Jun 12, 2015

Essays in Idleness by Kenko

1283-1350 Japan. Imperial Court. Poet. Buddhist monk in 1324.

He developed the Japanese aesthetic: beauty is indissolubly bound to its perishability. He wrote, "If man were never to fade away like the dews of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama, but lingered on forever in this world, how things would lose their power to move us! The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty." He also saw that perfection chokes the immagination, as there is no room for growth.

From entry 10:

"A house, I know, is but a temporary abode, but how delightful it is to find one that has harmonious proportions and a pleasant atmosphere. One feels somehow that even moonlight, when it shines into the quiet domicile of a person of taste, is more affecting than elsewhere. A house though it may not be in the current fashion or elaborately decorated, will appeal to us..."

From entry 21:

"The wind seems to have a special power to move men's hearts."

From entry 26:

"and when I realized that she, as happens in such cases, is steadily slipping away from my world, I feel a sadness greater even than that of separation from the dead. That is why, I am sure, a man once grieved that white thread should be dyed in different colors, and why another lamented that roads inevitably fork."

From entry 81:

"Possessions should look old, not overly elaborate; they need not cost much, but their quality should be good."

From entry 140:

"If you wish something to go to someone after you are dead you should give it to him while you are still alive."

From entry 157:

"If we pick up a brush, we feel like writing; if we hold a musical instrument in our hands, we wish to play music. Lifting a wine cup makes us crave sake; taking up dice, we should like to play backgammon. The mind invariably reacts in this way to any stimulus. That is why we should not indulge even casually in improper amusements."

Aug 31, 2014

Farnam Street Blog Misc.


Technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral. Melvin Kranzberg

Harris argues that there was a moment weirdly similar to this one: the year 1450. That.s the year when Johannes Gutenberg managed to invent a printing press.

a scholastic world that was initially scattered began to cohere into a consistent international conversation, one where academics and authorities could build on one another.s work rather than repeat it.

Aside from some interesting tidbits, the article was empty.

Aug 25, 2014

Aug 22, 2014

Seneca, brevity of life

Men do not suffer anyone to seize their estates, and they rush to stones and arms if there is even the slightest dispute about the limit of their lands, yet they allow others to trespass upon their life—nay, they themselves even lead in those who will eventually possess it. No one is to be found who is willing to distribute his money, yet among how many does each one of us distribute his life! In guarding their fortune men are often closefisted, yet, when it comes to the matter of wasting time, in the case of the one thing in which it is right to be miserly, they show themselves most prodigal.

And so there is no reason for you to think that any man has lived long because he has grey hairs or wrinkles; he has not lived long—he has existed long. For what if you should think that that man had had a long voyage who had been caught by a fierce storm as soon as he left harbour, and, swept hither and thither by a succession of winds that raged from different quarters, had been driven in a circle around the same course? Not much voyaging did he have, but much tossing about.

The greatest hindrance to living is expectancy, which depends upon the morrow and wastes to-day.

Households there are of noblest intellects; choose the one into which you wish to be adopted; you will inherit not merely their name, but even their property, which there will be no need to guard in a mean or niggardly spirit; the more persons you share it with, the greater it will become. These will open to you the path to immortality, and will raise you to a height from which no one is cast down.

They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn.

This reminds me of Thoreau's life without principle. Though I haven't read it in a while.

Aug 21, 2014

Snippets from, 40 maps that explain the roman empire


"Pyrrhus won two major battles against the Romans in 280 and 279, respectively. But he took such heavy casualties in those battles that he would eventually lose the war — giving rise to the term "Pyrrhic victory."

"The first conflict occurred after Carthage intervened in a dispute on the island of Sicily, just off the southern tip of Italy. While Sicily wasn't Roman territory at the time, the Romans felt this was a little too close to home. They sent an army to expel the Carthaginian troops. The result was the First Punic War, which lasted for more than 20 years. This map shows the situation after the war: Rome gained control of the islands of Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia making it a significant naval power for the first time."

"The Romans put their least experienced soldiers in the front line (the bottom in this picture), in hopes that the enemy would waste energy fighting them, making them too exhausted to put up a fight when they reached more experienced (and better armed) soldiers further back."

Compare this to putting the least experience in the middle between strong men. In the Iliad king Agamemnon does this to prevent cowards from fleeing.

Aug 17, 2014

Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

From page 149:

Just so those newspaper readers -- whom he despised and scorned -- longed to get back to the ideal time before the war, because it was so much more comfortable than taking a lesson from those who had gone through it.

From page 182:

The modern man calls this sentimentality. He has lost the love of inanimate objects. He does not even love his most sacred object, his motorcar, but is ever hoping to exchange it as soon as he can for a later model.

From page 192:

An experience fell to my lot this night of the Ball that I had never known in all my fifty years, though it is known to every flapper and studetn -- the intoxication of a general festivity, the mysterious merging of the personality in the mass, the mystic union of joy.

Obligatory penultimate paragraph:

I understood it all. I understood Pablo. I understood Mozart, and somewhere behind me I heard his ghastly laughter. I knew that all the hundred thousand pieces of life's game were in my pocket. A glipse of its meaning had stirred my reason and I was determined to being the game afresh. I would sample its tortures once more and shudder again at its senselessness. I would traverse not once more, but often, the hell of my inner being.

Nov 04, 2013

Machiavelli on Geography (The Prince)

The Prince. Chapter XIV. Paragraph 4.

"...and learns something of the nature of localities, and gets to find out how the mountains rise, how the valleys open out, how the plains lie, and to understand the nature of rivers and marshes, and in all this to take the greatest care. Which knowledge is useful in two ways." "Firstly, he learns to know his country, and is better able to undertake its defence;"

For the immediate benefit of learning geography

"afterwards, by means of the knowledge and observation of that locality, he understands with ease any other which it may be necessary for him to study hereafter; because the hills, valleys, and plains, and rivers and marshes that are, for instance, in Tuscany, have a certain resemblance to those of other countries, so that with a knowledge of the aspect of one country one can easily arrive at a knowledge of others. And the prince that lacks this skill lacks the essential which it is desirable that a captain should possess, for it teaches him to surprise his enemy, to select quarters, to lead armies, to array the battle, to besiege towns to advantage."

For the recurring benefit in later situations. More abstractly, there is a benefit to learning about something which is ever-present and applicable everywhere.