbed if I know they don't. I have long known that there is something in me that antagonises certain persons; I think it is very natural, no one can like everyone; and their ill will interests rather than discomposes me. I am only curious to know what it is in me that is antipathetic to them...."

-----W. Somerset Maugham "A Writer's Notebook" (1944). Maugham had just celebrated his 70th birthday.

"English and all the other modern European languages have many words that come from Latin and from Greek via Latin. They have entered the language at different times and via different routes. You might think that most of these words would have come in a long time ago when more people spoke Latin, but in fact the opposite is true. In the last hundred years or so we have taken in more words from this source than ever before. If anything, the rate seems to be increasing rather than decreasing."

A Natural History of Latin by Tore Janson

"Quidquid Latine dictum sit, altum videtur"

Anything said in Latin sounds profound {The whole point of this column}.

Ipsa scientia potestas est.

Knowledge itself is power.
"Si hoc legere scis nimium, eruditionis habes"

If you can read this, you're over-educated. {Rather a good bumper sticker here}.

----from Blather's "Bluffer's Guide to Latin"



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