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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, July 20, 2013 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“If there's one thing that makes me cynical, it's optimists. They are just far too cynical about cynicism. If only they could see that cynics can be happy, constructive, even fun to hang out with, they might learn a thing or two.

“Perhaps this is because I'm 44, which, according to a new survey, is the age at which cynicism starts to rise. But this survey itself merely illustrates the importance of being cynical. The cynic, after all, is inclined to question people's motives and assume that they are acting self-servingly unless proven otherwise. Which is just as well, as it turns out the 'study' in question is just another bit of corporate PR to promote a brand whose pseudo-scientific stunt I won't reward by naming. Once again, cynicism proves its worth as one of our best defences against spin and manipulation.

“I often feel that 'cynical' is a term of abuse hurled at people who are judged to be insufficiently 'positive' by those who believe that negativity is the real cause of almost all the world's ills. This allows them to breezily sweep aside sceptical doubts without having to go to the bother of checking if they are well-grounded. In this way, for example, Edward Snowden's leaks about the CIA's surveillance practices have been dismissed because they contribute to 'the corrosive spread of cynicism.'”

– From “In praise of cynicism” at guardian.co.uk

A quiz

When does a baby's first smile occur?

Wisdom of the ages

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” – C. S. Lewis

Current wisdom

“I mean, these are things that most people like.” – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, responding to criticisms that he is creating a nanny state.

Quiz answer

Between four and six weeks after birth.

Snob words

scabrous (SKAB-ruhs). Adj. – full of difficulties; indecent or scandalous; risque; obscene, as in: “It was such a contentious council meeting the scabrous minutes of the session had to be kept under lock and key.”

Today in history

On this date in 1858 the first-ever fee was charged to see a baseball game; whole country downhill ever since, huh?

Now you know

According to RandomHistory.com, Presidents James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were once arrested together for taking a carriage ride in the countryside of Vermont on a Sunday, which violated the laws of that state.