The Laboratorium (3d ser.)

A blog by James Grimmelmann

Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire afin
d'être violent et original dans vos oeuvres.

Posts about interesting quotations

In Touch with the Occult

We had the telegraph and the Court decided that was commerce … then the telephone came and that’s been declared commerce …. now if I’m to write a decision on this thing called radio, I’m afraid I’ll have to get in touch with the occult.

—Chief Justice William Howard Taft (in conversation with and as quoted by Senator Clarence Dill, see Erik Barnouw, A Tower in Babel 258 (1966))

Large Amounts of False News

“How can it be permitted,” the pro-Jacobin Journal des Hommes libres has asked, that even though terror is the order of the day, “–… large amounts of false news circulate from the centre of Paris … and carry uncertainty into the minds of patriots and serenity into the souls of aristocrats?”

–Colin Jones, The Fall of Robespierre 146 (2021)

Kill-All's Patented Rat Trap

For example, I think that references to patents, so ancient and pervasive in sales literature, are just such a move. It may be in part that the word “patent” is used to stand in for “clever” or “cunning,” and it certainly is true that “patented” is often central to that classic and powerful product-differentiation technique, “Kill-All’s Patented Rat Trap.” But it is also the case that having a patent means that one has a governmentally approved right coercively (through legal action) to exclude competitors from particular cost-cutting processes for a very long time (specifically seventeen years). The power of “our patented process” may inhere in this triple reference power, but the most important of the three may be to indicate this commercial rara avis, sole licit durability of a competitive advantage.

—Arthur Leff, Swindling and Selling 127–28 (1976)

Like Any Other Damn Banana

One evening, about the time when bananas were first being imported in Britain, Lord Leconfield was dining in his stately home with a friend. His guest observed that nobody really knew how good a banana could be unless he had tasted one straight off the tree.

Lord Leconfield said nothing at the time, but next morning he sent for his head gardener. “Go,” he told him tersely, “to Kew. Find out how to grow a banana. Come back here and grow one.”

Off went the head gardener. A special greenhouse was constructed. The banana tree was splendid. Lord Leconfield took a lively interest in in its progress until it fructified. “I will have the banana for dinner tonight,” he said as soon as the banana was ripe. And so he did – amid a deadly hush. The head gardener himself was there, concealed behind a screen.

The banana was brought in on a splendid dish. Lord Leconfield peeled it with a golden knife. He then cut a sliver off and, with a golden fork, put it in his mouth and carefully tasted it. Whereupon he flung dish, plate, knife, fork and banana on to the floor and shouted ‘Oh God, it tastes like any other damn banana!“ Banana tree and all were ordered to be destroyed.

–T.W. Körner, An Unofficial Guide to Part III, retelling a story from the autobiography of John Wyndham, the 6th Baron Leconfield, about his grandfather, Henry Wyndham, the 2nd Baron Leconfield

Zork the Bloody Thing

The road to Zork began in late May of 1977, when Dave Lebling put together a very simple parser and game engine quite similar to Adventure’s, from which Marc Blank and Tim Anderson built their first four-room game as a sort of proof of concept. … The name itself was a nonsense word floating around MIT that one might use in place of something, shall we say, stronger in stressful situation: “Zork the bloody thing!” when a piece of code just wouldn’t work correctly, etc. The file holding the game-in-progress got named “Zork” as a sort of placeholder until someone came up with something better. In the case of Zork, though, a proper name was slow in coming. And so Zork the game remained for the first six months of its existence. …

At some point around the fall of 1977, the DMG hackers had decided that their creation really, really needed a “proper” name. Lebling suggested Dungeon, which excited no one (Lebling included), but no one could come up with anything better. And so Dungeon it was. … Shortly after that, MIT heard legal rumblings from, of all places, TSR, publishers of Dungeons and Dragons – and of a dungeon-crawling board game called simply Dungeon! TSR was always overzealous with lawsuits, and the consensus amongst the MIT lawyers that the DMG hackers consulted was that they didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. However, rather than get sucked into a lengthy squabble over a name none of them much liked in the first place, they decided to just revert to the much more memorable Zork. And so by the beginning of 1978 Dungeon became Zork once more, and retained that name forevermore.

–Jimmy Maher, Zork on the PDP-10

More Scared of the Copyright Law

In 1995 an engineer named William Dilworth, who had published a refutation of Cantor’s argument in the Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, sued for libel a mathematician named Underwood Dudley who had called him a crank. The case was dismissed. For myself I am more scared of the copyright law than the law of libel. After taking legal advice I decided not to quote any of the authors directly. The alternative was to write some letters saying in effect: ‘I’m sorry we couldn’t publish your paper as a contribution to logic. Can I please publish parts of it as examples of garbage?’

–Wilfrid Hodges, An Editor Recalls Some Hopeless Papers, 4 Bulletin of Symbolic Logic 1, 1 (1998)

By No Means a Philosopher

The present author is by no means a philosopher. He has not understood the system, whether there is one, whether it is completed; it is enough for his weak head to ponder what a prodigious head everyone must have these days when everyone has such a prodigious idea. … He writes because to him it is a luxury that is all the more pleasant and apparent the fewer there are who buy and read what he writes. … I throw myself down in deepest submission before every systematic ransacker: “This is not the system; it has not the least thing to do with the system. I invoke everything good for the system and for the Danish shareholders in this omnibus, for it will hardly become a tower. I wish them all, each and every one, success and good fortune.”

–Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (Howard V. Hong & Edna H. Hong trans.)

When the Great Tower Fell

However, much of the effect of an impressive and expensive window is lost if it has to be inserted into a tunnel-like opening in a thick wall. Inevitably, attempts to provide bigger windows set in thinner walls ran into trouble with thrust lines. Norman architecture was basically Roman architecture and cannot be made to do this sort of thing, because it depends for its stability and safety on the use of thick walls. But this did not stop builders from trying, and it has been said of late Romanesque architecture that the question to ask of any particular building is ‘not whether, but when, the Great Tower fell’.

J.E. Gordon, Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down

Every Blue Sky

Have I mentioned that I expect death around every turn, that every blue sky has a safe sailing out of it, that every bus runs me over, that every low, mean syllable uttered in my direction seems to intimate the violence of murder, that every family seems like an opportunity for ruin and every marriage a ceremony into which calamity will fall and hearts will be broken and lives destroyed and people branded by the mortifications of love?

–Rick Moody, Demonology

Their Perfect Synchronization

Young people have curled around their economic situation “like vines on a trellis,” as [Malcolm] Harris puts it. And, when humans learn to think of themselves as assets competing in an unpredictable and punishing market, then millennials–in all their anxious, twitchy, phone-addicted glory–are exactly what you should expect. The disdain that so many people feel for Harris’s and my generation reflects an unease about the forces of deregulation, globalization, and technological acceleration that are transforming everyone’s lives. (It does not seem coincidental that young people would be criticized for being entitled at a time when people are being stripped of their entitlements.) Millennials, in other words, have adjusted too well to the world they grew up in; their perfect synchronization with economic and cultural disruption has been mistaken for the source of the disruption itself.

–Jia Tolentino, Where Millennials Come From

Who Is This We?

But hold up for a minute: Who is this “we” that’s always turning up in critical writing anyway? We is an escape hatch. We is cheap. We is a way of simultaneously sloughing off personal responsibility and taking on the mantle of easy authority. It’s the voice of the middle-brow male critic, the one who truly believes he knows how everyone else should think. We is corrupt. We is make-believe.

–Claire Dederer, What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?