Saturday, May 20, 2023

Saturday Snippet: "Never get into any vehicle with a Kennedy"


That's just one of the many, many maxims in a new collection from Richard Wabrek.

The "deplorable" part of the title refers to Hillary Clinton's classification of so many of us as a "basket of deplorables" during the 2016 election campaign.  Richard proudly adopts that classification, as do I.

Richard and I have been members of the same e-mail list for many years, which is how I came to know him online (I've sadly not had the opportunity to meet him in meatspace - yet).  He's also been a professor, shooter, and down-to-earth practical philosopher.  I'll let him describe how his book developed.

This book had its origins over 30 years ago when I taught engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Platteville.  UWP was a small university in the (then) 26-institution University of Wisconsin System.  Platteville itself was a small town (population 5,000) in rural, southwest Wisconsin, and most UWP students were the children of rural, middle-class families.  UWP was certainly one of the more conservative campuses in the politically-correct UW System.  That said, at the time, the UW System itself was probably the closest thing to a Soviet-style bureaucracy in the western hemisphere, Cuba excepted.  Out-of-class conversations with students suggested my colleagues in the liberal arts college were doing their best to inculcate my engineering students with attitudes that would have been quite at home at UW-Madison, “the Berkley of the Midwest.”   The practice of engineering requires sound, logical thinking so I found these attitudes debilitating.

At this point I had been teaching part or full time for about seven years.  I had become reasonably successful at imparting basic engineering knowledge, but realized I was not addressing an equally important aspect of my students’ education.  I was not imparting any wisdom. It was then that I resolved to do my part to expose my students to sound judgment.  Given the UW System environment, I had to approach this with some caution.  An untenured faculty member can’t afford to make enemies.  UW System faculty members are free to embrace all manner of crazy ideas, provided they aren’t conservative ideas.

By 1987, I had been collecting maxims (as Mark Twain put it: “A maxim is the maximum of sense in the minimum of words.”) for my own pleasure for several years.  The collection seemed to be the ideal vehicle for transmitting some common sense.  My subversive plan was to pause from lecture about half-way through class and read a maxim or two.  Inasmuch as 25 minutes of an engineering lecture is about all that any mere mortal can tolerate without a change of pace, this amounted to sound pedagogy as well.  To prevent any complaints of bias (which on any University of Wisconsin campus were a concern), I would always solicit a maxim or two from the class. As it came to pass, there never were any complaints (back then), and there were frequent student contributions.  My maxim breaks proved to be quite popular.

When my exile in the Wisconsin Gulag concluded, and I took a position at Idaho State University; I brought my maxim practice with me ... I occasionally received negative comments about my conservative maxims in the anonymous, end-of-semester, student evaluations. But overall, for nearly three decades, my students seemed to appreciate the maxims.

. . .

My maxim procedure evolved over the years.  In the early 90s, I started awarding a prize to any student who brought in a maxim that earned a place in my collection.  The prize in question was a properly aged, hand-rolled cigar from my personal humidor. Many ISU students are of the Latter-Day-Saint faith (Mormons), and smoking is forbidden to the Saints.  So, while my students were generally receptive to the maxims, I had, on occasion, received complaints that I was encouraging an improper behavior.  I responded that non-smokers were free to have their prizes bronzed.

Rather than try to cherry-pick the maxims I most enjoy (difficult, given that the book contains literally thousands of them!), I'm simply going to publish the first few pages of his collection, and let the maxims (and their authors) speak for themselves.  Richard cautions:

I recommend that this book be enjoyed in small bits as an antidote for the misinformation and outright lies that characterize pronouncements from the government, media and so-called experts in the 21st Century.  Most books of maxims are overwhelming, like “drinking from a fire hose.”   As such, my collection is not grouped into broad categories or in any particular order.  Read until a maxim stimulates some thought or recollection, pause, and reflect. Turn the maxim over in your mind; learn what it has to offer. You may even want to learn more about the author and the circumstances of the quote.

That said, here goes!

Pournelle’s Law — “If you don’t really know what you’re doing, deal only with people who do.”

One of several.  The late Dr. Jerry Pournelle was a scientist, an award-winning, science-fiction author and an early personal-computer guru.  I suspect that this latter career is the source of this maxim.

Connery’s Law (Sean) — “Always tell the truth.  When you do, it becomes the other fellow’s problem.”

Think: “Bond, James Bond.”

“When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.” — Eric Hoffer, American philosopher, author of ten books, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1902-1983).

Eric Hoffer was a longshoreman and published philosopher. I can recommend The True Believer (1951).

“If you are going to criticize a mule, be sure you do it to his face.” — Anonymous

“No experience is so conductive to steady and accurate shooting as the knowledge of an impossibility to escape by speed.” — Sir Samuel Baker, English explorer, officer, naturalist, big game hunter, engineer, writer and abolitionist (1821-1893).

Baker explored and hunted in Africa when those activities were dangerous adventures.

“Fanatic — Someone who, once he has lost sight of his goals, redoubles his efforts.” — George Santayana, Spanish born, American philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist (1863–1952).

“Experience comes from making a large number of non-fatal errors.” — Anonymous

“Character‒the way you act when nobody’s looking.” — Anonymous

“Equality may perhaps be a right, but no power on earth can ever turn it into a fact.”— Honore’ de Balzac, French novelist and playwright (1799–1850).

“The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, American author, lecturer, philosopher, abolitionist, and poet (1803–1882).

“Nature has given woman so much power that the law cannot afford to give her more.” — Dr. Samuel Johnson, author of Dictionary of the English Language and more (1709–1784).

“Virtue has never been as respectable as money.” — Mark Twain, American author and humorist (1835–1910).

“Peace – n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.” — Ambrose Bierce, American short story writer, journalist, poet, American Civil War veteran, and author of The Devil’s Dictionary, which contains more definitions like the previous (1842–1914).

Another.  “Politeness – n. The most acceptable hypocrisy.” — Ambrose Bierce.

“Where every man does what’s right in his own eyes, there is the least of real freedom.” — Henry M. Robert, of Robert’s Rules of Order fame.

“The people are to be taken in very small doses.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, American author, lecturer, philosopher, abolitionist, and poet (1803–1882).

“Government is not eloquence. It is not reason. It is a force.  Like fire, a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” — falsely attributed to George Washington.

“Tis more worthy to rate B+ in ten different areas of endeavor than A+ in just one.” — LTC Jeff Cooper, Lt. Colonel of Marines and the father of modern practical shooting (1920–2006).

Colonel Cooper was probably the finest teacher I have encountered in my life.  His prose, like his thinking, is a model of clarity and efficiency.  Here’s another.

“Personal weapons are what raised mankind out of the mud, and the rifle is the queen of personal weapons...Pick up a rifle–a really good rifle–and if you know how to use it well, you change instantly from a mouse to a man, from a peon to a caballero, and― most significantly―from a subject to a citizen.” — Jeff Cooper.

“It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctively native American criminal class except congress.” — Mark Twain, American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer (1835–1910).

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” — Richard Feynman, American, Nobel-Prize-winning, theoretical physicist (1918–1988).

“Just because it’s a well beaten road is no sign that it’s the right one.” — Anonymous.

“Brevity may be the soul of wit, but repetition is the soul of instruction.” — General George S. Patton, commander of the 7th US Army in World War II, and the 3rd US Army in France and Germany after the Allied invasion of Normandy (1885–1945).

A general is responsible for instructing as well as leading his men.

“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment.” — Lao Tsu, Taoist philosopher (circa 570–490 BC).

“Life enfolds on a great sheet called Time, and once finished it is gone forever.” — Chinese adage.

“A man who has attained mastery of an art reveals it in his every action.” — Koichi Tohei, Aikido Master.

“Power of mind is infinite while brawn is limited.” — Koichi Tohei, Aikido Master.

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness.  When change is absolute, there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement; and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.  Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana in Reasons in Common Sense, Life of Reasons.

This is the longer version of the common quote that consists of the last sentence.

“Two wrongs are only the beginning.” — Anonymous.

“To step on a Persian carpet and a mullah are only to increase their value.” — Persian Maxim.

Collectors tell me that wear can make a carpet more valuable.

“No good deed goes unpunished.” — Clare Boothe Luce, American playwright and journalist (1903–1987).

Good’s Bureaucratic Rule: “When the remedies don’t cure the problem, government modifies the problem, not the remedies.” — Anonymous

“Basic research is what I am doing when I don’t know what I am doing.” — Wernher von Braun, German-American aerospace engineer and space architect, member of the Nazi Party during WWII, primary figure in the development of rocket technology in Nazi Germany, later a pioneer in US rocket and space technology (1912–1977).

There you are.  If those first couple of pages don't give you food for thought, dive into the book and look for more.  There are enough to keep you busy for months.  I highly recommend Richard's collection - so much so that I've bought multiple copies in all three formats (e-book, hardcover and paperback).  I plan to lend them to those whom I think will benefit from them.

Oh, yes - the maxim in the headline of this article.  From Richard's introduction:

Few bits of wisdom are more important than those which keep you alive.  As a consequence, survival rules are well represented.  One of my favorites is:

“Never get into any vehicle with a Kennedy.” — Anonymous.

If you know the history of the Kennedy political family, and what's happened to so many of their passengers, that kinda speaks for itself!



Old NFO said...

Good maxims... :-)

Hamsterman said...

“Character‒the way you act when nobody’s looking.” — Anonymous

That looks like origin of "Character is what you are in the dark."- Lord John Whorfin

“Life enfolds on a great sheet called Time, and once finished it is gone forever.” — Chinese adage.

aka "The only reason for Time is so everything doesn't happen at once." - Buckaroo Banzai. He is best known for "No matter where you go, there you are."

Anonymous said...

Out-of-class conversations with students suggested my colleagues in the liberal arts college were doing their best to inculcate my engineering students with attitudes that would have been quite at home at UW-Madison, “the Berkley of the Midwest.” The practice of engineering requires sound, logical thinking so I found these attitudes debilitating.

Humph. Mathematics, Statistics, Physics, Chemistry. Geography, and Geology are all Liberal Arts.

Johnzerd1 said...

Here are a few of my favorite Heinlein quotes

By the data to date, there is only one animal in the Galaxy dangerous to man--man himself. So he must supply his own indispensable competition. He has no enemy to help him.

Men are more sentimental than women. It blurs their thinking.

Certainly the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you; if you don’t bet, you can’t win.

Any priest or shaman must be presumed guilty until proved innocent.

Always listen to experts. They’ll tell you what can’t be done and why. Then do it!


Javahead said...

I'm pretty sure the Kennedy car rule applies double - at least - for females.

Harold said...

Mr. Grant, please step into my office for a moment, we need to discuss this "Saturday Snippet" business...."

I am trying to determine in what way have I wronged you so, that you seek to drive me into poverty with such tantalizing tomes that I cannot resist.

I'm sending you the bill for my next set of bookshelves.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 5:23, most colleges and universities separate the sciences-that-use-serious-math out of the Liberal Arts. History, English, Foreign Languages, Geography, Philosophy*, Poli-Sci, and Hyphenated-Studies are considered the Liberal Arts. Quantitative fields like physics, geology, chemistry, and so on are the sciences. There is some overlap, but there are big differences in internal philosophy and academic pecking order.

*Philosophy is odd, because some places include it in with Liberal Arts, and others put it in the math department. Most normal people probable consider it a Liberal Art, and toss statistics into math. YMMV.


Trumpeter said...

A liberal art is where the teacher decides what is right and wrong on his own, without regards to any other standard or consensus.

If the correct answer is the correct answer even when the Prof. doesn't like it, that's not a liberal art.