Thursday, April 8, 2010

Charles Issawi

Currently: sitting in the yet-to-be-created Edward Said Reading Room in Butler Library, full of wonderful books that have been owned, consumed, devoured, dedicated to, and praised by Edward Said. In it I found this hilarious and pithy gem: a book of aphorisms and statements by Charles Issawi, who, according to the Great God Wikipedia, used to teach at Columbia. It's a wonderfully wise compilation of complete randomness, and I love it.

A few of my favorite aphorisms:

ON INTELLECTUALS: Intellectuals are the salt of the earth. But how unpleasant is the soup that is oversalted.

-If a people tie the hands of their government, it cannot serve them; if they do not, it uses its hands to pick their pockets and squeeze their throats.
-The tragedy of politics: If you live with pirates, you must behave like a pirate ("a corsaire, corsaire et demi"); but if you behave like a pirate, you end by becoming one yourself.
-One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs-- but it is amazing how many eggs one can break without making a decent omelette.

ON SOLVERS OF MIDDLE-EASTERN PROBLEMS: God sent Moses, and he couldn't fix it; he sent Jesus, and he couldn't fix it; he sent Muhammad, and he couldn't fix it. Do you think you can fix it?

ON POLITICAL ACTIVISTS: Those who have a satisfying life follow their own pursuits-- money-making, scholarship, art, love, sports, gardening, or stamp-collecting; those who do not, become political activists.

ON PREDICTION: If you predict the worst possible outcome of any situation, the probability of your being right is 0.9135.

ON REFORM: Most people do not go to the dentist until they have a toothache; most societies do not reform abuses until the victims begin to make life uncomfortable for others.

ON CYNICS: Cynics are right nine times out of ten; what undoes them is their belief that they are right ten times out of ten.

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