Nuclear Weapons Are a Black Hole


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Martin Amis

“What is the only provocation that could bring about the use of nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the priority target for nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the only established defense against nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. How do we prevent the use of nuclear weapons? By threatening to use nuclear weapons. And we can’t get rid of nuclear weapons, because of nuclear weapons. The intransigence, it seems, is a function of the weapons themselves. Nuclear weapons can kill a human being a dozen times over in a dozen different ways; and, before death — like certain spiders, like the headlights of cars — they seem to paralyze.

Indeed they are remarkable artifacts. They derive their power from an equation: when a pound of uranium-235 is fissioned, the liberated mass within its 1,132,000,000,-000,000,000,000,000 atoms is multiplied by the speed of light squared — with the explosive force, that is to say, of 186,000 miles per second times 186,000 miles per second. Their size, their power, has no theoretical limit. They are biblical in their anger. They are clearly the worst thing that has ever happened to the planet, and they are mass-produced, and inexpensive. In a way, their most extraordinary single characteristic is that they are manmade. They distort all life and subvert all freedoms. Somehow, they give us no choice. Not a soul on earth wants them, but here they all are.

And the trouble with deterrence is that it can’t last out the necessary time-span, which is roughly between now and the death of the sun. Already it is falling apart from within.”


Pulled from the introduction to Martin Amis’s collection of stories about the nuclear world Einstein’s Monsters.

Because Kingsley, Martin’s father, is in my opinion the funniest post-war writer, I have to include the following anecdote, which comes only a few pages later:

I argue with my father about nuclear weapons. In this debate, we are all arguing with our fathers… [he] regards nuclear weapons as an unbudgeable given.

Anyone who has read my father’s work will have some idea of what he is like to argue with. When I told him that I was writing about nuclear weapons, he said, with a lilt, “Ah. I suppose you’re … ‘against them,’ are you?” Epater les bien-pensants is his rule. (Once, having been informed by a friend of mine that an endangered breed of whales was being systematically turned into soap, he replied, “It sounds like quite a good way of using up whales.” Actually he likes whales, I think, but that’s not the point.) I am reliably ruder to my father on the subject of nuclear weapons than on any other, ruder than I have been to him since my teenage years. I usually end by saying something like, “Well, we’ll just have to wait until you old bastards die off one by one.” He usually ends by saying something like, “Think of it. Just by closing down the Arts Council we could significantly augment our arsenal. The grants to poets could service a nuclear submarine for a year. The money spent on a single performance of Rosenkavalier might buy us an extra neutron warhead. If we closed down all the hospitals in London we could…” The satire is accurate in a way, for I am merely going on about nuclear weapons; I don’t know what to do about them.

We abandon the subject. Our sessions end amicably. We fall to admiring my one-year-old son. Perhaps he will know what to do about nuclear weapons. I, too, will have to die off. Perhaps he will know what to do about them. It will have to be very radical, because there is nothing more radical than a nuclear weapon and what it can do.

I apologize for the extended break — personal business. I promise to try to make it up in the next few weeks.

Read on:

How the Greek Conception of Human Nature Can Shape Your Politics


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Roman Bust

“I don’t think I would think the way I do if I hadn’t had an affinity for the writings of the Greeks. I think the idea the Greeks had, the tragic view of the world — that there are limitations in the human experience: we all age, we all die, we don’t demand utopian perfection given the brief time we’re on earth — has made me more realistic about things.

So when you see a war, for example, you don’t ask who’s one hundred percent good and who’s one hundred percent evil. There is good and evil in the world, yes, but it can sometimes be very difficult to understand that you have to go to war even though you won’t always be in the right.

The Greeks were much more realistic about the fallibilities of human nature. That’s had a very profound influence on me…

The idea that people are predictable across time and space, as the historian Thucydides said. That they have appetites and urges which are often identifiable. That people seem to respond to status and honor and fear, and that civilization — whether it’s religion, or custom and tradition, or politics — tends to save us from our selves.

It’s a very different view from the Rousseauian, Diderot, French enlightenment idea that we’re born into the world perfect human beings, but that religion or the family or the government repress us and ultimately ruin us.”


Victor Davis Hanson, checking off the important boxes in the first minute of his three-hour-long C-SPAN In-Depth interview in 2004. If you want to read Hanson, pick up his acclaimed study of nine pivotal battles in history, Carnage and Culture. I just ordered my copy.

Watch Hanson’s answer (along with the other two hours and fifty-nine minutes) below.

Then move on:

Our Students Are Taught to Feel but Not Think


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Thomas Sowell

“Science is not the only field in which American students are lacking in knowledge and — more importantly — in the ability to tie what they know together to form a coherent chain of reasoning. Many American students seem unaware of even the need for such a process. Test scores are only the tip of the iceberg. Professor Diane Ravitch, a scholar specializing in the study of American education, reports that ‘professors complain about students who arrive at college with strong convictions but not enough knowledge to argue persuasively for their beliefs.’ As Professor Ravitch concludes: ‘Having opinions without knowledge is not of much value; not knowing the difference between them is a positive indicator of ignorance.’ In short, it is not that Johnny can’t read, or even that Johnny can’t think. Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is, because thinking is so often confused with feeling in many public schools.

The phrase ‘I feel’ is so often used by American students to introduce a conclusion, rather than say ‘I think,’ or ‘I know,’ much less ‘I conclude.’ Unfortunately, ‘I feel’ is often the most accurate term — and is regarded as sufficient by many teachers, as well as students. The net result, as in mathematics, is that many students are confident incompetents, whether discussing social issues, world events, or other subjects. The emphasis is on having students express opinions on issues, and on having those opinions taken seriously (enhancing self-esteem), regardless of whether there is anything behind them…”


Excerpted from Thomas Sowell’s 1993 book Inside American Education: The Decline, The Deception, The Dogmas.

Below, watch Sowell debating American schools in a 1981 episode from Buckley’s Firing Line.


David Brooks: What Do We Mean When We Say Someone’s “Deep”?


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David Brooks

“I think we mean that the person is capable of experiencing large and sonorous emotions… People who are deep are spiritual. They’ve come to some stable philosophical convictions about fundamental things; they’ve made firmly-rooted moral commitments.

To put it in another way: they have a built a web of unconditional love. In the realm of intellect they have a permanent philosophy about how life is. In the realm of action they have a commitment to important projects that can’t be completed in a lifetime. In the realm of morality they have a certain consistency and rigor; they’re not always perfect but there’s a sort of moral demand that pervades everything they do.

The next question is, how long does it take to get depth? When we look at people who we think have depth, we notice that it doesn’t happen all at once. The desires that lead you astray, those things are fast — lust, fear, vanity, gluttony. The things that we admire most — honesty, humility, self-control, courage — those things take some time and accumulate slowly.

It’s an ensemble of settled feelings. It’s not something that happens to people when they’re fifteen.

And these individuals often possess a certain virtue.

And the word ‘virtue’, again, it has pompous connotations. It seems stuffed-up, self-righteous. But all virtue means is that you have your loves in the right order. We all love and desire a multitude of things: love, friendship, family, popularity. We all desire money, to be good shape. And we understand whether we’ve thought about it or not that some loves are higher than other loves — that the love of family is higher than the love of money. If you’ve sold out your family to make an extra buck, you’ve done something wrong.

If the love of truth or friendship is higher than the love of popularity. If somebody tells you a secret and you blab it at a dinner party, you’ve become popular for a few minutes in that conversation, but you’ve inverted your love. And so being virtuous is not some pompous thing, it’s not some puritanical thing. It’s just having your loves in the right order.”


Pulled from David Brooks’s speech at the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival “The Road to Depth: Thinking about What Character Is”. Find these ideas elaborated in Brooks’s new book The Road to Character.

There’s more:

Steve Martin on the Death of His Father


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Steve Martin

“My father… died in 1997 at age eighty-three, and afterward his friends told me how much they loved him. They told me how enjoyable he was, how outgoing he was, how funny and caring he was. I was surprised by these descriptions, because the number of funny or caring words that had passed between my father and me was few… When I was seven or eight years old, he suggested we play catch in the front yard. This offer to spend time together was so rare that I was confused about what I was supposed to do. We tossed the ball back and forth with cheerless formality…

My father…  was not impressed [with my comedy act]. After my first appearance on Saturday Night Live, he wrote a bad review of me in his newsletter for the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, of which he was president: ‘His performance did nothing to further his career.’… I believe my father didn’t like what I was doing in my work, and was embarrassed by it. Perhaps he thought his friends were embarrassed by it, too, and the review was to indicate that he was not sanctioning this new comedy. Later, he gave an interview in a newspaper in which he said, ‘I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.’… But as my career progressed, I noticed that my father remained uncomplimentary toward my comedy, and what I did about it still makes sense to me: I never discussed my work with him…

[Years later, just before my father’s death] I was alone with him in his bedroom; his mind was alert but his body was failing. He said, almost buoyantly, ‘I’m ready now.’ I sat on the edge of the bed, and a silence fell over us. Then he said, ‘I wish I could cry, I wish I could cry.’

At first, I took this as a comment on his condition, but am forever thankful that I pushed on. ‘What do you want to cry about?’ I said.

‘For all the love I received but couldn’t return.’

I felt a chill of familiarity.

There was another lengthy silence as we looked into each other’s eyes. At last, he said, ‘You did everything I wanted to do.’

‘I did it for you,’ I said. Then we wept for the lost years. I was glad I didn’t say the more complicated truth: ‘I did it because of you.'”


A selection from Martin’s 2008 memoir Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life.

Related paths:

Steve Martin 2

The Problem with Qatar


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Qatar World Cup

“In Doha last Friday, the sermon given by the Imam at the biggest mosque in Qatar. Just reflect on this: biggest mosque in Qatar. You might have noticed Qatar is doing quite a lot of business in this city these days.

But what did the Imam say at Friday prayers? He said, among other things, this:

Allah strengthen Islam and the Muslims and destroy your enemies — the enemies of the religion. Allah destroy the Jews and whoever made the Jews, [and destroy the Christians and Alawites and the Shiites.]

This has been and is being pumped around by the ministries of the Qatari government. They’ve been sending around the video. They’re proud of it!

Is any leader in this country going to raise their voice about this sort of thing? I doubt it, because people don’t even raise them when it gets preached in this city, which it does. It really does.


It’s as bad as Je suis Charlie, which I’m deeply, deeply aggrevated and upset by… People weren’t Charlie, ladies and gentlemen. They really weren’t. They aren’t. If they were, Charlie Hebdo cartoons would’ve been published in every newspaper and on every TV station.

You know when Nick Clegg and David Cameron and all the other political leaders say Je suis Charlie, no they’re not. No they’re not. If Charlie Hebdo had been published here, it would have been decried as a far right wing, racist, Islamophobic magazine, and would have been shut down years and years ago. And don’t think when people say Je suis Juif that they mean that any more. They really don’t. It doesn’t mean anything more than Je suis Charlie. It’s a bit of sentimentality.

But hold them to it. Hold them to it, for God’s sake.”


Pulled from Douglas Murray’s spot on, fervent opening on a recent panel with Maajid Nawaz and others discussing radical Islamism in Modern Europe:

The bracketed part of the pulled quote above is sourced from Jamie Dettmer’s article in the Daily Beast “An American Ally’s Grand Mosque of Hate,” which I’m assuming is where Murray found the quote.

Here is Dettmer’s more detailed account:

On the Friday before ISIS posted the horrific footage of the burning [Jordanian] pilot, a preacher sermonizing from the [Doha] Grand Mosque’s minbar prayed for the destruction of the faithful of other religions. “Allah, strengthen Islam and the Muslims, and destroy your enemies, the enemies of the religion,” intoned Saudi cleric Sa’ad Ateeq al Ateeq. “Allah, destroy the Jews and whoever made them Jews, and destroy the Christians and Alawites and the Shiites.”

His comments wouldn’t have been out of place in ISIS-controlled Mosul or Raqqa. He also beseeched Allah to save the al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third-holiest site in Islam, from the “claws of the Jews.”

Al Ateeq, who was on his sixth visit to the state-supervised Grand Mosque since 2013, reserved his most bellicose remarks for the part of the sermon called the duaa, when the preacher encourages the faithful to join in guided prayer.

Within minutes, Qatar’s Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs promoted al Ateeq’s remarks on Twitter. And the sermon was broadcast on several local television channels, including Qatar TV, the official state channel, signaling another stamp of approval…

If the thousands of dead slave laborers, gross violations of basic human rights and criminal extortion involved in Qatar’s hosting the 2022 World Cup are not enough to force us into even threatening to boycott the games, then surely the above facts and their attendant, sordid details should. Our only consolation so far is that hosting the World Cup is an enormous economic boondoggle.

Read on:

Advice for Tearing Down Fences


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G.K. Chesterton“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.”


Pulled from the chapter “The Drift from Domesticity” in G.K. Chesterton’s 1929 book The Thing.

My friend Matthew Sitman recently said to me, while sizing up the opposite sides of the Ferguson riots, “Maybe this just proves how conservative, in terms of temperament, I really am – I’m just not an activist.” He continued: “Any rage I feel is quickly tempered by the voice in my head that says, ‘Yes, but…’ I always go back to the great Max Weber line: Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards.”

An approach this deliberative doesn’t thrive in the world of social media, nor does it naturally attract allies, loathe as it is to jump off the sidelines, don a jersey, and play partisan games.

You will of course read Chesterton’s (and Matthew’s) quote in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell, rendered last Friday. I don’t have anything to add to this debate, which, if you haven’t noticed, is no longer a debate at all. Though several contradictory emotions have arisen.

I am happy for my gay friends; I am surprised at the lack of gravity being lent what is a moment of apparent social and political liberation (not to rain on anyone’s parade). I don’t think gay marriage “threatens” any individual, current, heterosexual marriage; I do believe our society has forgotten how critical that decaying, traditional institution is, and that the upcoming generation will have an impossible time recovering it. I am amazed how quickly this has escalated. I am fine with the Supreme Court deciding issues like this, even though it was 5-to-4, and even though I think ground-up, organic change is preferable for social issues. I am disappointed the executive branch has taken sides in a contentious judicial issue, displaying cutesy memes of support for one side in what has been an honest debate that’s divided good people on both sides of the electorate. I despise the vapid phrase “… right side of history,” currently being thrown around to justify certain positions on this issue. History isn’t about opinions. It has no right sides for the exact reason Eliot could declare that, in this life, “There are no lost causes because there are no won causes.”

Two other thoughts spring to mind in wake of last Friday’s verdict. The first is from Max Planck, who sized up the unglamorous way in which scientific progress occurs: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

It’s no accident this ruling comes at a moment when the Greatest generation is quickly fading from public life just as liberal Boomers now sit comfortably at the helm, braced by upcoming Gen-X’ers and Millennials.

The second quote is from Alexander Herzen, who had the following to say about the tumult of the failed 1848 revolutions:

The death of the contemporary forms of social order ought to gladden rather than trouble the soul. Yet what is frightening is that the departing world leaves behind it not an heir, but a pregnant widow. Between the death of the one and the birth of the other, much water will flow by, a long night of chaos and desolation will pass.

Read on:

“The End” by Mark Strand


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Not every man knows what he shall sing at the end,
Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like
When he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end,
Or what he shall hope for once it is clear that he’ll never go back.

When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat,
When the sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down
No longer appear, not every man knows what he’ll discover instead.
When the weight of the past leans against nothing, and the sky

Is no more than remembered light, and the stories of cirrus
And cumulus come to a close, and all the birds are suspended in flight,
Not every man knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing
When the ship he is on slips into darkness, there at the end.


“The End” by Mark Strand. Find it in his collection The Continuous Life or his essential Collected Poems.

Three favorite Strand works:

Mark Strand

The Cleverness of Karl Kraus


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Karl Kraus

“It is better not to express what one means than to express what one does not mean.”

“When someone has behaved like an animal, he says: ‘I’m only human!’ But when he is treated like an animal, he says: ‘I’m human, too!’”

“There are women who are not beautiful but only look that way.”

“If I return some people’s greetings, I do so only to give them their greeting back.”

“Nothing is more narrow-minded than chauvinism or race hatred. To me all men are equal: there are jackasses everywhere, and I have the same contempt for them all. No petty prejudices!”

“We are sacrificing ourselves for our ready-made goods; we are consumers and live in such a way that the means may consume the end.”

“An aphorism can never be the whole truth; it is either a half-truth or a truth-and-a-half.”

“The esthete stands in the same relation to beauty as the pornographer stands to love, and the politician stands to life.”

“My unconscious knows more about the consciousness of the psychologist than his consciousness knows about my unconscious.”

“War: first, one hopes to win; then one expects the enemy to lose; then, one is satisfied that the enemy too is suffering; in the end, one is surprised that everyone has lost.”

“Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual, the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country.”

“There are people who can never forgive a beggar for their not having given him anything.”

“Do not learn more than you absolutely need to get through life.”

“I don’t like to meddle in my private affairs.”

“Many share my views with me. But I don’t share them with them.”

“I have often been asked to be fair and view a matter from all sides. I did so, hoping something might improve if I viewed all sides of it. But the result was the same. So I went back to viewing things only from one side, which saves me a lot of work and disappointment. For it is comforting to regard something as bad and be able use one’s prejudice as an excuse.”

“I and my public understand each other very well: it does not hear what I say, and I don’t say what it wants to hear.”

“Many things I am experiencing I already remember.”

“Only he is an artist who can make a riddle out of a solution.”

“Today’s literature: prescriptions written by patients.”

“Hate must make a person productive; otherwise one might as well love.”

“Sound opinions are valueless. What matters is who holds them.”

“The real truths are those that can be invented.”

“The making of a journalist: no ideas and the ability to express them.”

“Education is what most people receive, many pass on, and few have.”

“One of the most widespread diseases is diagnosis.”

“Psychoanalysis is that mental illness for which regards itself as therapy.”

“How is the world ruled and led to war? Diplomats lie to journalists and believe these lies when they see them in print.”

“The immorality of men triumphs over the amorality of women.”

“I am not for women but against men.”

“Feminine passion is to masculine as an epic is to an epigram.”

“A ‘seducer’ who boasts of initiating women into the mystery of love is like a stranger who arrives at a railroad station and offers to show the sights to a tourist guide.”

“Many women would like to dream with men without sleeping with them. Someone should point out to them that this is utterly impossible.”

“A woman who cannot be ugly is not beautiful.”

“Women at least have elegant dresses. But what can men use to cover their emptiness?”

“The devil is an optimist if he thinks he can make people meaner.”

“Solitude would be an ideal state if one were able to pick the people one avoids.”

“Family life is an encroachment on private life.”

“Life is an effort that deserves a better cause.”

“The development of technology will leave only one problem: the infirmity of human nature.”

“You don’t even live once.”

“Keep your passions in check, but beware of giving your reason free rein.”

“Lord, forgive them, for they know what they do!”

“There is no doubt that a dog is loyal. But does that mean we should emulate him? After all, he is loyal to people, not to other dogs.”


Selections from the brilliant collection of Kraus quips Half-Truths and One-and-a-Half Truths: Selected Aphorisms, compiled and translated by Harry Zohn.

There’s more:

Karl Kraus 2

Why Harold Bloom Quit Writing for Academics


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Harold Bloom

“I had so deep a revulsion, as I still do, against what was happening in the academies of supposed ‘higher’ education that eventually it drove me out of teaching graduate students altogether. It drove me out of the English department at Yale — I became a department of one. And I increasingly said, ‘I don’t want to write for these people.’

I’m not interested in ideologies, whether of the left or of the right. That has nothing to do with what I love. That has nothing to do with Shakespeare. I don’t want anything to do with that. I don’t want to take part in this madness in which sexual orientation, ethic identity, skin pigmentation, gender is deemed to be the most crucial element in apprehending a poet, or a playwright, or a story writer, or a novelist, or even an essayist. I couldn’t bear that anymore and so I started to write books for the widest possible public.”


Pulled from Bloom’s 2011 interview with The New York Times’s Sam Tanenhaus.

Go on:

“On a Return from Egypt” by Keith Douglas


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To stand here in the wings of Europe
disheartened, I have come away
from the sick land where in the sun lay
the gentle sloe-eyed murderers
of themselves, exquisites under a curse;
here to exercise my depleted fury.

For the heart is a coal, growing colder
when jewelled cerulean seas change
into grey rocks, grey water-fringe,
sea and sky altering like a cloth
till colour and sheen are gone both:
cold is an opiate of the soldier.

And all my endeavours are unlucky explorers
come back, abandoning the expedition;
the specimens, the lilies of ambition
still spring in their climate, still unpicked:
but time, time is all I lacked
to find them, as the great collectors before me.

The next month, then, there is a window
and with a crash I’ll split the glass.
Behind it stands one I must kiss,
person of love or death
a person or a wraith,
I fear what I shall find.


“On a Return from Egypt” by Keith Douglas, which you’ll find in his Complete Poems.

Douglas, who strikes me as the Second World War’s echo of Isaac Rosenberg, wrote this, his last poem, two months before his death in the opening hours of the invasion of Normandy. He was twenty-four. Reread the final stanza which Harold Bloom calls “Shakesperean” in its diction  with this information in mind.

The stanza and particularly its last line embody what Yeats considered the defining characteristic of Romantic poetry, namely, the principle of simplification through intensity.



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