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Bon Appetit

Tags: Miserable careers of eccentric characters (present company excluded), Regency-era overuse of exclamation marks, kittens, kugel, French cuisine.

All we want to do is eat your brains
We’re not unreasonable
I mean, no one’s gonna eat your eyes

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers and friends. I’d meant to post this morbid little slice of historical polyphagy on Halloween, but it seems no less appropriate to serve it up now with your Yanksgiving yams and kugels. I quote the following verbatim from an essential little book entitled Biographical Sketches of Eccentric Characters, published in 1832. Harvard’s Widener Library has not one but two copies of this handy volume, on the stacks in open circulation–there’s a lot to love about Widener–which I used to peruse occasionally when procrastinating there. And now Google Book Search has the whole thing online, in a slightly unwieldy format–there’s a lot to love about Google, too. I’ll probably dip into the sketches again next time I’m feeling a little Kirchnerian. For now, I give you: The Miserable Career of Tarrare! Read more

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The Top Five Most Boss Names of U.S. Secretaries of State

Tags: Sorry, Bainbridge Colby.

The top five most boss names of U.S. Secretaries of State:

5. Abel Parker Upshur (1843-1844)
4. Condoleezza Rice (2005-)
3. Elihu Root (1905-1909)
2. Hamilton Fish (1869-1877)
1. Philander C. Knox (1909-1913)

Honorable Mention: Lawrence Eagleburger (1992-1993), who as my friend Ned points out, sounds like something you’d be served at Ted Nugent’s ranch.

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Curse of Bigness

As for me, my bed is made. I am against bigness and greatness in all their forms, and with the invisible molecular forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water. … The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost; against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, underdogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on the top.
William James, June 7 1899

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Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For P.P. Christensen

Stolen* from author William Gibson’s not very lively weblog (like I’m one to talk), a prescient quote from H.L. Mencken, who was always happy to dump on the democratic process, but probably thought he was talking about Warren Harding:

In small areas, before small electorates, the first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide…the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre… The presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people… On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a moron.
—H.L. Mencken, writing in the Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920

*In standard weblog parlance, I should really say this post was yoinked, or ganked, rather than stolen. Both words mean “lifted from somewhere else.” Yoink is, like a good one-third of all communication between Generation Xers, a Simpsons reference. I don’t know the etymology of gank, though the handy Urban Dictionary confirms the definition and offers a few variants.