July 6, 2013

"Hardly a man takes a half-hour's nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, 'What's the news?' as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels."

"Some give directions to be waked every half-hour, doubtless for no other purpose; and then, to pay for it, they tell what they have dreamed. After a night's sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast. 'Pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on this globe' -- and he reads it over his coffee and rolls, that a man has had his eyes gouged out this morning on the Wachito River; never dreaming the while that he lives in the dark unfathomed mammoth cave of this world, and has but the rudiment of an eye himself."

An old quote that crosses my mind as I realize I have yet to check the news this morning.

Do you recognize that quote? It's from the oft-quoted "Walden," and I'm amused to see the next paragraph:
For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I think that there are very few important communications made through it. 
Read in isolation, that sounds like Henry David Thoreau foresaw email and the internet, but, in fact, he's at the opposite end of the technology spectrum:
To speak critically, I never received more than one or two letters in my life... that were worth the postage. 
I have written 34,859 posts on Blogger — this is #34,860 — and they were surely worth the "postage," since I have paid $0.00 to write to you like this.
The penny-post is, commonly, an institution through which you seriously offer a man that penny for his thoughts which is so often safely offered in jest. And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper
Boldface added.
If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter -- we never need read of another. 
But a man on a vintage tractor was killed by a vintage firetruck in a 4th of July parade, and a cop shot the Rottweiler of a man he was arresting for photography the other day, and what's happening with those 17-year cicadas? Surely, these details from elsewhere need to be uploaded into our furiously grinding cogs of cognition.
One is enough. 
If you've read one dead dog story, you've read them all.
If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. 
In my defense, I am an old woman. I've had coffee, and have moved on to water. Are you a philosopher? The test is: Do you think all news is gossip?
Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip. There was such a rush, as I hear, the other day at one of the offices to learn the foreign news by the last arrival, that several large squares of plate glass belonging to the establishment were broken by the pressure -- news which I seriously think a ready wit might write a twelve-month, or twelve years, beforehand with sufficient accuracy. 
What news stories are you reading this morning that might just as well have been written a year ago?
As for Spain, for instance, if you know how to throw in Don Carlos and the Infanta, and Don Pedro and Seville and Granada, from time to time in the right proportions...
All these people that you mention/Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame/I had to rearrange their faces/And give them all another name...
.... they may have changed the names a little since I saw the papers -- and serve up a bull-fight when other entertainments fail, it will be true to the letter, and give us as good an idea of the exact state or ruin of things in Spain as the most succinct and lucid reports under this head in the newspapers: and as for England, almost the last significant scrap of news from that quarter was the revolution of 1649; and if you have learned the history of her crops for an average year, you never need attend to that thing again, unless your speculations are of a merely pecuniary character. If one may judge who rarely looks into the newspapers, nothing new does ever happen in foreign parts, a French revolution not excepted.
What's the news from Egypt?
What news! how much more important to know what that is which was never old! "Kieou-he-yu (great dignitary of the state of Wei) sent a man to Khoung-tseu to know his news."
All these Chinese names you mention... presumably, what's the news of how to spell them today?
"Khoung-tseu caused the messenger to be seated near him, and questioned him in these terms: What is your master doing? The messenger answered with respect: My master desires to diminish the number of his faults, but he cannot come to the end of them. The messenger being gone, the philosopher remarked: What a worthy messenger! What a worthy messenger!" The preacher, instead of vexing the ears of drowsy farmers on their day of rest at the end of the week -- for Sunday is the fit conclusion of an ill-spent week, and not the fresh and brave beginning of a new one -- with this one other draggle-tail of a sermon, should shout with thundering voice, "Pause! Avast! Why so seeming fast, but deadly slow?"
What is the fit conclusion to your ill-spent week?

34 comments:

betamax3000 said...

Re: "All these people that you mention/Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame/I had to rearrange their faces/And give them all another name..."

On July Fourth Bob Dylan Kafka Robot said:

I Sometimes Have an Almost Violent Urge to Stop Mid-Song and Yell "Judas" at Myself.The Audience Would No Doubt Applaud the Reference and Not Understand the Meaning. I Secretly Wish To Rearrange their Faces And Give them All Another Name.

Ann, You Are Receiving My Signals.

Roughcoat said...

Girls talk. Tell you about their day, endlessly; about their week. A thought unexpressed is a thought unfulfilled.

That's my conclusion.

rhhardin said...

Truth leans into the news, as into a wind.

Or you can do it without leaning in math.

Meade said...

They’re selling penny-posts of the blogging
They’re painting the greencards with RFID chips...

JAL said...

OK. Got a point from this (probably not The Point).

No more Althouse. No more news. No more internet for me. And the snail mail is almost all junk.

My life is too cluttered as it is. Was.

JAL said...

As the famous stateswoman once shouted "What difference, at this point, does it make?"

bpm4532 said...

I recall, as e-mail was getting started, the post office felt their monopoly demanded it control e-mail and that people should pay for each e-mail sent in order to pay for the necessary infrastructure and overhead.

They had earlier tried the same thing with fax - if you wanted to send a fax they would have been required you to go to a post office to send directly to another post office where the recipient would retrieve it. Of course an appropriate fee was to be charge to pay for the infrastructure and overhead - not to mention the cost to individuals and business to travel to and from the post office to send and retrieve faxes.

betamax3000 said...

Dead Jim Morrison Robot says:

Man, there Ain't A Thing Such as News. It's All Just Stuff That Happens before You Die. Up Here in Heaven It's Like Watching Little Ants. Little Ants on Asparagus Ships.

traditionalguy said...

When we checked in the wife grabbed from a stand in the lobby a free USA Today for Friday with some Egypt Coup point of view double talk.

This morning the crowd at free breakfast were getting the news ...from the same paper. The USA Today is a Fri. Sat. Sunday same issue.

Times are a is changing fast.

Lem said...

What Salomon said... im on the phone w/o a spell app... no Salomon didint say that... i said that... Salomon said somthing about there being nothing new under the sun... i'd google it but i get the feeling thats not what we want this lovely morn here where i am.

rhhardin said...

Coupe in Egypt.

Expat(ish) said...

@Ann - you do pay to post on blogger. You have an internet connection, a computer, wear-and-tear on your fingers, your marginal cost of time, etc.

TANSTAFL

-XC

Lem said...

Is that all there is?

rhhardin said...

Marion Bartoli Captures Women’s Title at Wimbledon, Defeating Sabine Lisicki, 6-1, 6-4

NYT email alert.

6-1 and 6-4 are bra sizes in centigrade.

Bob said...

I strive to read not The Times, but the eternities.

Astro said...

I stopped watching all TV news and commentary. I don't miss it. As that song says, "I get all the news I need from the weather report" - at accuweather.com. And from a couple websites.

I'd add to Thoreau's comment: standing in line. I very seldom stand in line if the line is longer than 10 people. I can't think of anything I've stood in line for more than a half-hour, to see or do, that was worth it.

Lem said...

The men in the Taiga only have their traps and their dog and spectacular views. And they are said to be Happy.

Ann Althouse said...

"@Ann - you do pay to post on blogger. You have an internet connection, a computer, wear-and-tear on your fingers, your marginal cost of time, etc."

Thinking like that makes wives whores.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'd add to Thoreau's comment: standing in line. I very seldom stand in line if the line is longer than 10 people. I can't think of anything I've stood in line for more than a half-hour, to see or do, that was worth it."

I have been declared, in writing, by a great writer, to be a line pioneer.

rhhardin said...

U-scan avoids lines at the supermarket. If there's a line, cruise down some aisle and back and the line will be gone.

More important, it avoids teenagers with colds bagging your food. You can go cold-free for years at a time.

edutcher said...

What's the news across the nation
We have got the in-for-mation
In a way we hope will amu-u-use you
Ladies and gents, Laugh-In brings you the news

Bender said...

I recall, as e-mail was getting started, the post office felt their monopoly demanded it control e-mail and that people should pay for each e-mail sent

And so we see government's propensity to destroy rather than improve. We see why government is the problem, not the solution.

Had they imposed even a one cent fee on e-mail, or even a half-cent, most people would have said "to hell with it." Of course we ultimately do pay through internet access ISP fees, but such government-imposed fees for specific services would have killed e-mail and severely crippled the Internet as a whole (especially given that all social media is essentially related to e-mail as being a form of communication).

Government was primed to kill HDTV too back in the 80s, when they insisted that the federal government simply had to fund it or else the Japanese would corner the market and prices would be high. The exact opposite occurred. I believe they also wanted to do the same thing with CDs and DVDs.

kentuckyliz said...

I read the news today oh boy.

Swedish Bike Fucker

Fernandinande said...

For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I think that there are very few important communications made through it.

Then I suppose he mailed this silly rant...?

deborah said...

Coincidentally I just began reading Walden last night. Several times I've read an excerpt from the chapter 'Where I lived, and what I lived for.'

Althouse, at the link you mentioned reading Crime and Punishment. The audio version read by Anthony Heald is sublime.

http://www.audible.com/pd?asin=B002V9ZF3K

Astro said...

I have been declared, in writing, by a great writer, to be a line pioneer.

That's cool. I've read a few of his essays and thoroughly enjoyed them.

A couple years ago I came across a website where you can submit a sample of your writing and it would give you the name of a famous author you wrote like. It was all in fun, of course; no one could take it seriously, but still, it said I wrote like D F Wallace. (Maybe it was just trying to tell me I should go hang myself.)

Fernandinande said...

Hardly a man takes a half-hour's nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, 'What's the news? ...

I never heard anyone say that after a nap. Thoreau was a silly person who talked too much.

Amexpat said...

All these people that you mention/Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame/I had to rearrange their faces/And give them all another name

Great Dylan lines, for me in the top 1%.

Ranked much lower, but more apt to how I, and I think most people, normally process the news are these lines:

I was sittin’ home alone one night in L.A.
Watchin’ old Cronkite on the seven o’clock news
It seems there was an earthquake that
Left nothin’ but a Panama hat
And a pair of old Greek shoes
Didn’t seem like much was happenin’,
So I turned it off and went to grab another beer
Seems like every time you turn around
There’s another hard-luck story that you’re gonna hear
And there’s really nothin’ anyone can say
And I never did plan to go anyway
To Black Diamond Bay



Chip Ahoy said...

I recently realized that as I'm raking through my regular sites and come across an item that makes me go, "Oh, that sounds a bit interesting," as opposed to making me go, "This is what I'm looking for," then nine times out of ten, a very sound figure pulled straight from my butt, the vid, if there is one, comes with an ad.

I have developed a new keystroke for this that goes with my laptop. There is no actual key, it's a flip off directed at the screen. And a double flip off. There's the fuck that single flip off and the fuck everybody involved with it flip off, uploading the item, hosting it, attaching an advert to the item, and linking me to the faulted item. They all get flipped off together with the double flip off. The power of the flipoffs is that combined with the explosive aggravation it causes you to instantly erase from memory the thing you went for. And you honestly go, "well what was that all about?" because you forgot. Like looking at your watch and forgetting the time it was one second ago. And by "you," I mean, "me."

ricpic said...

It's not quite as simple as Thoreau would have us believe. The man who wakes ravening for the news may be consigning himself to the surface of life but he may just as well be consumed with the news as an indirect way of grappling with or at least pondering deeper issues. Thoreau was pissed at the superficiality, as he saw it, of his neighbors. Think of what a godawful world it becomes when pontificating Thoreaus ban frivolity and lecture us 24/7. Wait a minute...

Alex said...

U-scan avoids lines at the supermarket.

Those U-scan screens are all gunked up, the workers there never clean them.

Astro said...

I've used the U-scan registers. The store where I shop keeps them clean and keeps a register person nearby to enter the ID check for wine and beer. But usually I shop at non-peak hours and seldom need to deal with long lines. The cashiers are quick and they have a bagger to speed the process, so it's quicker then U-scan.

amba said...

"our furiously grinding cogs of cognition." I love that! So that's why they call them cogs . . . or is that why they call it cognition? Does our cognition have an ignition?

The Godfather said...

"The world is too much with us, late and soon . . . ."

The Thoreau of Walden would have us believe that we should have no concern about the wider world. But a decade earlier, Thoreau was concerned enough about the events of the outside world (specifically the Mexican War) that he refused to pay his poll tax and went to jail. Perhaps it was that experience that led him to conclude that there was no benefit to getting concerned about the outside world.

Personally, I've always thought that the Thoreau who spent a few months at Walden pond was a pompous ass. At about the same time, people who did pay attention to the news were preparing the ground to end slavery in the United States, while preserving the Union.

If Thoreau were alive today, he'd probably "Occupy Walden".