The Most
Beloved of
In one of our earliest issues, back in the winter of 1994-95, we published an official "Paradox-of-the-Month" ... an Important Thought we believed would serve to befuddle our readers if not ourselves.

The quote was one of Paul Valéry's bon mots:

"The trouble with our time is that
the future is not what it used to be."

The "Paradox of the Month" is now a staple of our magazine, continuing, presumably, to confuse or enlighten the readers ... and the editors. Here are a dozen or so that continue to make us wonder what it all means. And why.

We list them here in declining order of mystery.

The Bomb Today
At the end of the neolithic age, we have the Bomb as environment. The Bomb is not a gimmick or a gadget. It is not something that has been inserted in the military establishment more than automation is something that is now being inserted into the industrial establishment. The Bomb, like automation, is a new environment consisting of a network of information and feedback loops.
The Bomb, as pure information, consists of higher learning. It is, as it were, the extension division of the modern university in its highest research areas, creating a very tight environment indeed.
--- From Understanding Me:
Lectures and Interviews

Marshall McLuhan
©2005 MIT Press

Eating Sleeping

"I am going to outlive myself. Eat, sleep, sleep, eat. Exist slowly, softly, like these trees, like a puddle of water, like the red bench in the streetcar."
--- Nausea
Jean-Paul Sartre
Lloyd Alexander, Translator
©1964, New Directions

The Spiritual Happiness
of the
Sultan of Spain

"I have now reigned about 50 years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity."
"In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot.

"They amount to fourteen."

--- Abd Er-Rahman III
Sultan of Spain, 10th Century
As quoted in
Secrets of Spiritual Happiness
Sharon Janis
(Cold Spring Press)


I asked an old monk,

"How long have you been here?"

"Forever," he answered.

I smiled, "Fifty years, Father?"


"Did you know St. Benedict?"

"We were novices together."

"Did you know Jesus?"

"He and I converse every day."

I threw away my silly smile, fell to my knees, and clutched his hand.

"Father," I whispered, "Did you hear the original sound?"

"I am listening to the original sound."

--- Tales of a Magic Monastery
Theophane the Monk

The Correct Way To Die
"The worst thing that can happen to your career is to be shot out in an open field. You've got to be in the right position to die dramatically, against a wall, near something to hang onto. Never close your eyes. Glaze them. You can't go wrong bringing something down with you when you fall. A tablecloth is excellent. Preferably with a meal on it."

--- George Plimpton
26 September 2003


"It is no use asking people what they want. That is the error of democracy."

"You have first to think out what they ought to want if society is to be saved. Then you have to tell them what they want and see that they get it."

--- H. G. Wells


"Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time."

--- Albert Camus

Eternity and Time

"Eternity is in love...

...with the production of time."
--- William Blake,
The Marriage of
Heaven and Hell

Short Wave Radio
(Music in the Night)
"As I lay down, I turned on the radio set standing on the wine crate beside the bed. The names of cities and radio stations with which I used to link the most exotic ideas in my childhood appeared on its round, illuminated dial --- Monte Ceneri, Rome, Ljubljana, Stockholm, Beromünster, Hilversum, Prague, and others besides. I turned the volume down very low and listened to a language I did not understand drifting in the air from a great distance: a female voice, which was sometimes lost in the ether, but then emerged again and mingled with the performance of two careful hands moving, in some place unknown to me, over the keyboard of a Bösendorfer or Pleyel and playing certain musical, passages, I think from the Well-Tempered Clavier, which accompanied me far into the realms of slumber.

"When I woke in the morning, only a faint crackle and hiss was coming from the narrow brass mesh over the loudspeaker. Soon afterward, when I mentioned the mysterious radio at breakfast, Austerlitz told me he had always imagined that the voices moving through the air after the onset of darkness, only a few of which we could catch, had a life of their own, like bats, and shunned the light of day. In the long, sleepless nights of recent years, he said, when l was listening to the women announcers in Budapest, Helsinki, or La Coruña, I often saw them weaving their erratic way far out in the air, and wished I were already in their company."

--- From "Austerlitz"
W. G. Sebald
Translated by Anthea Bel

Death Rates:
Abortion vs. Normal Childbirth
In the U. S., the fatality risk with mifepristone [RU-486] is slightly less than 1 per 100,000 cases, compared with 0.1 per 100,000 for surgical abortion at eight weeks or less.
Pregnancy itself carries a fatality rate of 11.8 per 100,000.

--- Consumer Reports
February 2005

Puritan Capitalists
"The increasing wealth of Puritanism has not only augmented its scope and audacity, but it has also had the effect of attracting clever men, of no particular spiritual enthusiasm, to its service. Moral endeavor, in other words, had become a recognized trade, or rather a profession, and there have appeared men who pretend to an expert and enormous knowledge of it, and who show enough truth in their pretension to gain the unlimited support of Puritan capitalists. The vice crusade, to mention but one example, has produced a large crop of such experts, and some of them are in such demand that they are overwhelmed with engagements. The majority of these men come from the social settlements and freshwater colleges, with a sprinkling of unsuccessful physicians and second-rate lawyers to lighten the mass, and they seldom show the slightest flavor of sacerdotalism. They are not pastors, not even lay preachers, but detectives, press agents, statisticians and mob orators, and not infrequently their secularity is distressingly evident. Their aim, as they say, is to do things.

"Their success is measured by the turmoil they can stir up and the number of scalps they can take. And so, with moral sentiment behind them, they override all criticism and opposition without argument, and proceed to the business of dispersing prostitutes, of browbeating and terrorizing weak officials, and of forcing extravagant legislation through city councils and State legislatures."

--- From Mencken's America
©2004 Ohio University Press

Trout Fishing
in China

There was a fisherman in China who was using a straight hook to fish for forty years. When someone asked him, "Why don't you use a bent hook?" he replied, "You can catch ordinary fish with a bent hook, but I will catch a great fish with my straight needle."

Word of this came to the ear of the Emperor, and he came to see this fool of a fisherman for himself. The Emperor asked the fisherman, "What are you fishing for?"

The fisherman replied, "I was fishing for you, Emperor."

--- From Holding the Lotus to the Rock
The Autobiography of Sokei-an,
America's First Zen Master

Michael Hotz, Editor
©2002 Four Walls Eight Windows

Important Investment Advice
In Time of War

Buy at the sound of cannons.
Sell at the sound of trumpets.

--- Barrons
Three weeks after
the WTC attacks


"Suffering does not make us better people or heroes.

"Suffering like all things human, corrupts, and suffering peddled publicly corrupts absolutely."
--- Norman Manea
Quoted in
The New Yorker Magazine,
1 September 2003
The Terror

David Lawley, in his new biography,
tells one of the great stories of Prince Tallyrand.

A Jacobin radical bursts into his study during the Terror and Tallyrand gives him a glass of cognac, which he immediately starts to guzzle. Tallyrand stops him:

"No, no, no, that is not the way to drink cognac. One does it like this. One takes the glass in the hollow of the hand, one warms it, one shakes it with a circular motion to liberate the scent, then one raises it to one's nostrils, one breathes it in."

"And then?" sighs the panicked visitor.

"'And then, Sir, one puts one's glass down and one discusses it."

--- David A. Bell
From a Review of Napoleon's Master
David Lawday
LRB, 16 November 2006

To Never Be Born

Mrs. Rooney: I remember once attending a lecture by one of these new mind doctors, I forget what you call them. He spoke ...

Mr. Rooney: A lunatic specialist?

Mrs. Rooney: No no, just the troubled mind, I was hoping he might shed a little light on my lifelong preoccupation with horses' buttocks.

Mr. Rooney: A Neurologist?

Mrs. Rooney: No no, just mental distress, the name will come back to me in the night. I remember his telling us the story of a little girl, very strange and unhappy in her ways, and how he treated her unsuccessfully over a period of years and was finally obliged to give up the case. He could find nothing wrong with her, he said. The only thing wrong with her as far as he could see was that she was dying. And she did in fact die, shortly after he washed his hands of her.

Mr. Rooney: Well? What is there so wonderful about that?

Mrs. Rooney: No, it was just something he said, and the way he said it, that has haunted me ever since. When he had done with the little girl he stood there motionless for some time, quite two minutes I should say, looking down at his table. Then he suddenly raised his head and exclaimed, as if he had had a revelation, "The trouble with her was she had never really been born!" [Pause] He spoke throughout without notes. [Pause] I left before the end ... [Sobs] There's nothing to be done for those people!

Mr. Rooney: For which is there?

---From All That Fall
Samuel Beckett
As quoted in The Lourdes of Arizona