Second hand

In 1986 or 1987, before email as we know it today existed, I devised an email system for my business, to send memos to my clients.  The system printed out the memos rather than display them on screen.   The system remained in use until 2003.

Many of the memos would have only a few lines of text, yet they printed on a full sheet of paper.  So for memos to be circulated to all clients, I began to collect quotations for use as filler.  The quotations had the desired effect:  they got the clients to read the memos.

In this paper I have collected several of my favorite quotations that were broadcast over the years, up through 2003.  There are also quotations collected after 2003, which were never broadcast.

I do not vouch for the accuracy of either quotations or citations; in fact, on rare occasions, I edited a quotation just a bit, the better to make a point.

The topics:




Golden prose





Mansfield prefaced these paragraphs with this introduction:  The majority of my clients are school board members, former teachers, or spouses of teachers.  The following excerpt, from a column in a weekly Catholic paper I receive, struck me as so insightful that it deserved laborious copying and distribution, since you people are so influential in education.  I urge you to read it carefully, twice.

During and after the era of the French Revolution, the basic control of education by established churches was destroyed.  As increasingly secular regimes developed in Europe (and even America) in the 19th century, it became obvious that the only agency capable of maintaining social cohesion through shaping morals was the public or state school.  By our time it has become obvious that the public school has become the established church of a secular society.

It is within these secular churches that doctrine is determined (e.g., whether or to what extent homosexual behavior will be incorporated into society’s creed or canon), and discipline enforced (e.g., what exercises will be mandated to develop approved attitudes, and what penances will be assigned to those who sin against them).  Trained in what are euphemistically called “teachers’ colleges” ... an administrative cadre, the equivalent of an episcopal hierarchy, ensures educational conformity.  The public schools have pre-empted the determination of orthodoxy: the churches, consequently, go  in for private interpretation.  Education becomes our “public thing”, religion our “private thing”.

The First Amendment to the Constitution is often hailed as the jewel in the crown of the American political experiment.  Perhaps we would be wiser to think of it as our “Achilles’ heel”, because every state will have an established church.  It is there that the faithful will gather to celebrate the things that bind them together (“religion”, i.e., from res+ligere, the thing that binds) and to reinforce the code of conduct conducive to such living together.  That in some nations the established church is called the public school does not change that fact.

All too often those who spout old cliches about the “separation of church and state” really are not against an established church; they simply want it to be the one they belong to, the one that announces secular doctrine and inculcates secular morals.  They are not against discrimination.... Were such people genuinely serious about separating the state from religious and moral functions, they would demand the separation of school and state.

[From the column “First Teachers”, by James K. Fitzpatrick, a retired public school teacher, in The wanderer, November 7, 2002, page 7.  He is quoting from a letter he received.]

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To me consensus seems to be : the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead.  What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner, “I stand for consensus?”  -Margaret Thatcher

Mansfield sez:  Men in a committee are like dogs in a pack.  They will do together things any one of them would be ashamed to do by himself. 



Today the regime doesn’t need secret police and torture dungeous to brainwash saps like [David] Howard [the one who said that word].  It has public schools and universities, televisions and newspapers, Hollywood and the evening news to accomplish the same goal.  Those who make the mistake of taking seriously the news and opinions they read or absorb in the dominant media will sooner or later wind up like Howard whether they realize it or not.  -Samuel Francis

Mansfield sez ... Mr Francis apparently thinks one can expose oneself to the “dominant media” without being brainwashed—he says it is a mistake to “tak[e it] seriously”.  I contend one will be brainwashed by any exposure at all, even if one doesn’t mean to take it seriously.  This is why I refuse to allow television in my home and refuse to read any mainstream newspaper.  Of course you think I am an extremist, and you are right.  I try to avoid swallowing brainwash twenty-four hours a day, not just twenty-one or nineteen. 



In the United States, scarcely a private conversation or public debate can occur which does not in some way touch on the question of human freedom.  The language of rights relentlessly emphasizes the individual need for freedom from external civil and/or ecclesial restraint, rather than freedom to pursue the common good of all by rational reflection on the moral heritage of Judeo-Christian belief.  This has created the “decline or obscuring of the moral sense” to which the Holy Father alludes.

The practical outcome is an exaltation of the principle of moral autonomy, based upon consent of parties to a social contract, where moral law is rejected in favor of a generalized, minimalist “morality of mutual respect and sympathy.”

According to this view, the only ethical restraint on human freedom is negative: In the absence of a recognized moral authority prior to consent which is the sole condition for establishment of personal autonomy, no positive moral obligations are ultimately sustainable.  In other words, the traditional basis for personal or public virtue is shattered, and, in obeisance to the sovereignty of personal moral autonomy, the unborn’s right to life is denied, while the right of the sick to choose euthanasia is sanctioned.

In respect to the general cultural and political context of American society, where “an allegiance between democracy and ethical relativism” is not only a possibility but reality, the Holy Father’s reflections on the relationship of freedom and law are particularly welcome.  Abortion, health care, reform of the justice and welfare systems—all demand our recognition of legitimate human freedom depends on the gift of grace given in Jesus Christ and on explicit acceptance of values known to reason without which human dignity and rights cannot be sustained.  -J. Francis Stafford



Years ago I was studying theology in Lyons, France, at the Jesuit theologate atop a steep hill overlooking the entire city.  The place was called Fourviere, from the Latin Forum Vetus (Old Forum), because the Romans had established the civic forum there in 43 B.C.

On the steepest part of the hill’s face, several stone-lined caves stood about 30 yards apart, with openings about 8 feet square.  At best they seemed to serve no purpose; worse, they seemed to be an attractive nuisance.  I wondered who had built them, and why.  An elderly resident of the quartier told me the following story.

In the early part of the 20th century, city officials had made the same observation I had : the caves served no apparent purpose, and they were a dangerous temptation for children.  So they were all filled in with earth.  A few years later, during a particularly wet rainy season, a huge section of the face of the hill slid down upon the houses below, killing 27 people.  More than 2,000 years earlier, Roman engineers had constructed the caves to drain off excess water from the soil.  As long as the Lyonnais maintained them—even if they forgot the reason they were there in the first place—the community was safe.  When they changed what they didn’t understand, they perished.

Ne mutetur quod non intelligitur.  -Joseph Fessio, S.J.



[The following paragraphs are from Marcuse’s Eros and civilization.  Page numbers (in parentheses) are from the Vintage 1962 paperback printing.]

The basic control of leisure is achieved by the length of the working day itself, by the tiresome and mechanical routine of alienated labor; these require that leisure be a passive relaxation and a re-creation of energy for work.  Not until the late state of industrial civilization, when the growth of productivity threatens to overflow the limits set by repressive domination, has the technique of mass manipulation developed an entertainment industry which directly controls leisure time, or has the state directly taken over the enforcement of such controls.  The individual is not to be left alone.  (43)

Civilization has to defend itself against the specter of a world which could be free.  If society cannot use its growing productivity for reducing repression (because such usage would upset the hierarchy of the status quo), productivity must be turned against the individuals; it becomes itself an instrument of universal control.  Totalitarianism spreads over late industrial civilization wherever the interests of domination prevail upon productivity, arresting and diverting its potentialities.  The people have to be kept in a state of permanent mobilization, internal and external.  (85)

The high standard of living in the domain of the great corporations is restrictive in a concrete sociological sense: the goods and services that the individuals buy control their needs and petrify their faculties.  In exchange for the commodities that enrich their life, the individuals sell not only their labor but also their free time.  The better living is offset by the all-pervasive control over living.  People dwell in apartment concentrations—and have private automobiles with which they can no longer escape into a different world.  They have huge refrigerators filled with frozen foods.  They have dozens of newspapers and magazines that espouse the same ideals.  They have innumerable choices, innumerable gadgets which are all of the same sort and keep them occupied and divert their attention from the real issue—which is the awareness that they could both work less and determine their own needs and satisfactions.  (90)

The ideology of today lies in that production and consumption reproduce and justify domination.  But their ideological character does not change the fact that their benefits are real.  The repressiveness of the whole lies in a high degree in its efficacy: it enhances the scope of material culture, facilitates the procurement of the necessities of life, makes comfort and luxury cheaper, draws ever-larger areas into the orbit of industry—while at the same time sustaining toil and destruction.  The individual pays by sacrificing his time, his consciousness, his dreams; civilization pays by sacrificing its own promises of liberty, justice, and peace for all.  (91)

Freud once defined happiness as the “subsequent fulfillment of a prehistoric wish.  That is why wealth brings so little happiness: money was not a wish in childhood.”  (quoting Freud) (186)

Of all things, hard work has become a virtue instead of the curse it was always advertised to be by our remote ancestors.  Our children should be prepared to bring their children up so they won’t have to work as a neurotic necessity.  The necessity to work is a neurotic symptom.  It is a crutch.  It is an attempt to make oneself feel valuable even though there is no particular need for one’s working.  -C.B. Chisholm, quoted in Marcuse (202)



[The following paragraphs are from Rand’s Atlas shrugged.  Page numbers (in parentheses) are from the Dutton 1992 hardback printing.]

No, Mr Rearden, it’s one or the other.  The same kind of brain can’t do both.  Either you’re good at running the mills or you’re good at running to Washington.  (303)

Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth—the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started.  If an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not, it destroys him.  But you look on and you cry that money corrupted him.  Did it?  Or did he corrupt his money?  (412)

Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?  We want them broken.  You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against—then you’ll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures.  We’re after power and we mean it.  You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you’d better get wise to it.  There’s no way to rule innocent men.  The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals.  Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them.  One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.  Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens?  What’s there in that for anyone?  But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted—and you create a nation of law-breakers—and then you cash in on guilt.  Now that’s the system, Mr Rearden, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.  (436)

Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil.  That sentence is the leper’s bell of an approaching looter.  So long as men live together on earth and need means to deal with one another—their only substitute, if they abandon money, is the muzzle of a gun.  (412)

They were offering Galt the best that their view of existence could offer, they were trying to tempt him with that which was their dream of life’s highest fulfillment: this spread of mindless adulation, the unreality of this enormous pretense—approval without standards, tribute without content, honor without causes, admiration without reasons, love without a code of values.  (1123)



When one crosses the various countries of Europe, one is struck by a very extraordinary and apparently inexplicable sight.  The countries appearing to be the most impoverished are those which in reality account for the fewest indigents, and among the people most admired for their opulence, one part of the population is obliged to rely on the gifts of the other in order to live.  -Alexis de Tocqueville

Mansfield sez ... This was quoted in a book by Gertrude Himmelfarb, who goes on to observe that in England, in Toqueville’s time, one sixth of the population was considered impoverished and was on some sort of dole; whereas in Portugal at the same time, people appeared to be much poorer overall but only about one per cent depended on “charity”.  The portuguese hardly missed amenities the english thought essential.

With my living part time in Mexico I see a similar contrast.  The mexicans on average do not have the material things americans have.  Yet it appears to me that poverty is almost non-existent there.  Most mexicans, at least in my area, own their own homes and have some savings.  Most do not have mortgages or other installments to pay.  They appear to me, with their lower standard of living, to be more satisfied with it than americans with theirs, and they are certainly more secure.  If they have any welfare system or housing projects, I haven’t found them yet.



[The following paragraphs are from Fromm’s Escape from freedom.  Page numbers (in parentheses) are from the Avon 1965 paperback printing.]

In the medieval system capital was the servant of man, but in the modern system it becomes his master.  In the medieval world economic activities were a means to an end; the end was life itself, or—as the Catholic Church understood it—the spiritual salvation of man.  Economic activities are necessary, even riches can serve God’s purposes, but all external activity has only significance and dignity as far as it furthers the aims of life.  Economic activity and the wish for gain for its own sake appeared as irrational to the medieval thinker as their absence appears to modern thought.

In capitalism economic activity, success, material gains, become ends in themselves.  It becomes man’s fate to contribute to the growth of the economic system, to amass capital, not for purposes of his own happiness or salvation, but as an end in itself.  Man became a cog in the vast economic machine—an important one if he had much capital, an insignificant one if he had none—but always a cog to serve a purpose outside of himself.  This readiness for submission of one’s self to extrahuman ends was actually prepared by Protestantism, although nothing was further from Luther’s or Calvin’s mind than the approval of such supremacy of economic activities.  But in their theological teaching they had lain the ground for this development by breaking man’s spiritual backbone, his feeling of dignity and pride, by teaching him that activity had no further aims outside of himself.

As we have seen in the previous chapter, one main point in Luther’s teachings was his emphasis on the evilness of human nature, the uselessness of his will and of his efforts.  Calvin placed the same emphasis on the wickedness of man and put in the center of his whole system the idea that man must humiliate his self-pride to the utmost; and furthermore, that the purpose of mans life is exclusively God’s glory and nothing of his own.  Thus Luther and Calvin psychologically prepared man for the role which he had to assume in modern society: of feeling his own self to be insignificant and of being ready to subordinate his life exclusively for purposes which were not his own.  Once man was ready to become nothing but the means for the glory of a God who represented neither justice nor love, he was sufficiently prepared to accept the role of a servant to the economic machine—and eventually a “Führer.” (130 sq.)

[E]arly in his education, the child is taught to have feelings that are not at all “his”; particularly is he taught to like people, to be uncritically friendly to them, and to smile.  What education may not have accomplished is usually done by social pressure in later life.  If you do not smile you are judged lacking in a “pleasing personality”—and you need to have a pleasing personality if you want to sell your services, whether as a waitress, a salesman, or a physician.  Only those at the bottom of the social pyramid, who sell nothing but their physical labor, and those at the very top do not need to be particularly “pleasant”.  Friendliness, cheerfulness, and everything that a smile is supposed to express, become automatic responses which one turns on and off like an electric switch.  (268)

What then is the meaning of freedom for modern man?

He has become free from the external bonds that would prevent him from doing and thinking as he sees fit.  He would be free to act according to his own will, if he knew what he wanted, thought, and felt.  But he does not know.  He conforms to anonymous authorities and adopts a self which is not his.  The more he does this, the more powerless he feels, the more he is forced to conform.  In spite of a veneer of optimism and initiative, modern man is overcome by a profound feeling of powerlessness which makes him gaze toward approaching catastrophes as though he were paralyzed.  (281 sq.)


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Catholicism is not just a religion : it is a country of the heart and of the mind.  -Anne Roche Muggeridge

Mansfield sez: This is why a non-Catholic can never know a Catholic; and also why a Catholic can be a bad Catholic but can never cease to be Catholic.  But I refer, as did Miss Muggeridge, to those who are Catholic in heart and mind; these comprise probably a minority, and perhaps even a small minority, of those who are enrolled as members of the Catholic Church.



On Yom Kippur, 1944, the Chief Rabbi of Rome knew that he was leading services for the last time.  Christ was calling, and the Rabbi knew he must follow.  A few weeks later Zolli and his wife were baptized into the Roman Catholic Church.  Zolli took the name Eugenio in honor of Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) whose sanctity and dedication to saving Jews from the Nazis he deeply admired.

Zolli was a prominent Scripture scholar and a brilliant writer.  He became Chief Rabbi of Rome in 1939.  As the Nazis prepared to occupy the city, Zolli urged the Jewish community to disperse.  Very few took his advice.  Once the Nazis arrived in Rome, Zolli—with a price on his head—went undercover to the Vatican to obtain the Holy Father’s protection for the Jewish community.  Pius XII opened the monasteries, convents, and churches of Rome, as well as the Vatican itself, as sanctuaries for the Jews of the city.  When the Nazis began their roundup of Roman Jews, they managed to seize only 1600 of the approximately 9500 Jews then present in the city.  All the rest were hidden by the Church at the urging of the pope.  Among those who escaped were Rabbi Zolli and his wife.

The Zollis’ baptism on February 13, 1945, in the Roman church of Santa Maria degli Angeli made headlines.  Although some attributed his conversion to base motives, Zolli himself always insisted that it was his own ardent interest in Jesus Christ which drew him to the Catholic Faith and the Christ-like compassion and charity of Pius XII which finally convinced him to seek baptism.

Not long after his conversion, Zolli traveled to America to deliver a series of Biblical lectures at the University of Notre Dame.  In Washington, D.C., he met Archbishop A.G. Cicognani, Pius XII’s Apostolic Delegate to the United States.  In the course of their conversation, Zolli assured the archbishop that it was not scholarship or erudition that had attracted him to Catholicism, but charity.

In spite of the drama of his conversion, the post-war world quickly consigned Eugenio Zolli to oblivion.  He died in poverty in 1956.  Yet Zolli’s vision, courage, profound biblical knowledge, penetrating spirituality, and deep faith make him one of the most inspiring Catholic figures of the 20th century.  -source lost


Unos dichos favoritos de San Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer:

Que obremos siempre de tal manera, en la presencia de Dios, que no tengamos que ocultar nada a los hombres. (Surco, 334)

Libertad de concienca:  ¡No! Cuántos males ha traido a los pueblos y las personas este lamentable error, que permite actuar en contra de los propios dictados íntimos. Libertad "de las conciencias", sí: que significa el deber de seguir ese imperativo interior..., ¡ah, pero después de haber recibido una seria formación! (Surco, 389)

Lo que se necesita para conseguir la felicidad, no es una vida cómoda, sino un corazón enamorado. (Surco, 795)

El purgatorio es una misericordia de Dios, para limpiar los defectos de los que desean identificarse con Él. (Surco, 889)

Vociferan los sectarios contra lo que llaman "nuestro fanatismo", porque los siglos pasan y la Fe católica permanece inmutable. En cambio,el fanatismo de los sectarios -- porque no guarda relación con la verdad -- cambia en cada tiempo de vestidura, alzando contra la Santa Iglesia el espantajo de meras palabras, vacías de contenido por sus hechos: "libertad", que encadena; "progrreso", que devuelve a la selva; "ciencia", que esconde ignorancia.... Siempre un pabellón que encubre vieja mercancía averiada. ¡Ojalá se haga cada dia más fuerte "tu fanatismo" por la fe, única defensa de la única Verdad! (Surco, 933)

¡Señor, líbrame de mí mismo! (Forja, 120)

De acuerdo: tu preocupación deben ser "ellos". Pero tu primera preocupación debes ser tú mismo, tu vida interior; porque, de otro modo, no podrás servirles. (Forja, 399)

¡Valor de la piedad en la Santa Liturgia! Nada me extrañó lo que, hace unos días, me comentaba una persona hablando de un sacerdote ejemplar, fallecido recientemente: ¡Que santo era! --¿Le trató Vd. mucho?, le pregunt‚. --No --me contestó--, pero le vi una vez celebrar la Santa Misa. (Forja, 645)

Cada vez estoy más persuadido: la felicidad del Cielo es para los que saben ser felices en la tierra. (Forja, 1005)

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Diplomacy and courage are strangers to each other; excessive business prudence and charity will not shake hands; but God and the poor await us, side by side.  -Rose Hawthorne

Mansfied sez:  The daughter of the famous writer, she became a nun and in 1896 founded in New York City a home to care for poor folks dying of cancer.  The home is still in operation today, along with five others in other cities.



From Many colored threads, an old Goethe anthology:

The first love, it is rightly said, is the only one, for in the second, and by the second the highest sense of love is already lost.  The conception of the eternal and infinite, which elevates and supports it, is destroyed, and it appears transient like everything else that recurs.

This love, then, this constancy, this passion, is no poetical fiction.  It is actual, and dwells in its greatest purity amongst that class of mankind whom we term rude, uneducated.

Assuredly we spend far too much labor and outlay in preparation for life.  Instead of beginning at once to make ourselves happy in a moderate condition, we spread ourselves out wider and wider, only to make ourselves more and more uncomfortable.

Song is the first step in education; all the rest are connected with it, and attained by means of it.  The simplest enjoyment, as well as the simplest instruction, we enliven and impress by song; nay, even what religious and moral principles we lay before our children, are communicated in the way of song.

It is being without occupation which is really fretting him.  The many accomplishments which he has cultivated in himself, it is his only pleasure—indeed, it is his passion—to be daily and hourly exercising for the benefit of others.  And now, to sit still, with his arms folded; or to go on studying, acquiring and acquiring, when he can make no use of what he already possesses;--it is a painful situation; and, alone as he is, he feels it doubly and trebly.

We know that men will treat with derision whatever they cannot understand.

It is a pious wish of all fathers to see what they have themselves failed to attain, realized in their sons, as if in this way they could live their lives over again, and, at last, make a proper use of their early experience.

To be misunderstood is the fate of us all.

Say what you will of fortitude, but show me the man who can patiently endure the laughter of fools, when they have obtained an advantage over him.  ‘Tis only when their nonsense is without foundation that we can suffer it without complaint.



“At Malpais,” the Savage was incoherently mumbling, “you had to bring her the skin of a mountain lion—I mean, when you wanted to marry someone.  Or else a wolf.”  -the Savage, in Brave new world, by Aldous Huxley.

Mansfield sez:  In the brave new world babies are made in bottles; sex is solely for pleasure.  Lenina wants to have sex with the Savage.  The Savage knows nothing but the tradition of monogamy of his tribe.  He wants Lenina.  But as his wife, not as a fuck.  He cannot just have sex with Lenina because she wants it.  He can only conceive of a monogamy where fidelity is unconditional and where a man must win a woman, must prove himself worthy, perhaps by slaying a mountain lion. 



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In a new book, Principle-Centered Leadership, author Stephen Covey says the foundation of the effective businessman is character, not technique.  He lists what he calls “seven deadly sins” that can destroy one’s business as well as one’s character :

Wealth without work.
Pleasure without conscience.
Knowledge without character.
Commerce without morality.
Science without humanity.
Religion without sacrifice.
Politics without principle.

He goes so far as to say not only that greed is bad, but that if greed influences your business practices it will in the long run reduce your bottom line.



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Golden prose

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
     -Eliot, Four quartets



Mansfield sez:  No, I’m not here, or at least I wasn’t until today.  I spent the past week in a Trappist abbey near Charleston (SC), got home last night. This is how I take my spring vacation every year, though for the past eighteen or so years I have gone to an abbey near Atlanta.  I hadn’t realized just how subtropical the climate is in coastal SC.  The monastery campus has live oak draped with spanish moss, palm trees, and garden snakes as long as you and as thick as your wrist.  On first day and last day I was wading water to get to my cottage.  Nevertheless the beauty of the place, even when wet, is overwhelming.  They have for a campus an old plantation, first used as a rice farm over 300 years ago. Henry and Clare Boothe Luce bought the place in 1936 and gave it to the Trappists in 1949.  They are buried in the formal gardens.  The monks raise chickens and sell eggs by the truckload.  That part of their land which is visible from the road is in pulpwood.  I don’t know if they use other areas to grow chicken feed, or buy their feed.  Week ended with a spectacular electrical storm about 0500 yesterday morning, at which time I happened to be in the abbey church, which in turn blacked out when power lines went down.  The flashing lights and shadows and the dim glow off the organ pipes could have been from an old spooky movie. I thought the 0530 service would have to be by candlelight; but no, the monks’ generating plant kicked in about ten minutes later with a great roar and column of blue smoke.  All in all a wonderful week.  -from a letter written after last year’s retreat (1998)



Siempre imaginé el Paraíso como una especie de biblioteca.  -Jorge Luis Borges

Mansfield sez:  My own formulation, arrived at before discovering that of Borges, is, “Heaven is having time to read everything.”



[From Alice in Wonderland, a work of philosophy disguised as a children’s book]

The executioner’s argument was that you couldn’t cut off a head unless there was body to cut it off from; that he had never had to do such a thing before, and he wasn’t going to begin at his time of life.  The King’s argument was that anything that had a head could be beheaded, and that you weren’t to talk nonsense.  The Queen’s argument was that if something wasn’t done about it in less than no time, she’d have everybody executed, all round.  [The executioner had just been ordered to behead the disappearing Cheshire cat, of which at the moment only the head was visible.]

Well!  I’ve often seen a cat without a grin, thought Alice; but a grin without a cat!  It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!

[Alice] had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them, such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that if you drink much from a bottle marked “poison,” it is almost certain to disagree with you sooner or later.

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles.  “Where shall I begin, please, your Majesty?” he asked.  “Begin at the beginning,”, the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end; then stop.”

“Cheshire-Puss,” she began, “would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”  “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.  “I don’t care much where,” said Alice.  “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.


You know my heart keeps tellin’ me,
You’re not a kid at thirty-three,
You play around, you lose your wife,
You play too long, you lose your life.
Some gotta win, some gotta lose,
Goodtime Charlie’s got the blues.
     -source unknown


“I can’t feel as I’ve got any father but one,” said Eppie, impetuously, while the tears gathered.  “I’ve always thought of a little home where he’d sit i’ the corner, and I should fend and do everything for him : I can’t think o’ no other home.  I wasn’t brought up to be a lady, and I can’t turn my mind to it.  I like the working-folks, and their victuals and their ways.  And,” she ended passionately, while the tears fell, “I’m promised to marry a working-man, as’ll live with father, and help me to take care of him.”  -George Eliot, in Silas Marner.  As a child Eppie did not know who her father was.  She was adopted and raised by a working man.  At about age twenty her natural father, a nobleman, surfaces, and invites her to live with him.  He is otherwise childless and has no heir.  Effie makes this moving speech as she declines his offer.



The bay-trees in our country are all wither’d
And meteors fright the fixed stars of heaven;
The pale-faced moon looks bloody on the earth
And lean-look’d prophets whisper fearful change. 
These signs forerun the death or fall of kings. 
     -Wm. Shakespeare, Richard II [2002]


Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin.

 But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so; my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although

He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand-like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.

Yes, quaint and curious war is.
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat, if met where any bar is
Or help to half-a-crown.

     -Thomas Hardy



The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
-Omar Khayyám



If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have praised the purple vine,
My slaves would dig the vineyards,
And I would drink the wine;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And his slaves grow lean and grey,
That he may drink some tepid milk
Exactly twice a day.
     -G.K. Chesterton


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You think Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail is a weird error message?  Consider these true life messages :

I don’t eat raisins  -from a Data General AOS/VS system
Permanent compiler error  -from a Fortran compiler
Happy birthday!  -sole response from a bad motherboard
Something bad has happened which has no error message; please restart your computer.  -Windows
Panic  -from AIX (IBM’s version of Unix)
This style of code is no longer used.  -from Borland’s C++
Guru meditation error  -Commodore Amiga
Disaster  -from an IBM mainframe compiler
Control level closure leaves gaping wound in control stack.  -source unknown



On graphical user interfaces, and mice.  For engineers and architects this is the obvious way to go.  But I cannot see the use of icons to represent programs, nor the forced use of a mouse to call them.  It is also a mystery to me why, in this advanced computer age, the icons are two or three generations out of date.  They represent sound recordings with a cassette, and show manila folders as places to put letters.  On the other hand, could icons be up to date?  Everything now is bits.  The bits of a phone call are the same as those of a house plan.  You can’t put a picture of a bit in an icon.  It would seem the only up to date way to refer to processes and data would be Words.

At this point, if we were full of beer and the night was young, I would launch into dumbing down, and say mass literacy is obsolete, having been useful mainly for disinformation (common sense alone is generally enough to recognize truth), but now displaced by more efficient methods such as the TV and multimedia.  I would mention the expurgation of libraries and suppression of the Latin liturgy.  I would say that walls are being built so we can’t see any culture of any other place or time except through the filters someone wants us to see through.  Age not of information but disinformation.  But we’re not full of beer and it is not night, at least not in the astronomical sense.

And that comes to Unix.  In just a couple of hours of tinkering I have been able to see the beauty, the balance, the elegance of the thing.  I’ve done beautiful stuff in DOS—built an email system, a development environment, a network that runs like a mainframe in my spare bedroom.  But DOS to Unix is like scratching on a rock to painting with oils.  DOS is a prison; Unix open space.  I have some degree of feeling that I have wasted myself for eleven years by not finding Unix to start with.

But even more there is a sense of sadness, a sense that replacement of the system prompt with the pointer is very much the irruption of Vandals into the cathedral.  That power now lies with force, not reason; that barbarians will now enslave priests, and turn them from the chanting of sacrifice to the barking of profit.  That the precise articulation of crafted code serves no purpose but to support presentation graphics, the better for the staff to deceive the board, and the board to lie to the stockholders.  It is wrong to turn a cloister into a whorehouse.  But it is an atrocity to force the clergy to do the remodeling.

I may try to find a job in a Unix shop.  But I have got to think about it for a while.  For a while programming was a good place for a thinking man to work.  But a monk will never be happy in a brothel.  -from a letter I wrote in 1995



“No program is perfect,”
they said with a shrug.
“The customer’s happy—
What’s one little bug?”

But he was determined.
The others went home.
He dug out the flow chart,
seserted, alone.

Night passed into morning.
The room was cluttered
with core dumps, source listings.
“I’m close,” he muttered.

Chain smoking, cold coffee,
logic, deduction.
“I’ve got it!” he cried,
“just change one instruction.”

 Then change two, then three more,
as year followed year,
and strangers would comment,
“Is that guy still here?”

He died at the console
of hunger and thirst.
Next day he was buried
face down, nine edge first.

 And his wife through her tears
accepted his fate;.
Said, “He’s not really gone,
he’s just working late.”

     -The perfect programmer



A manager asked a programmer how long it would take him to finish the program on which he was working.  “I will be finished tomorrow,” the programmer promptly replied.

“I think you are being unrealistic,” said the manager. “Truthfully, how long will it take?”

The programmer thought for a moment.  “I have some features that I wish to add.  This will take at least two weeks,” he finally said.

“Even that is too much to expect,” insisted the manager, “I will be satisfied if you simply tell me when the program is complete.”

The programmer agreed to this.

Several years later, the manager retired.  On the way to his retirement lunch, he discovered the programmer asleep at his terminal.  He had been programming all night.  -Geoffrey James, The Tao of programming



A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. -Patton

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.  -well worn saying

Mansfield sez... No, but one must still have a plan.

In the battle of programming, a battle plan (program) must anticipate every single move the enemy might ever make and provide an explicit response to it.

In the battle of life, a battle plan is better drawn in broad general strokes, with details worked out on the fly—as they will be in any case, because one cannot anticipate every possible contingency.

In the last year or two I have realized that I have complicated much of my life more than I ever needed to by trying to devise my various battle plans for life with all the precision I do for those of a program. 



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The story behind the letter below is that there is this person in Newport, RI, named Scott Williams who digs things out of his backyard and sends the material he finds to the Smithsonian Institute, labeling them with scientific names, insisting that they are actual archaeological finds. This guy really exists and does this in his spare time! Anyway. here’s the actual response from the Smithsonian Institution. Bear this in mind next time you think you are challenged in your duty to respond to a difficult situation in writing. 

Smithsonian Institute
207 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20078

Dear Mr. Williams:

Thank you for your latest submission to the Institute, labeled “93211-D, layer seven, next to the clothesline post...Hominid skull.”   We have given this specimen a careful and detailed examination, and regret to inform you that we disagree with your theory that it represents conclusive proof of the presence of Early Man in Charleston County two million years ago. Rather, it appears that what you have found is the head of a Barbie doll, of the variety that one of our staff, who has small children, believes to be “Malibu Barbie.” It is evident that you have given a great deal of thought to the analysis of this specimen, and you may be quite certain that those of us who are familiar with your prior work in the field were loathe to come to contradiction with your findings.

However, we do feel that there are a number of physical attributes of the specimen which might have tipped you off to its modern origin:

1.   The material is molded plastic. Ancient hominid remains are typically fossilized bone.

2.   The cranial capacity of the specimen is approximately 9 cubic centimeters, well below the threshold of even the earliest identified proto-homonids.

3.   The dentition pattern evident on the skull is more consistent  with the common domesticated dog than it is with the ravenous man- eating Pliocene clams you speculate roamed the wetlands during that time.

This latter finding is certainly one of the most intriguing hypotheses you have submitted in your history with this institution, but the evidence seems to weigh rather heavily against it.

Without going into too much detail, let us say that:

A.  The specimen looks like the head of a Barbie doll that a dog has chewed on.

B.  Clams don’t have teeth.

It is with feelings tinged with melancholy that we must deny your request to have the specimen carbon-dated. This is partially due to the heavy load our lab must bear in its normal operation, and partly due to carbon-dating’s notorious inaccuracy in fossils of recent geologic record. To the best of our knowledge, no Barbie dolls were produced  prior to 1956 AD, and carbon-dating is likely to produce wildly inaccurate results.

Sadly, we must also deny your request that we approach the National Science Foundation Phylogeny Department with the concept of assigning your specimen the scientific name Australopithecus spiffarino.

Speaking personally, I, for one, fought tenaciously for the acceptance of your proposed taxonomy, but was ultimately voted down because the species name you selected was hyphenated, and didn’t really sound like it might be Latin.

However, we gladly accept your generous donation of this fascinating specimen to the museum. While it is undoubtedly not a Hominid fossil, it is, nonetheless, yet another riveting example of the great body of work you seem to accumulate here so effortlessly. You should know that our Director has reserved a special shelf in his own office for the display of the specimens you have previously submitted to the Institution, and the entire staff speculates daily on what you will happen upon next in your digs at the site you have discovered in your Newport back yard.

We eagerly anticipate your trip to our nation’s capital that you proposed in your last letter, and several of us are pressing the Director to pay for it. We are particularly interested in hearing you expand on your theories surrounding the transpositating fillifitation of ferrous metal in a structural matrix that makes the excellent juvenile tyrannosaurus rex femur you recently discovered take on the deceptive appearance of a rusty 9-mm Sears Craftsman automotive crescent wrench.

Yours in Science,
Harvey Rowe
Chief Curator-Antiquities


On an overdone 32,000 square foot house in Atlanta that the owner can neither pay for nor sell:

Way out here where the kudzu blooms
in the red clay hills and lonesome pines;
where the coon dog trots and the possum climbs,
they’s a house been built with a hundred rooms

on sixty acres of lush and green. 
The ceilings rise to fifty feet
and there’s six jacuzzis in the master suite—
don’t look like nothing we ever seen.

The floors are marble, the roof is slate,
they’s a ten-ton pineapple over the gate;
the fountains squirt like a summer rain,
and you yank the johns with a silver chain.

All this has been done by a guy
who says it’s like a new Versigh,
whatever that is.  At any rate,
it’s one hell of a piece of rillerstate.

     -Ralph T. Birdsey, Atlanta, in Wall Street Journal.



You think YOU have trouble? Two hunters from Wisconsin (true story) had more trouble than you probably do.  Read on.....

This is from a radio program, a true report of an incident in Wisconsin:

A guy buys a brand new Lincoln Navigator for $42,500 and has $560 monthly payments.  He and a friend go duck hunting in winter, and of course all the lakes are frozen.  These two guys go out on the lake with the guns, the dog, and of course the new vehicle.

They drive out onto the lake ice and get ready. Now, they want to make some kind of a natural landing area for the ducks, something for the decoys to float on.  In order to make a hole large enough to look like something a wandering duck would fly down and land on, it is going to take a little more effort than an ice hole drill.

So, out of the back of the new Navigator comes a stick of dynamite with a short, 40-second fuse. Now these two rocket scientists do take into consideration that they want to place the stick of dynamite on the ice at a location far from where they are standing (and the new Navigator), because they don’t want to take the risk of slipping on the ice when they run from the burning fuse and possibly go up in smoke with the resulting blast.

They light the 40-second fuse and throw the dynamite. Remember a couple of paragraphs back when I mentioned the vehicle, the guns and the dog?  Let’s talk about the dog: A highly trained Black Lab used for RETRIEVING.  Especially things thrown by his owner.

You guessed it, the dog takes off at a high rate of speed on the ice and captures the stick of dynamite with the burning 40-second fuse about the time it hits the ice.  The two men yell, scream, wave their arms and wonder what to do now.

The dog, cheered on, keeps coming.  One of the guys grabs the shotgun and shoots the dog.  The shotgun is loaded with #8 birdshot, hardly big enough to stop a Black Lab.  The dog stops for a moment, slightly confused, but continues on. Another shot and this time the dog, still standing, becomes really confused and of course terrified, thinking these two geniuses have gone insane.

The dog takes off to find cover, under the brand new Navigator.  ----BOOM!---- Dog and Navigator are blown to bits and sink to the bottom of the lake in a very large hole, leaving the two idiots standing there with this “I can’t believe this happened” look on their faces.

The insurance company says that sinking a vehicle in a lake by illegal use of explosives is not covered.  He still had yet to make the first of those $560 a month payments!

And you thought your day was not going well?

The story is still told in diplomatic circles of old Ambassador Brown, who went to an embassy function somewhere, some say Brazil, having first spent an hour watering at a nearby bar.  Arriving at the embassy just as music started up, he spotted what he thought must be the most elegantly dressed lady he had ever seen.  Approaching the purple-clad figure, he asked, “Madame, may we dance?”   Whereupon he was answered by a deep bass voice:  “No, Mr Brown, we may not dance; and for three reasons.  First, this is a reception and not a ball.  Second, even if this were a ball and not a reception, that is a march and not a waltz.  And third, even if this were a ball and not a reception, and that were a waltz and not a march, I would still be the cardinal archbishop.”


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2011.06.08 This document was named, until today, “Segunda mano”. I have changed it to “Second hand”. There are many entities out there called “segunda mano”, including one in Spain which seems to be a sort of trading site like Craig's List. Perhaps that is why I am getting more hits on “Segunda mano” than on all other pages together, and the majority of them are from Spain. We will see what happens with the rename.





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