Commonplace Book - Summer 2007

Scoundrels

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By André Bernard

June 1, 2007


 

 

Why has a legitimate concern with security become so distorted and inflated? Why has it pursued so many false pathways? Why is there so much activity which alleges to add to the security of our secrets but which add up to so little?

Edward A. Shils, The Torment of Secrecy: The Background and Consequences of American Security Policies, 1956


According to bleachers law, there are three particularly justifiable motives for doing away with umpires. An umpire may be killed, first, if he sees fit to adhere to the rules and make a decision against the home team at a close point in the game. Secondly, an umpire may be killed if he sends a member of the home team to the bench when the player in question has done absolutely nothing but call the umpire names and attempt to bite his ear off—an umpire has no business to be touchy. Thirdly (and this is a perfect defense against the charge of murder), an umpire may be killed if he calls any batter on the home team out on strikes when the player has not even struck at the balls pitched. That the balls go straight over the plate has nothing to do with the case.

George Jean Nathan, “Baiting the Umpire,” from Harper’s Weekly, September 10, 1910


But perhaps the most alarming ingredient in a Chicken McNugget is tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, an antioxidant derived from petroleum that is either sprayed directly on the nugget or the inside of the box it comes in to “help preserve freshness.” According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (i.e., lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food: It can comprise no more than 0.02 percent of the oil in a nugget. Which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause “nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ear, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.” Ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill.

Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, 2006


In the Bible, the book which J. Edgar Hoover called his “guide to daily life,” we find the words which best pronounce a benediction on his death. They are from the Psalms: “Great peace have they which love the law.” J. Edgar Hoover loved the law of his God. He loved the law of his country. And he richly earned peace through all eternity.

Richard Nixon, eulogy for J. Edgar Hoover, May 1972


That evening I was delivered to the notorious interrogation camp of Oberursel near Frankfurt, greeted with crude mocking jokes by the sergeant in charge, and fed a thin, watery soup with which I nibbled my English biscuits. . . . If I opened the top pane of the high cell window the patch of sunlight that ensued was just big enough for me to sunbathe the upper part of my body. Lying on blankets on the floor, I changed my position as the sun moved until its last slanting ray was gone. There was no light; there were no books or even newspapers. I was wholly cast on myself and had to fend off my growing depression without external aids.

Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs, 1970


Dalton Trumbo once said that there were no heroes, only victims. . . . In principle I agreed with him. Some of the people who did testify were under very strong pressure and just didn’t have any other ways of making a living. I sympathize more with a couple of hundred people who never did get back to work in Hollywood. . . .  They had to go into entirely different kinds of work. Albert Maltz strongly disagreed. He insisted we were heroes. My position was that if it was a question of choosing to be a “hero” or a shit, you can’t really say the decision not to be a shit is heroic.

Ring Lardner Jr., in Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition: An Oral History, by Griffin Fariello, 1995


You believe that your religious concerns about sex, in all their tiresome immensity, have something to do with morality. And yet, your efforts to constrain the sexual behavior of consenting adults—and even to discourage your own sons and daughters from having premarital sex—are almost never geared toward the relief of human suffering. In fact, relieving suffering seems to rank rather low on your list of priorities. Your principal concern appears to be that the creator of the universe will take offense at something people do while naked. This prudery of yours contributes daily to the surplus of human misery.

Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, 2006


The ballots made no result. The counters made the result.

William M. “Boss” Tweed on the 1868 New York City elections , in The Tiger: The Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall by Oliver E. Allen, 1993


God is really getting a workout this election year. . . . we’re being told God has a vested interest in whom we put into public office, and some Fundamentalist sects, known as the Moral Majority, are spending wads of money to defeat anybody whose voting record doesn’t go along with their interpretation of the Bible. They are calling for a holy war against those who are for the ERA, pro-abortion, school busing and are against the B-1 bomber. I always thought the nice thing about God was that he stayed out of American politics.

Art Buchwald, Laid Back in Washington with Art Buchwald, 1981


Nor does the editor contribute anything. He is seldom sophisticated, rarely knows any language but a sort of sophomore English, does not recognize any allusions so therefore is unable to perform the simple service of correcting spelling, repetitions, contradictions in descriptions or names—in fact, such a thing as “editing” is beyond his powers.

Dawn Powell, January 14, 1960, in The Diaries of Dawn Powell


André Bernard was the longtime vice president and publisher at Harcourt Trade Publishers. He is now vice president and secretary of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.


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