Letter V

Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Study Quotes letter

One does not inhale vodka's bouquet, but one may use vodka to sterilize a wound on the knee, as familiar a sight to the serious vodka drinker as the shot glass and the handful of ibuprofen... Vodka is as simple as it is clear. Making it requires minimal technology. Aging does not improve it. Any difference in quality comes from the purity of the water and the alcohol, and from the manner and amount of filtration. Vodka is mostly produced from neutral grain spirits, and the less color, odor, and taste it has, the purer it is. There is little room for pretense.

Vodka, in fact, is the perfect drink for Russians, a species that takes great pride in the weeklong bender, the loss of recollection that can absolve one of dreadful deeds, the smell of bread — a traditional chaser to the shots that can become impossible to calculate. This is the land that abstinence forgot.

Brett Forrest

In Vanity Fair in an article called "The Great Vodka Taste Test".

What a country calls its vital economic interests are not the things which enable its citizens to live, but the things which enable it to make war. Gasoline is much more likely than wheat to be a cause of international conflict.

Simone Weil

Simone Weil, quoted in "A Certain World" by WH Auden.
Actually, clean air and drinking water are now rapidly (and worryingly) jockeying for position.

This is the only war in history where the fighting man can sleep in a warm bed, eat a good breakfast, take a helicopter ride to battle, pause for a lunch break and return to base in time for supper and a look at the day's fighting on the evening telecast. Vietnam is the first commuter war.

Colonel James Rivers, in 1969

While I do not often find myself agreeing with anything that Henry Kissinger says he observed in Foreign Affairs magazine back in 1968 that "We lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerilla war — the guerilla wins if he does not lose, the conventional army loses if it does not win".

Another advantage of a mathematical statement is that it is so definite that it might be definitely wrong; and if it is found to be wrong, there is a plenteous choice of amendments ready in the mathematicians' stock of formulae. Some verbal statements have not this merit; they are so vague that they could hardly be wrong, and are correspondingly useless.

Lewis Fry Richardson

Lifted from "Mathematics of War and Foreign Politics".

Big whirls have little whirls,
    That feed on their velocity.
And little whirls have lesser whirls,
    And so on to viscosity.

Lewis Fry Richardson

This was actor Ralph Richardson's uncle, Lewis Fry Richardson, in amongst whose collected (and inordinately expensive) scientific papers I unearthed the little verse above. Benoit B Mandelbrot [he of fractal geometry, and most recently to be heard from at the 2006 IgNobel Awards "ceremony"] described Richardson as "a great scientist whose originality mixed with eccentricity".

The firmest line that can be drawn upon the smoothest paper has still jagged edges if seen through a microscope. This does not matter until important deductions are made on the supposition that there are no jagged edges.

Samuel Butler

Anticipating Mandelbrot, by the way, was Samuel Butler.

I have never been so fortunate as to be conscious of having experienced the least shock of an earthquake, although, when a town had been destroyed in Ischia I hastened on from Rome in the hope of getting a slight shake. My passion was disappointed, so I consoled myself by a flirtation with a volcano.

Charles Babbage

In "Passages from the life of a philosopher" (1864)
Another great mixer of originality and eccentricity was Charles Babbage — a somewhat grumpy 19th Century version of Richard Feynman.

When she was sixteen, as a Christmas present, her mother bought her a vibrator.1 "The ideal stocking stuffer," said Dinah when she opened it in her room with her mother. "I got one for your grandmother too," Mrs Kaufman noted, "but she won't use it. She says she's gone this long without having an orgasm — might as well go the whole way. Also, she's afraid it'll short-circuit her pacemaker."

Carrie Fisher

In "Surrender the Pink" (1990).

And as the summer asserts itself, albeit damply, I am reminded yet again that there is an optimum temperature range for typing. If — as I have been lately — I am trapped in bad-tempered, green-aired and broiling old London the chances of my being able to batter out more than a paragraph without lapsing into a shallow coma are almost nil. Suddenly, the ghastly similarities between typing and what I imagine to be the irritatingly intermittent joys of auto-erotic asphyxiation come galloping to the fore. Oh, this is all right. Think I'm getting somewhere. Yes, quite nice, probably — especially if we fiddle about round that corner bit for a while and then ... Hello, now why am I on the carpet? Even when I'm conscious, I spend an unhealthy amount of time battling urges towards languid strolling and trying to find a snake I can look at while I'm in pyjamas.

(That was a literary reference, Best Beloveds, not a euphemism.)

AL Kennedy

In "The Language of Verbal Restraint" (2010).


1  The Guardian (17 April 2007) cheerfully informs me, in a column by Polly Curtis (Health correspondent) that (year 2006) "Ann Summers sells 2.5m vibrators in a year, including 900,000 'rampant rabbits'." There seems to be some irony at work here. The day before, we were told that the $1,000,000,000 "abstinence campaign" in the US had had (literally) no effect. And back in February 2007, we learned that a primary school sex education DVD was criticised on the grounds, according to two parents (out of 160) "that it encouraged children to touch themselves". (They need encouragement?)