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Commonplace Book 2

Traveling with all the trappings of an office that is all trappings, Mr. Bush …

George Will (1988) (writing about Vice President George H. W. Bush)

If I have to do what I have to do, I will do so.

Michael Dukakis (1988)

“I feel like a criminal. I’ve deserted from the army.”
“Darling, please be sensible. It’s not deserting from the army. It’s only the Italian army.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929)

Boy, they were big on cremations, weren’t they?

Vice President George H. W. Bush, touring Auschwitz (1988)

Today I have listened to more cant and humbug that I have ever listened to before. Without a doubt you will go on praising the next king as you have praised his one. But if he was a tenth as good as you say, why are you not keeping him?

George Buchanan, MP, in House of Commons Abdication debate (1936), quoted in Nicholas Monserrat, This Is the Schoolroom (1939)

Here is wisdom: This is the royal Law: These are the Lively oracles of God…

From British coronation service, when the Archbishop hands the King the Bible

Love is the last and secret name of all the virtues.

Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat (1970)

Is life worth living? It depends on the liver. Friend’s favorite joke. 


Associations … and assumptions and expectations rule our judgments. They govern our feelings, which we think are altogether spontaneous and truthful. But our sensibility is always more complex and more resourceful than we suppose…. [T]he new electronic devices are but a means for producing new materials to play with. What matters is not how they are produced but how they are used. And as to that we are entitled to ask the old questions—do we find the substance rich, evocative, capable of subtlety and strength? Do we, after a while, recognize patterns to which we can respond with our sense of balance, our sense of suspense and fulfillment, our sense of emotional and intellectual congruence?

Jacques Barzun (on electronic music)

If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Journalists have a vested interest in chaos.

Morton Dean, CBS News

I want to capture the irregularity of the universe.

Jean Schlumberger (jeweler)

From Eisenhower to Grayson Kirk
Columbia goes from jerk to jerk.

Overheard at Columbia Reunion, 1988

Male domination of the New Left later provoked a revolt which had a more important effect on society than the New Left itself.

Mark Rudd

Had there been no civil rights movement, there would have been no anti-war movement.

Mark Rudd

When no one else knew what to do, Mark [Rudd] said “let’s do this.”

Juan Gonzalez, about the events at Columbia in 1968

The Leisure of the Theory Class.

Richard Grierman

I am an adulterous whore. Hold on to me, for I escaped from Bulla Regia.

Text of a leaden slave collar, Roman Empire.  Bulla Regia was a city in Roman North Africa.

Space exists all the time. You just have to find it and define it.

Jose de Rivera (artist)

An artist who has traveled on a train, driven an automobile, or flown in an airplane, doesn’t feel the same way about form and space as one who has not.

Stuart Davis (artist)

I seem to gravitate to geometric forms …. I may not understand the formula but I love the beauty of the line.

Jacob Lawrence (artist)

Anybody that is in People Magazine has got to have something going for him.

George H. W. Bush, May 5, 1988

I want to play the violin because I want to make an agreeable sound for the people who are listening to me.

Stefane Grappelli

Democracy has recommended itself above all other modes of organizing society by its capacity for the peaceable solution of its internal problems. Its flexible political and social structure, with the premium placed on tolerance, bargaining and compromise, has on the whole kept alive enough hope for discontented minorities to deter them from taking up the option of revolution.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Jackson (1945)

If someone asks me for the meaning of Indian classical music, I say it lies in freedom and discipline. You should not try to understand it. The music should be felt and experienced.

Amjad Ali Khan (sarodist)

[T]he medieval tendency to establish symmetrical measurements, to adopt fanciful explanations, and to find analogies in all things, obscured earlier knowledge and made geographers of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries less correct in their knowledge of the world than were those of the second or the third.

Edward Potts Cheyney, European Background of American History (1904)

[Color is] a profound, mysterious language, a language of the dream.

Paul Gauguin

I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.

Jessica Rabbit

Life is very nice but it lacks form. It’s the aim of art to give it some.

Jean Anouilh

The street is a room by agreement.

Louis Kahn

Bach is the best, and Mozart’s better.

Adam Phillips

Vice President George Bush was also campaigning today, but according to reporters present he didn’t say anything noteworthy.

Sam Donaldson, ABC News, following a Dukakis story (1988)

Men will listen to anything if they think it’s foreplay.

Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham (film, 1988)

We want a convention that’s organized, orderly and short – just like our candidate.

Unnamed Democratic pol, 1988 (the year they nominated Michael Dukakis)

Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did – she just did it backwards and in high heels.

Ann Richards, Democratic convention keynote address, 1988

Eavesdropping is vulgar if you can’t distinguish words.

Archie Goodwin, in Rex Stout’s Before Midnight (1955)

We practice our religion exactly as our ancestors did 35,000 years ago – we make it up.

Deborah Perry (Wiccan)

Our hearts go out to Falstaff. Yet we also know this moment had to be and sense what it means to Hal. For by repudiating Falstaff and their bacchanals (beside which l’affaire Monkey Business seems a joyless, witless toothpaste ad), he is bidding farewell to a part of himself that delighted him. As king, he understands that he will have less latitude, not more, than a normal citizen – that he must yield a degree of his own freedom for the sake of those he rules, and that it is this willing sacrifice (at the festivities, and later on the field at Agincourt) that grants the moral authority required to lead.

Harvey Oxenhorn, Boston Globe op-ed, September 26, 1988.  Monkey Business was the name of the boat on which Donna Rice and Senator Gary Hart had their disastrous tryst.

Chronology is the secret of narrative.

Winston S. Churchill

Pain creates character distortion.

Dead Ringer1 

[T]hat’s what maturity is: a stoic response to endless reality.

Carrie Fisher, Postcards from the Edge (1987)

San Francisco has always been the island of sanity for all politics.

Mayor Willie Brown

Revolutions usually occur under reform governments, once the old order had conceded its lack of legitimacy.

Crane Brinton, The Anatomy of Revolution (1938)

It became self-evident to me that in so-called abstraction lay the expression of the age and that I was especially fitted to be one of its prophets.

Isamu Noguchi (in 1929, at age 25)

Noguchi is at once the purest of living sculptors, having sustained and refined for half a century a commitment to the kind of absolute form first glimpsed in the work of Brancusi, and one of the most socially oriented, exulting in the large public projects in which the world of ideal form is obliged to accommodate itself to the rude demands of daily life.

Hilton Kramer

No longer the leader in the field, or even the holder of much political power, the sovereign today owes his very existence to the desire of the people for a transcendent figure.

Frances Donaldson, Edward VIII (1974)

The discontent with the Queen [Victoria] was not because England wanted less monarchy, but because England wanted more.


[Queen Victoria] was paid to perform a great function and she did not fulfill that function. She was salaried as a mighty Queen and she lived, dingy and concealed, like a stingy private matron in a republic. The nation kept its side of the bargain. She did not keep hers. The nation said: we are getting too little monarchy for our money.

Geoffrey Dennis, Coronation Commentary (1937)

Most of all, he loved her authority.

Frances Donaldson, Edward VIII (1974), about Edward’s relationship with Wallis

The duty of the sovereign is to enrich the Nation.

Leopold II

You have a better chance of being re-elected to the Congress than you do of being re-elected to the Politburo.

Oliver North

People are afraid of color. They are afraid of its emotional power. So they cling to monochromatic good taste

Christopher Alexander (architect)

The way to be sane is to act sane.


In relation to the development of later Western Civilization, medieval civilization is the fountainhead, whereas the Byzantine, rich, brilliant and magnificent though it was, served rather as a rampart and a storehouse.

William Carroll Bark, The Origins of the Medieval World (1958)

Once a peasant was taken under the protection of a lord, he was made to pay as much in the way of dues and services as possible. Unless he could obtain redress at once, which was very difficult to do, he was only too likely to find himself permanently victimized. What started out as an abuse became a custom and eventually was claimed as a right.


Fit the century, forget the year.

Valentina (fashion designer)

[T]he great, perhaps the only special, gift that history has linked to the Jews [is] literary culture … felt as a duty, a right, a necessity and a joy of life.

Primo Levi

The real history of freedom is the … story of the slow growth of reasonableness among men.

Herbert Butterfield, Napoleon (1939)

A prince who in the first year of his reign is considered good is a prince who will be laughed at in the second.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Magic is changing consciousness in accordance with will.

Adam’s witch

It’s very hard to write a quadruple fugue.

Adam Hovhaness (composer)

If it bends, it’s funny; if it breaks, it isn’t funny. Know what I mean?

Alan Alda in Crimes and Misdemeanors (film, 1989, written by Woody Allen)

You’ll learn as you grow up that great depth and smoldering sensuality don’t always win.

Woody Allen in Crimes and Misdemeanors (film, 1989)

Power and Property may be separated for a time by force or fraud – but divorced, never. For, as soon as the pang of separation is felt, … property will purchase power, or power will take over property. And either way, there must be an end of free Government.

Benjamin Watkins Leigh, at Virginia state constitutional convention, 1829

The totalitarian power brought a bureaucratic “order” in the living disorder of history, as a result of which it was mummified as history. The government has so to speak nationalized time, and so time has been struck by the sad fate of so much that was nationalized. It began to perish.

Vaclav Havel

In capitalism the future is uncertain but the past is sure. In communism it is the reverse.


The humanist’s secular conception of history and his sense of the historical distance separating him from Greece and Rome transformed the way Europeans read the classics. Renaissance scholars claimed to have recovered ancient literature from the dust and neglect of a millennium. One must not take their claim literally …. [A] large body of ancient literature had been conveniently available for centuries. The achievement of Renaissance humanists … was not that they read the classics, but that they read them, whether familiar or rediscovered, with eyes newly trained in the perspective of history.

Eugene F. Rice, Jr., The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460-1559 (1970)

Laughter is a social sanction against rigid behavior.

Henri Bergson, Laughter (1901)

We are all fastened to a dying animal.

William Butler Yeats

A mask … contains forces in it and evokes stronger forces that the actor can evoke [by] himself.

Peter Brook (director)

Rhythmic effect is the primary aim of all formal ornament; however successful a pattern may be in all other respects, if it strikes anywhere a false rhythmic note, its case is hopeless.

Archibald H. Christie, Pattern Design (1929)

If it’s bad karma, it’s bad business.


Certainty is bound to be an illusion.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

I think part of [Hitler’s] success was the impudence with which he pretended to be a great man.

Albert Speer, Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976)

[Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s] images derive their power from a consistent esthetic vision – one of proportion, balance, directness and clarity, which are the essential attributes of classical art.

Dennis Barrie

We can afford to ask whether a tablecloth and an apple, in terms of human value, are worth all the effort expended in trying to make them pictorially interesting.

Thomas Hart Benton, on Cézanne

If you don’t have a sense of humor, it just isn’t funny.

Wavy Gravy

A thing is not beautiful because it is beautiful, as the he-frog said to the she-frog, it is beautiful because one likes it.

Bruno Munari, Design as Art (1966)

[The first philosophers, in Miletus c. 600 BCE, were] practical men the novelty of whose philosophy consisted in the fact that, when they turned their minds to wondering how things worked, they did so in the light of everyday experience, without regard to ancient myths. Their freedom from dependence on mythological explanations is due to the fact that the comparatively simple political structure of their rising towns did not impose upon them the necessity of governing by superstition, as in the older empires.

Benjamin Farrington, Greek Science (1944-49)

The original and characteristic thing about the Ionian way of thought was that it recognized no ultimate distinction between heaven and earth, that it sought to explain the mysteries of the universe in terms of familiar things.


A ruler naturally gives more weight to one suspicion than to a hundred favors.

Lorenzo dei Medici

The United States has elections rather than politics.

Gore Vidal

Bach is superior to God in that he is modest.

Paul Tortelier (cellist)

That is a principle. All else is intrigue.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (on abolition of slavery)

South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.

Anonymous, c. 1861

People say that life’s the thing. I prefer reading.

Logan Pearsall Smith

The feudal system was, as much as anything, a method of government worked out by trial and error to enable the countries of Europe to support a class of professional warriors who spent all their time practicing the complicated art of fighting on horseback – and, what is more, to support an especially large, voracious and costly breed of war horses for these knights to ride.

L. Sprague de Camp, The Ancient Engineers (1963)

Every war is going to astonish you. So that for a man to predict what he is going to use and how he is going to use it would, I think, exhibit his ignorance of war; that is what I believe.

Dwight Eisenhower (1955)

“Dating relationship” means frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affectional or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations.

California Penal Code § 243(f)(11)

Life is a shitstorm, and when it starts raining shit, the best umbrella you can buy is art.

Aunt Julia the Scriptwriter, quoted by Mario Vargas Llosa

Music is the continuation of language.


Disobey the rules; ask for more; leave your wretchedness behind; organize with your brothers and sisters; never accept the hand of fate.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Remember – your belief in me is based on my belief in you. If mine’s unjustified so is yours.

Martha Gellhorn, to Ernest Hemingway

The subject [or decoration] is boundless, and to wait for completion would bar any useful result.

Flinders Petrie, Decorative Patterns of the Ancient World (1930)

The value of decoration historically is due to its having no stimulus of necessity.

Flinders Petrie, Decorative Patterns of the Ancient World (1930)

The reluctant obedience of distant provinces generally costs more than it is worth.

Thomas Babington Macaulay

The real measure of a man’s character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.

Thomas Babington Macaulay

To be engaged in opposing wrong affords but a slender guarantee of being right.

William Gladstone

Predicting is always difficult with regard to the future.

Will Rogers (?)

Rest assured that this is all only melting Maya, but if you hit your dream head against a dream wall you will experience dream pain.

Heather Rogers

In the twelfth century Luxuria, sensual pleasure, is represented at Moissac as a woman with serpents at her breasts; in the thirteenth century it is represented as a pretty girl looking into a mirror.

Gardner’s Art Through the Ages (5th ed.)

A conqueror is no better than a thief.

Bishop Jules de Mascaron (temp. Louis XIV)

Linda: Education is so shitty nowadays.

Tara (13): That’s how we like it.


The car is to the environment what the cigarette is to the body.

Ellen Goodman

See to it that your happiness is not dependent on any outward event.

Catherine the Great

We’re here, we’re queer, get used to us!

Slogan (1991)

The strength of government lies not in legislation but in administration.

Charles Homer Haskins, The Normans in European History (1915)

We are told that [Roger II of Sicily] made a point of inquiring carefully about the practices of other kings and countries and adopting anything in them which seemed to him valuable, and that he drew to his court from every land, regardless of speech or faith, men who were wise in counsel or distinguished in war …

Charles Homer Haskins, The Normans in European History (1915)

It is evident … that the Sicilian state was not only a skilful blending of political elements of diverse origin, but also that it stood well in advance of its contemporaries in all that goes to make a modern type of government. Its kings legislated at a time when lawmaking was rare; they had a large income of money at a time when other sovereigns lived from feudal dues and the produce of their domains; they had a well established bureaucracy when elsewhere both central and local government had been completely feudalized; they had a splendid capital when other courts were still ambulatory. Its only rival in these respects, the Anglo-Norman kingdom of the north, was inferior in financial resources and had made far less advance in the development of the class of trained officials through whom the progress of European administration was to be realized. Judged by these tests, it is not too much to call the kingdom of Roger and his successors the first modern state, just as Roger’s non-feudal policy, far-sightedness, and diplomatic skill have sometimes won for him the title of the first modern king.

Charles Homer Haskins, The Normans in European History (1915)

It is all right to decorate construction but never to construct decoration.

Augustus Charles Pugin

Aesthetics is for the artist like ornithology is for the birds.

Ben Shahn

When white is not enough
Increase it to black;
When black is not sufficient
Augment it with white.

Poem from Lesser Sunda Islands

The gods have departed this place, and Apollo no longer haunts these columns.

Last words of the Pythian Oracle, fifth century CE

Woe unto you also, ye lawyers…

Luke 11:46

If you wouldn’t wear it, don’t paint it.

Judy Best (El Paso artist) on selection of colors in art

Art is the re-enactment of reality, of a reality purified, freed from constraints and irrelevant accidents, unfettered to the material circumstances that confuse the essence.

Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934)

I was an accomplice. So I have to reconstruct myself also.

Boris Yeltsin

Power, not reason, is the new currency of this Court’s decisionmaking.

Thurgood Marshall, dissenting in Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991)

I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform and I knew then that he was the true Messiah. It is a memory I will always have of him – to see him in the flesh like that, even though I know that deep inside he is more than flesh and bones.

Chief Jack of the Yaohnanen of Vanuatu, speaking (2006) of Prince Philip, whom they revere as a god

The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.

General Norman Schwarzkopf, quoted in an Army slide show on “core warrior values”

The urge to perform is not a sign of talent.

Garrison Keillor

I can blame my father for my nose, but if I don’t blow it, it’s my problem.

Peter Stander

Be a lamp unto yourselves.
Be a refuge unto yourselves.
Seek no refuge outside yourselves!
Work out your salvation with diligence.

Last words of the Buddha

Seek truth through facts.


God is simple. Everything else is complex. Do not seek absolute values in the relative world of nature.

Paramahansa Yogananada, Autobiography of a Yogi (1946)

Illusion works impenetrable,
Weaving webs innumerable;
Her gay pictures never fail,
Crowd each other, veil on veil;
Charmer who will be believed
By man who thirsts to be deceived.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Maia

Questioner: What do you think of Western Civilization?

Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.


Only the unenlightened speak of wisdom and right action as separate, not the wise. If any man knows one, he enjoys the fruit of both. The level which is reached by wisdom is attained through right action as well. He who perceives that the two are one, knows the truth.

Bhagavad Gita, 5:4-5

It is when the positive and negative forces of … polarity are balanced that manifestation ceases.

Peter Rendel, Introduction to the Chakras (1974)

The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.

Last words of last speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt, written on April 12, 1945, a few days before he died.

That Imperishable is the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the ununderstood understander. There is no seer, no hearer, no thinker, no understander other than … this Imperishable. In this Imperishable the [fabric] of space is woven.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 3.8.8,9,11

The world, not as it is in itself but as we perceive it and react upon it, is the product of our own Maya or delusion. It can be described as our own more or less blind life-energy, producing and projecting demonic and beneficent shapes and appearances. Thus we are the captives of our own Maya-Shakti and of the motion picture that it incessantly produces. Whenever we are entangled and enmeshed in vital, passionate issues, we are dealing with the projection of our own substance. That is the spell of Maya. That is the spell of creative, life-engendering, life-sustaining energy. That is the spell of nescience, “not knowing better” [avidya].

Heinrich Zimmer, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art (1946)

One’s soul does not participate in the activities of everyday life.

A. L. Bashan (on the Bhagavad Gita)

As I grow older and older
And totter toward the tomb
I find that I care less and less
Who goes to bed with whom.

Dorothy L. Sayers

Insecurity is a perturbation in consciousness. When we have the sensation “I want such-and-such,” what we really mean is “I want the relative tranquility that follows when my desire subsides.”

Michael N. Nagler, “Reading the Upanishads”

Even as a rock is unshaken by the wind, so are the wise unmoved by raise or blame.


At the beginning of the process one needs a teacher; but the guru needed at the beginning can be dangerous. To attach oneself to a charismatic person may block the path to immediate awareness if the clutching is too tight.

Harry M. Buck, Spiritual Disciplines in Hinduism, Buddhism and the West (1981)

All science … is the reduction of multiplicities to unities.

Aldous Huxley

  1. It is not clear whether this is from a book or a film or just what. But it is too good a line to discard for imprecise attribution.