Rules of the Anti-Flirt Club, active in the early 1920s in Washington, D.C.:

  1. Don’t flirt: those who flirt in haste often repent in leisure.
  2. Don’t accept rides from flirting motorists — they don’t invite you in to save you a walk.
  3. Don’t use your eyes for ogling — they were made for worthier purposes.
  4. Don’t go out with men you don’t know — they may be married, and you may be in for a hair-pulling match.
  5. Don’t wink — a flutter of one eye may cause a tear in the other.
  6. Don’t smile at flirtatious strangers — save them for people you know.
  7. Don’t annex all the men you can get — by flirting with many, you may lose out on the one.
  8. Don’t fall for the slick, dandified cake eater — the unpolished gold of a real man is worth more than the gloss of a lounge lizard.
  9. Don’t let elderly men with an eye to a flirtation pat you on the shoulder and take a fatherly interest in you. Those are usually the kind who want to forget they are fathers.
  10. Don’t ignore the man you are sure of while you flirt with another. When you return to the first one you may find him gone.

The club’s main purpose was to protect women from men who abused “the precedent established during the war by offering to take young lady pedestrians in their cars,” according to an article in the Washington Post. Helen Brown, secretary of the 10-member club, warned that men “don’t all tender their invitations to save the girls a walk.”

Plain Enough

In Jewish Bankers and the Holy See (2012), León Poliakov cites a joke current in 12th-century ghettos to justify usury between Jews.

“It consisted, it is said, of reciting Deuteronomy 23:20 in interrogative tones to make it mean the opposite of its obvious sense:

“‘Unto a foreigner thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury?'”

“Dispatch Is the Soul of Business”,_4th_Earl_of_Chesterfield.PNG

Advice sent by Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694–1773), to his son Philip on how to attain success in the world:

  • Be wiser than other people if you can; but do not tell them so.
  • An injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult.
  • Without some dissimulation no business can be carried on at all.
  • I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason, nobody has ever heard me laugh.
  • The manner is often as important as the matter, sometimes more so.
  • Speak of the moderns without contempt, and of the ancients without idolatry.
  • I really know nothing more criminal, more mean, and more ridiculous than lying. It is the production either of malice, cowardice, or vanity; and generally misses of its aim in every one of these views; for lies are always detected, sooner or later.
  • Never seem wiser, nor more learned, than the people you are with. Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket: and do not pull it out and strike it; merely to show that you have one.
  • The characteristic of a well-bred man is, to converse with his inferiors without insolence, and with his superiors with respect and with ease.
  • Knowledge may give weight, but accomplishments give luster, and many more people see than weigh.
  • It is a great advantage for any man to be able to talk or hear, neither ignorantly nor absurdly, upon any subject; for I have known people, who have not said one word, hear ignorantly and absurdly; it has appeared by their inattentive and unmeaning faces.
  • A proper secrecy is the only mystery of able men; mystery is the only secrecy of weak and cunning ones.
  • In short, let it be your maxim through life, to know all you can know, yourself; and never to trust implicitly to the informations of others.
  • It is an undoubted truth, that the less one has to do, the less time one finds to do it in. One yawns, one procrastinates, one can do it when one will, and therefore one seldom does it at all.
  • It is commonly said, and more particularly by Lord Shaftesbury, that ridicule is the best test of truth.
  • Let blockheads read what blockheads wrote.
  • The reputation of generosity is to be purchased pretty cheap; it does not depend so much upon a man’s general expense, as it does upon his giving handsomely where it is proper to give at all. A man, for instance, who should give a servant four shillings, would pass for covetous, while he who gave him a crown, would be reckoned generous; so that the difference of those two opposite characters, turns upon one shilling.
  • Let this be one invariable rule of your conduct — never to show the least symptom of resentment, which you cannot, to a certain degree, gratify; but always to smile, where you cannot strike.

“I wish to God,” he wrote in 1750, “that you had as much pleasure in following my advice, as I have in giving it to you.”

(From Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1774.)


My Aunt Maria asked me to read the life of Dr. Chalmers, which, however, I did not promise to do. Yesterday, Sunday, she was heard through the partition shouting to my Aunt Jane, who is deaf, ‘Think of it! He stood half an hour today to hear the frogs croak, and he wouldn’t read the life of Chalmers.’

— Thoreau, journal, March 28, 1853

Mixed Motives

In a democracy, a voter might reasonably choose to vote in their own interests or to vote for their idea of the common good. This divergence can spell trouble. Suppose voters are choosing between two options, A and B. A is in the interests of 40 percent of the electorate, and B is in the interests of the remaining 60 percent. Now suppose that 80 percent of voters believe that B is for the common good, and 20 percent believe that A is for the common good. And suppose that these beliefs are independent of interests — that is, believers in A and believers in B are spread evenly through the electorate. Finally, suppose that voters for whom A is in their interests vote according to interest while voters for whom B is in their interests vote according to their idea of the common good.

The result is that 52 percent of voters (all A-interest voters and 20 percent of B-interest voters) will vote for A, which wins the day, “even though it is in the minority interest, and believed by just 20% of the population to be in the common good,” notes philosopher Jonathan Wolff. The scenario in this example may be unlikely, but “the key assumption is that morally motivated individuals can make a mistake about what morality requires. … [W]e cannot rely on any assurances that democratic decision-making reveals either the majority interest or the common good.”

(Jonathan Wolff, “Democratic Voting and the Mixed-Motivation Problem,” Analysis 54:4 [October 1994], 193-196.)

Niven’s Laws

By science fiction author Larry Niven:

1.a. Never throw shit at an armed man.
1.b. Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man.
2. Never fire a laser at a mirror.
3. Mother Nature doesn’t care if you’re having fun.
4. F × S = k. The product of Freedom and Security is a constant. To gain more freedom of thought and/or action, you must give up some security, and vice versa.
5. Psi and/or magical powers, if real, are nearly useless.
6. It is easier to destroy than create.
7. Any damn fool can predict the past.
8. History never repeats itself.
9. Ethics change with technology.
10. There ain’t no justice.
11. Anarchy is the least stable of social structures. It falls apart at a touch.
12. There is a time and place for tact. And there are times when tact is entirely misplaced.
13. The ways of being human are bounded but infinite.
14. The world’s dullest subjects, in order:
a. Somebody else’s diet.
b. How to make money for a worthy cause.
c. Special Interest Liberation.
15. The only universal message in science fiction: There exist minds that think as well as you do, but differently. (Niven’s corollary: The gene-tampered turkey you’re talking to isn’t necessarily one of them.)
16. Never waste calories (i.e., don’t eat food just because it’s available, or cheap; only eat food you’ll enjoy, because you have to limit overall calorie intake).
17. There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.
18. No technique works if it isn’t used.
19. Not responsible for advice not taken.
20. Old age is not for sissies.

See Lessons Learned.

Right Enough

The weather was unprecedented — weeks of damp and rain and fog. Everybody talked about it. One day during that spell I was holding forth to a practical farmer on the subject of hay. Full of book learning, I was explaining (rather too glibly) the advantages of cutting hay in June. I described in detail the vitamin loss incurred by letting hay stand in the field after it has matured, and how much greater the feed value was per unit weight in early-cut hay, even though the quantity might be slightly less. The farmer was a quiet man, with big hands for curling round a scythe handle. He listened attentively. My words swirled around his head like summer flies. Finally, when I had exhausted my little store of learning and paused for a moment, he ventured a reply.

‘The time to cut hay,’ he said firmly, ‘is in hayin’ time.’

— E.B. White, “Book Learning,” 1942

Wiio’s Laws

Finnish economist and parliamentarian Osmo Antero Wiio framed these rueful principles of human communication in 1978:

  1. Communication usually fails, except by accident.
    1. If communication can fail, it will.
    2. If communication cannot fail, it still most usually fails.
    3. If communication seems to succeed in the intended way, there’s a misunderstanding.
    4. If you are content with your message, communication certainly fails.
  2. If a message can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a manner that maximizes the damage.
  3. There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant with your message.
  4. The more we communicate, the worse communication succeeds.
    1. The more we communicate, the faster misunderstandings propagate.
  5. In mass communication, the important thing is not how things are but how they seem to be.
  6. The importance of a news item is inversely proportional to the square of the distance.
  7. The more important the situation is, the more probable you had forgotten an essential thing that you remembered a moment ago.

Writer Jukka Korpela offered two corrolaries: “If nobody barks at you, your message did not get through” and “Search for information fails, except by accident.”

No Time Like the Present

In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis points out a phenomenon he calls “chronological snobbery,” “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited”:

You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also ‘a period,’ and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.

“History does not always repeat itself,” wrote John W. Campbell. “Sometimes it just yells, ‘Can’t you remember anything I told you?’ and lets fly with a club.”

Signifying Nothing

When King Pyrrhus was undertaking his expedition into Italy, Cyneas, his wise counselor, wanting to make him feel the vanity of his ambition, asked him: ‘Well, Sire, to what purpose are you setting up this great enterprise?’ ‘To make myself master of Italy,’ he immediately replied. ‘And then,’ continued Cyneas, ‘when that is done?’ ‘I shall pass over into Gaul and Spain,’ said the other. ‘And after that?’ ‘I shall go and subdue Africa; and finally, when I have brought the world under my subjection, I shall rest and live content and at my ease.’

‘In God’s name, Sire,’ Cyneas then retorted, ‘tell me what keeps you from being in that condition right now, if that is what you want. Why don’t you settle down at this very moment in the state you say you aspire to, and spare yourself all the intervening toil and risks?’

— Montaigne, “Of the Inequality Amongst Us,” 1580