Medicine

“The most dramatic difference between high schools of today and those of my time is probably not in the curriculum but in the life expectancy of the students. Then, except for the common cold and chilblains any illness might easily be fatal. It was taken for granted that a fourth of July celebration would produce injuries and suffering ranging from powder burns to lockjaw. Quarantines were imposed for the more common ailments of diptheria, scarlet fever, and the like. Treatment consisted of a few simple medications and a nourishing diet while the victim and the family waited cure or death. Diagnosis was hardly exact. ‘Blood poisoning’ was a favorite phrase to cover a multitude of mishaps.”

— Dwight Eisenhower, At Ease: Stories I Tell my Friends

Complete Knowledge

“If the past were recoverable in its totality it would, after all, overwhelm the present.”

— John Hale

I had an idea years ago for a story where all the surviving archaeological secrets that complicate human history were suddenly revealed. Everything which the line of sight keeps hidden: the foundations of an ice age settlement swallowed by the sea; the staggered bones of a lost legion sunk into the desert; every unrecorded explorer’s grave hastily scratched into the tundra; the last surviving copy of a book we thought had burned.

From somewhere in the depths of space, a beam of coordinates is received by our telescopes, and in that instant the globe becomes a cemetary where the dead have risen from their graves. We can only guess at the source of the data, and its motives, but the result is paradoxical: history is broken by uncertainty once every secret is made manifest.

I read the Hale quote much later. It’s most likely I was thinking about this quote by Lovecraft:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

And this one, by Fernand Braudel:

I have always believed that history cannot be really understood unless it is extended to cover the entire human past.

Superciliousness

“In a moment of high drama, his aged father hurled himself on the ground at Gregory’s feet, and cried ‘My son, where are you going? Shall I ever see you again?’

‘It is written,’ Gregory answered, as he stepped over the obstacle, ‘ that thou shalt trample on the ass and the basilisk.’

Thus saying, he mounted his mule, which started to walk backwards. Eventually, another animal was brought, and the pope was able to start out for Marseille, the scribes, lawyers, engrossers, and bullatores of the Papal court dribbling along behind him with their piles of parchment, documents, seals, ribbons, and all the other material of the spider’s web that Avignon had woven around Christendom.”

— Frances Stonor Saunders, Hawkwood: Diabolical Englishman

An engrosser is either someone who seeks to obtain a monopoly in a limited market, or someone who makes illuminated manuscripts. In the context of this sentence I would say that either meaning is equally likely. After a little research, I have no idea what a bullatore is, though it’s probably related to a bulla, which is the round seal used to stamp papal documents (bulls).

Starvation

“The killer targets the most innocent, the people who would never steal food, lie, cheat, break the law, or betray a friend. It was a phenomenon that the Italian writer Primo Levi identified after emerging from Auschwitz, when he wrote that he and his fellow survivors never wanted to see one another again after the war, because they had all done something of which they were ashamed.”

— Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy

Xerxes whipping the Hellespont

“To forget that we are hemmed in by facts which are for the most part independent of our desires is a form of insane megalomania. This kind of insanity has grown up as a result of the triumph of scientific technique. Its latest manifestation is Stalin’s refusal to believe that heredity can have the temerity to ignore Soviet decrees, which is like Xerxes whipping the Hellespont to teach Poseidon a lesson.”

— Bertrand Russell

In this case, the phrase ‘scientific technique’ refers to the theory of Marx, Dewey, et. al, that science is useful insofar as it allows us to exert power. So, ‘technique’ as the opposite of knowledge, curiosity, wonder, etc.

Philosophical Tapdancing

“Hume, nearly two hundred years ago, threw doubt upon induction, as, indeed, upon most other things. The philosophers were indignant, and invented refutations of Hume, which passed muster on account of their extreme obscurity. Indeed, for a long time philosophers took care to be unintelligible, since otherwise everybody would have perceived that they had been unsuccessful in answering Hume. It is easy to invent a metaphysic which will have as a consequence that induction is valid, and many men have done so; but they have not shown any reason to believe in their metaphysic except that it was pleasant.”

— Bertrand Russell

Propaganda, Unintended Consequences

A North Korean soldier would later recall a buddy who had been given an American-made nail clipper and was showing it off to this friends. The soldier clipped a few nails, admired the sharp, clean edges, and marveled at the mechanics of this simple item. Then he realized with a sinking heart: if North Korea couldn’t make such a fine nail clipper, how could it compete with American weapons? For one North Korean student it was a photograph in the official media showing a South Korean on a picket line. The photograph was meant to illustrate the exploitation of the worker in capitalist society; instead the student noticed that the ‘oppressed’ worker wore a jacket with a zipper and had a ballpoint pen in his pocket, both of which were luxuries at the time.

— Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy

An Estimate of the Real Military Budget

The Trillion Dollar Defense Budget is Already Here, by Robert Higgs.

The Defense Department’s budget is only a small part of the amount the United States spends on its military: hundreds of billions of dollars are hidden elsewhere, in the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the DHS, in interest payments on defense-related national debt, and so on.

Therefore, I propose that in considering future defense budgetary costs, a well-founded rule of thumb is to take the Pentagon’s (always well publicized) basic budget total and double it. We may overstate the truth, but if so, we’ll not do so by much.