Saturday, April 26, 2003

An excellent feeling came over Kramer, in every cell and every neural fiber. In that instant, the instant of that little swallow, his scuffed attaché case meant nothing, not did his clodhopper shoes nor his cheap suit nor his measly salary nor his New York accent nor his barbarisms and solecisms of speech. For in that moment he had something that these Wasp counselors, these immaculate Wall Street partners from the universe of the Currys & Goads & Pestersalls & Dunnings & Spongets & Leaches would never know and never feel the inexpressible pleasure of possessing. And they would remain silent and polite in the face of it, as they were right now, and they would swallow with fear when and if their time came. And he now understood what it was that gave him a momentary lift each morning as he saw the island fortress rise at the crest of the Grand Concourse from the gloom of the Bronx. For it was nothing less than Power, the same Power to which Abe Weiss himself was totally given over. It was the power of the government over the freedom of its subjects. To think of it in the abstract made it seem so theoretical and academic, but to feel it, to see the looks on their faces – as they stare back at you, courier and conduit of the Power – Arthur Rivera, Jimmy Dollard, Herbert 92X, and the guy called Pimp – even them – and now to see that little swallow of fright in a perfect neck worth millions – well, the poet has never sung of that ecstasy or even dreamed of it, and no prosecutor, no judge, no cop, no income-tax auditor will even enlighten him, for we dare not even mention it to one another, do we? – and yet we feel it and we know it every time they look at us with those eyes that beg for mercy or, if not mercy, Lord, dumb luck or capricious generosity. (Just one break!) What are all the limestone façades of Fifth Avenue and all the marble halls and stuffed-leather libraries and all the riches of Wall Street in the face of my control of your destiny and your helplessness in the face of the Power?

Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities (615-616)

Seldon was staring thoughtfully at the man across the table, wondering if, in any way, he would give some sign that he was less than a man – or more. He said, “Where Aurora was in question, one robot was spoken of as a renegade, a traitor, someone who deserted the cause. Where Earth was in question, one robot was spoken of as a hero, one who represented salvation. Was it too much to suppose that it was the same robot?”

Isaac Asimov, Prelude to Foundation (420)

Thursday, April 24, 2003

He surveyed the crowd and immediately sensed a pattern … presque vu! presque vu! almost seen! … and yet he couldn’t have put it into words. That would have been beyond him. All the men and women in this hall were arranged in clusters, conversational bouquets, so to speak. There were no solitary figures, no strays. All faces were white (Black faces might show up, occasionally, at fashionable charity dinners but not in fashionable private homes.) There were no men under thirty-five and precious few under forty. The women came in two varieties. First there were women in their late thirties and in their forties and older (“women of a certain age”), all of them skin and bones (starved to near perfection). To compensate for the concupiscence missing from their juiceless ribs and atrophied backsides, they turned to the dress designers. This season no puffs, flounces, pleats, ruffles, bibs, bows, battings, scallops, laces, darts, or shirrs on the bias were too extreme. They were the social X rays, to use the phrase that had bubbled up into Sherman’s own brain. Second, there were the so-called Lemon Tarts. These were women in their twenties or early thirties, mostly blondes (the Lemon in the Tarts), who were the second, third, and fourth wives or live-in girlfriends of men over forty or fifty or sixty (or seventy), the sort of women men refer to, quite without thinking, as girls. This season the Tart was able to flaunt the natural advantages of youth by showing her legs from well above the knee and emphasizing her round bottom (something no X ray had). What was entirely missing from chez Bavardage was that manner of woman who is neither very young nor very old, who has laid in a lining of subcutaneous fat, who glows with plumpness and a rosy face that speaks, without a word, of home and hearth and hot food ready at six and stories read aloud at night and conversations while seated on the end of the bed, just before the Sandman comes. In short no one ever invited … Mother.

Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities (347-348)
“Jimmy,” Andriutti said to Caughey, “did you know that Jewish guys – Larry, I don’t want you to take this personally – did you know that Jewish guys, even if they’re real stand-up guys, all have one faggot gene? That’s a well-known fact. They can’t stand going out in the rain without an umbrella or they have all this modern shit in their apartment or they don’t like to go hunting or they’re for the fucking nuclear freeze and affirmative action or they wear jogging shoes to work or some goddamn thing. You know?”

Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities (106)

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

“The tales of robots probably originate from one master legend, for the general theme is the same. Robots were devised, then grew in numbers and abilities to the status of the almost superhuman. They threatened humanity and were destroyed. In every case, the destruction took place before the actual reliable historic records available to us today existed. The usual feeling is that the story is a symbolic picture of the risks and dangers of exploring the Galaxy, when human beings expanded outward from the world or worlds that were their original homes. There must always have been the fear of encountering other – and superior – intelligences.”

Isaac Asimov, Prelude to Foundation (221)

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

It made no sense! Somehow, for no explicable reason, Judy had always had his number. She looked down on him – from a wholly fictive elevation; nevertheless, she looked down on him. Still the daughter of Professor Miller, E. (for Egbord!) Ronald Miller of DesPortes University, Terwilliger, Wisconsin, poor stodgy Professor Miller, in his rotting tweeds, whose one claim to fame was a rather mealy-mouthed attack (Sherman had once plowed through it) on his fellow Wisconsinite, Senator Joseph McCarthy, in the magazine Aspects in 1955. Yet, back there in the cocoon of their early days together in the Village, Sherman had validated her claim. He had enjoyed telling Judy that while he worked on Wall Street, he was not part of Wall Street and was only using Wall Street. He had been pleased when she condescended to admire him for the enlightenment that was stirring in his soul. Somehow she was assuring him that his own father, John Campbell McCoy, the Lion of Dunning Sponget, was a rather pedestrian figure, after all, a high-class security guard for other people’s capital. As to why that might be important to him, Sherman didn’t even know how to speculate. His interest in psychoanalytic theory ended one day at Yale when Rawlie Thorpe had referred to it as “a Jewish science” (precisely the attitude that had most troubled and infuriated Freud seventy-five years earlier).

Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities (72-73)

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

But what are the practical possibilities of improving a people by conscious selection? The lack of knowledge concerning heredity and the composition of the chromosomes of prospective parents is undoubtedly an obstacle, but breeders of livestock have accomplished results without this information. The obstacles lie rather in obtaining the necessary control, in the lack of agreement as to which combination of traits is desirable, and in the difficulty in mating of combining sentimental and spiritual values with biological values. The problem is one of research from which in time higher eugenic ideals may emerge.

Research Committee on Social Trends, Inc., Recent Social Trends in the United States [1933] (xxiii)