Category Archives: the titbits

Australia’s History of Immigration

From Paul Kelly’s The March of Patriots, page 188:

Bob hawke once argued that the most important decision in Australia’s first hundred years was to become, from the late 1940s, a nation of mass immigration. Since the program’s inception Australia has accepted about seven million migrants, the highest per capita in the world outside of Israel. At the end of the Howard years, one in four Australians had been born overseas compared with a much lower figure of 10 per cent for the United States, testimony to Australia’s remarkable acceptance of people from around the world.

Australian Citizenship and Passports

A very odd state of affairs recounted in Bruce Moore’s Speaking our Language: The Story of Australian English:

In 1949, Labor Prime Minister Chifley, in the Nationality and Citizenship Act, created the term ‘Australian citizen’ (prior to this Australians were merely British subjects), and created an Australian passport to replace the British passport that Australians until then had carried on overseas travel. In 1949, incoming Liberal Prime Minister Menzies revoked the Australian passport, and until 1973 Australians continued to carry a passport labelled ‘British passport’.

Dostoyevsky and Kafka

I recently re-read Notes from the Underground and stumbled across what must have been the direct inspiration for Kafka’s Metamorphosis at the very beginning of the second chapter:

I want now to tell you, gentlemen, whether you care to hear it or not, why I could not even become an insect.  I tell you solemnly, that I have many times tried to become an insect.  But I was not equal even to that.

Iceland and Wall Street and Elves

Brilliant article about the brilliant, inbred Icelanders. Here’s an exemplary excerpt:

Alcoa, the biggest aluminum company in the country, encountered two problems peculiar to Iceland when, in 2004, it set about erecting its giant smelting plant. The first was the so-called “hidden people”—or, to put it more plainly, elves—in whom some large number of Icelanders, steeped long and thoroughly in their rich folkloric culture, sincerely believe. Before Alcoa could build its smelter it had to defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it. It was a delicate corporate situation, an Alcoa spokesman told me, because they had to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free but, as he put it, “we couldn’t as a company be in a position of acknowledging the existence of hidden people.” The other, more serious problem was the Icelandic male: he took more safety risks than aluminum workers in other nations did. “In manufacturing,” says the spokesman, “you want people who follow the rules and fall in line. You don’t want them to be heroes. You don’t want them to try to fix something it’s not their job to fix, because they might blow up the place.” The Icelandic male had a propensity to try to fix something it wasn’t his job to fix.

Nick Cave and the Old Testament

So this explains the title of Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel:

A long and seriously bizarre episode about Moabite King Balak and the seer Balaam. The story goes like this: Balak, fearing the Israelite army, sends messengers to Balaam, asking him to curse the Israelites. Balaam consults with God, who orders him not to help Balak: “You must not curse that people, for they are blessed.” So, Balaam refuses Balak. But the king won’t take no for an answer. Balaam consults God again, who tells him to go to Balak but to obey the Lord’s orders.

At this point, the story is interrupted by perhaps the most inexplicable incident in the Bible so far. God is apparently irked at Balaam for accepting Balak’s invitation—even though God Himself told him to accept it—and blocks Balaam’s way with an invisible angel. Balaam keeps urging his ass forward, but the angel won’t let the animal pass. Balaam beats the ass, who proceeds to open her mouth and protest, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me?” The Lord reveals the angel to Balaam, who apologizes (though not to the ass).

The Bible without Begats

I’ve been vaguely wanting to find myself a simplified and abridged version of the Old and New Testaments. It’s perhaps a little too simplified, but the blogging the bible series on Slate is pretty much what I’ve been after, even if it does stop at the Old Testament.

And from the Exodus reading, here’s this incredible titbit regarding abortion:

Reader Dan Gorin points out that my last entry missed the fascinating law that comes right before “eye for an eye” in Chapter 21. If a man pushes a pregnant woman and she miscarries, but is not otherwise hurt, then the offender pays only a fine to the victim’s husband. This has interesting implications for how we think about abortion—in particular about the claim that killing a 17-week-old fetus is the same as killing a 17-year-old. According to Exodus, it’s not. As Gorin writes: “The text seems to clearly state that the destruction of a fetus is not a capital offense. It is a property crime for which monetary compensation is paid.”

A Classics Education for a Budding Billionaire

I read an extract of the letter Ed Turner sent his son, media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner, concerning his university studies from Laudator Temporis Acti, and I found it so amusing that I thought I should publish the letter here in full:

My dear son:

I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on my way home today. I suppose that I am old-fashioned enough to believe that the purpose of an education is to enable one to develop a community of interest with his fellow men, to learn to know them, and to learn how to get along with them. In order to do this, of course, he must learn what motivates them, and how to impel them to be pleased with his objectives and desires.

I am a practical man, and for the life of me I cannot possibly understand why you should wish to speak Greek. With whom will you communicate in Greek? I have read, in recent years, the deliberations of Plato and Aristotle, and was interested to learn that the old bastards had minds which worked very similarly to ours. I was amazed that they had so much time for deliberating and thinking, and was interested in the kind of civilization that would permit such useless deliberation. Then I got to thinking that it wasn’t so amazing after all. They thought like we did, because my Hereford cows today are very similar to those 10 or 20 generations ago. I cannot understand why you should be vitally interested in informing yourself about the influence of the Classics or English literature. It is not necessary to know how to make a gun in order to know how to use it. It would seem to me that it would be enough to learn English literature without going into what influence this or that ancient mythology might have had upon it.

These [Roman and Greek] subjects might give you a community interest with an isolated few impractical dreamers and a select group of college professors. God forbid! It would seem to me that what you wish to do is to establish a community of interest with as many people as you possibly can. With people who are moving, who are doing things and who have an interesting, not a decadent, outlook.

I suppose everybody has to be a snob of some sort, and I suppose you will feel that you are distinguishing yourself from the herd by becoming a classical snob. I can see you drifting into a bar, belting down a few, turning around to the guy on the stool next to you—a contemporary billboard baron from Podunk, Iowa—and saying, “Well, what do you think of Leonidas?” He will turn to you and say, “Leonidas who?” You will turn to him and say, “Why, Leonidas, the prominent Greek of the twelfth century.” He will, in turn, say to you, “Well, who the hell was he?” You will say, “Oh, you don’t know anything about Leonidas?” and dismiss him. And not discuss anything else with him for the rest of the evening. He will feel that you are a stupid snob and a fop, and you will feel that he is a clodhopper from Podunk, Iowa. I suppose this will make you both happy and, as a result, you will wind up buying his billboard plant.

There is no question but this type of useless information will distinguish you, set you apart from the doers of the world. If I leave you enough money, you can retire to an ivory tower and contemplate for the rest of your days the influence that the hieroglyphics of prehistoric man had upon William Faulkner.

It isn’t really important what I think. It’s important what you wish to do with your life. I just wish I could see that the influence of those oddball professors and the ivory towers were developing you into the kind of man we can both be proud of. I am quite sure that we both will be pleased and delighted when I introduce you to some friend of mine and say, “This is my son. He speaks Greek.”

I had dinner during the Christmas holidays with an efficiency expert, an economic advisor to the nation of India, who owns some eighty thousand acres of valuable timber land down here. His son and his family were visiting him. He introduced me to his son, then apologetically said, “He is a theoretical mathematician. I don’t even know what he is talking about. He lives in a different world.” After a little while I got to talking to his son, and the only thing he would talk to me about was his work. I didn’t know what he was talking about either, so I left early.

If you are going to stay on at Brown and be a professor of classics, the courses you have adopted will suit you for a lifetime association with Gale Noyes [Yale’s noted professor of English literature]. Perhaps he will even teach you to make jelly. In my opinion, it won’t do much to help you get along with real people in this world. I think you are rapidly becoming a jackass and the sooner you get out of that filthy atmosphere, the
better it will suit me.

Oh, I know everybody says that a college education is a must. Well, I console myself by saying that everybody said the world was square, except Columbus. You go ahead and go with the world, and I’ll go it alone.

I hope I am right. You are in the hands of the Philistines, and, dammit, I sent you there. I am sorry.

Devotedly, DAD