Letter D

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Besides, if I wait two years, I'll probably have a computer on my desk that can do it in six months — it's just like the phenomenon of slowboat interstellar travel: no matter when you leave, by the time you get there the destination is already populated by the descendants of people who left after you and traveled in faster ships built with later technology.

John Walker

In an aside discussing the Final Report On The Palindrome Quest wherein he ran a background task for three years. Details here. Mind you, if you believe this story you may face other more pressing worries.

It's said that the only thing an auction record proves is the existence of two dumb rich guys, competing to pay more for something than anyone else on the planet has ever thought it was worth.

Blake Gopnik

In a piece called An Anatomy of Consumption in the Washington Post discussing the bejeweled skull that Damien Hirst has sold for its full ticket price of $100,000,000.

Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.

George Bernard Shaw

But where? How I wish the BBC would repeat Back to Methuselah now that Minidisc technology would enable me to carry it around in one small pocket.

When I face an issue of great import that cleaves both constituents and colleagues, I always take the same approach. I engage in deep deliberation and quiet contemplation. I wait to the last available minute and then I always vote with the losers. Because, my friend, the winners never remember and the losers never forget.

Everett McKinley Dirksen

Senator from Illinois, Republican minority floor leader, 89th Congress, but where? He also came up with "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money."

Now that I have achieved tenure (by the skin of my lightly calloused toes, I might add), and learned to silence the sniggers — at least in my own hyper-focused, dancer's mind — I can share my talents in the classroom with abandon. At last students now benefit from witnessing some of the following visual clarifications in my large survey courses: the glaring flaws of Roosevelt's New Deal policies dissected with the help of a series of deftly executed entrechats1 (a startling jump in which the dancer's legs scissor back and forth with lightning-speed precision); a re-creation of the tension surrounding the Bay of Pigs crisis by remaining en pointe1 (elevated on the tips of my toes) for as long as possible (20 seconds on a good day!); the sad fall from grace of President Richard Nixon given metaphorical expression through a dramatic, lingering penchée1 (a slow, graceful tilting of the body toward the horizontal).

I have to admit that I occasionally let my newfound spontaneity as a dancing lecturer get the best of me. For example, in class last week I dare say that I gave a young female undergraduate the thrill of her life when I pulled her from the front row and initiated an impromptu pas de deux.1 I wanted to illustrate the delicate peace negotiations between Anwar el-Sadat and Menachem Begin at Camp David in 1978. Her coy resistance to my effort to lead her through a series of sweeping tournants1 was actually the perfect embodiment of Sadat's early suspicions of the Israeli leader's diplomatic intentions.

Kerry Soper

Director and associate professor of American studies at Brigham Young University in The Lipizzaner Approach to Teaching, 6 October 2006.

I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse.

Brendan Behan

I have a Ron Cobb cartoon in mind for this gem, though the boss disapproves altogether.

Son: Have you ever smoked opium?
Father: Certainly not! Gives you constipation. Dreadful binding effect. Ever seen those pictures of the wretched poet Coleridge? Green around the gills. And a stranger to the lavatory. Avoid opium.

John Mortimer

In "A Voyage Round My Father (1970)".

In the ocean depths off Madagascar, obsolete fish keep their laggard appointments. In the depths of the human mind, obsolete assumptions go their daily rounds. And there is little difference between the two, except that the fish do no harm.

Robert Ardrey

But where? This must surely have been sparked by that living fossil, the coelacanth. As a youngster reading my parents' Sunday Express, I somehow formed the impression this fish that was "millions of years old" was some long-lived freak of nature.

When discussing this issue we need to be clear that pornography is not illegal, however distasteful some people may find it.

The degree to which the people involved are exploited or corrupted, the impact that viewing pornography has on adults, and the measures that can best be taken to ensure that children are not exposed to unsuitable sexual imagery are all uncertain, and the evidence that does exist is ambivalent and subject to multiple interpretations.

But rational debate is not something we can expect from some political or religious establishments.

The recent furore over the "hidden" sex scenes in the Grand Theft Auto computer game shows just how ridiculous and irrational the debate can get, when a few scenes of CGI consensual sex are used to criticise a game that was happily passed even though it condones violence, lawbreaking and brutality.

Bill Thompson

On the BBC's web site, August 2005, answering the question "Whose net is it anyway?"

Outsiders labour under a basic misapprehension about corporate hierarchies. Their image is of poor drudges at the bottom engaged in the mindless repetition of boring, meaningless tasks, with no scope for initiative or independent action. Top executives, so this wisdom goes, are epitomes of freebooting free will, deciding on a whim the fate of thousands as they lounge around in boardrooms of dark leather and darker mahogany, or glide silently and effortlessly in their chauffeur-driven tinted-window limousines. Nothing could be further from reality.

It is true that the ordinary office worker has a circumscribed range of functions — but also a concomitant freedom of when and how to carry them out. An essentially undifferentiated rôle has no natural timescales, no unique, imperative pattern. Jobs can be moved around, substituted, lost even, with little overall effect. However pressurised the situation, repose can easily be found — and kept: for into the vacuums and interstices which are created between tasks, there is nothing to flow.

Glyn Moody

An extract from Dire Diary, an essay in his superb collection Glanglish and Other Weekly Essays (1990).


1  I fear I may have done damage to some of these specialist terms. When I briefly worked with this file on a Linux system (as opposed to simply hosting it there), I also decided I should use "UTF-8" as the character set — this wreaked mild havoc with accented characters. I had to do a spot of Google-assisted research to re-build them as my own knowledge of ballet terminology (of which there is a heck of a lot) is essentially non-existent. And, by the time I spotted this, the original was hiding behind a "registration required" page at the Chronicle of Higher Education.