Archives for July 2012

Jonah Goldberg on the limits of compromise

If I say we need one hundred feet of bridge to cross a one-hundred-foot chasm that makes me an extremist. Somebody else says we don’t need to build a bridge at all because we don’t need to cross the chasm in the first place. That makes him an extremist. The third guy is the centrist because he insists that we compromise by building a fifty-foot bridge that ends in the middle of thin air? As an extremist I’ll tell you that the other extremist has a much better grasp on reality than the centrist does. The extremists have a serious disagreement about what to do. The independent who wants to split the difference has no idea what to do and doesn’t want to bother with figuring it out.

—Jonah Goldberg, The Tyranny of Clichés

G. K. C. on words

Why shouldn’t we quarrel about a word? What is the good of words if they aren’t important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn’t any difference between them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel, wouldn’t there be a quarrel about a word? If you’re not going to argue about words, what are you going to argue about?

—G. K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross

On bureaucracy

In another forum, on which a commenter offered an impassioned defence of bureaucracy, I countered with this:

In practice, bureaucracy is a way for petty officials to take the lemon of the rule of law, and turn it into the lemonade of the rule of men. This they do by making the rules so vexatious and difficult to obey that nothing can be done except by circumventing them through influence.

There is, or was, an office in Paris which is the sole source of a certain permit required to do a certain kind of business. In order to apply for this permit, you must have a properly filled-out form, obtainable from another office. The office that issues the form is only open in the afternoon. The office that issues the permit is only open in the morning. And the form itself is only valid on the date of issue. If you get the form on Monday afternoon, you cannot take it to the permit office until Tuesday morning, by which time it has expired. There is literally no way to obtain the permit, except by bribing the officials, or by being so rich and powerful that they dare not refuse you.

That, Sir, is why most people hate bureaucracy.

Solzhenitsyn on evil

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Serpentem comederit

In today’s publishing news, dragon eats serpent; writers get ripped off. In other words, business as usual. David Gaughran reports at IndieReader:

Penguin’s New Business Model: Exploiting Writers

Penguin’s parent company, Pearson, has announced the purchase of Author Solutions for $116m – news which has shocked writers, especially given Author Solutions’ long history of providing questionable services at staggering prices. [Read more…]

Anthony Horowitz on proofreading

Meanwhile, across the river, I have my adult publisher, Orion – and they also have problems with me. Relations between us have been strained ever since they published my Sherlock Holmes novel, The Mouse of Slick, with no fewer than 35 proof-reading errors. Their proof-reader tried to kill herself. She shot herself with a gnu.

—Anthony Horowitz, ‘Do We Still Need Publishers?

(For those not in on the joke, Mr. Horowitz’s Sherlock Holmes novel is actually called The House of Silk. We think. Unless it really is The Mouse of Slick, and Orion misspelt it on the cover.)

J. R. R. T. on the banality of evil

A small knowledge of human history depresses one with the sense of the everlasting mass and weight of human iniquity: old, old, dreary, endless repetitive unchanging incurable wickedness. All towns, all villages, all habitations of men — sinks! And at the same time one knows there is always good: much more hidden, much less clearly discerned, seldom breaking out into recognizable, visible, beauties of word or deed or face — not even when in fact sanctity, far greater than the visible advertised wickedness, is really there. But I fear that in the individual lives of all but a few, the balance is debit — we do so little that is positive good, even if we negatively avoid what is actively evil. It must be terrible to be a priest!

—J. R. R. Tolkien, Letters no. 69

Isak Dinesen on cures

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.

—Isak Dinesen


I’m in night mode right now, which is probably a good thing, since the Calgary Stampede has started up, and the drunken revelry down the hill from me doesn’t even begin to quiet down until 3 a.m. Fortunately I like working at night, and I’ve got a fair amount done this weekend: a CreateSpace template, an ebook template, and a lot of boning up on the art and science of book design. I give the details of my process here, in case anyone is interested.

[Read more…]

Terry Pratchett on success

The secret to success is to be yourself as hard as you can.

—Terry Pratchett