“Fight the power!” I said in English.

Our Pushkin-loving friend stared at us. This is what happens when you don’t learn English, by the way. You’re always at a loss for words.

– Gary Shteyngart, Absurdistan (2006)


What Samantha Allen learned from the SAGE Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies: (1) Gaydar exists, and there’s a word for it in Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Hebrew, Russian, and Korean. (2) There’s little evidence to support the theory that some transgender women are straight men turned on by the thought of being female. (3) Transgender elders with dementia may forget they’ve transitioned and revert to the gender assigned to them at birth.

According to the National Crime Agency, “in 2015, the average age of suspects in cyber crime investigations was 17 years old, compared to 37 in drugs cases and 39 in economic crime cases.”

Mary M.W. Billington on living with an eye patch in a big city: “We all know there are certain groups of people for whom we are expected to give up our seats on a crowded subway: children, pregnant women, the elderly. Apparently, for some people, otherwise-healthy 20-somethings with eye patches also make this list.”

When I had answered all his questions, and his curiosity seemed to be fully satisfied, he sent for me one morning early, and commanded me to sit down at some distance […]. He said he had been very seriously considering my whole story, as far as it related both to myself and my country; that he looked upon us as a sort of animals, to whose share, by what accident he could not conjecture, some small pittance of reason had fallen, whereof we made no other use, than by its assistance, to aggravate our natural corruptions, and to acquire new ones, which nature had not given us; that we disarmed ourselves of the few abilities she had bestowed; had been very successful in multiplying our original wants, and seemed to spend our whole lives in vain endeavours to supply them by our own inventions.

– Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (1726)

It so happens that several men who have been a good deal in my company and in the habit of discussing things with me have gone mad. This was true of the two Van Gogh brothers, and certain malicious persons and others have childishly attributed their madness to me. Undoubtedly some men have more or less influence over their friends, but there is a great difference between that and causing madness. A long time after the catastrophe, Vincent wrote me, from the private asylum where he was being cared for. He said, “How fortunate you are to be in Paris. That is where one finds the best doctors, and you certainly ought to consult a specialist to cure your madness. Aren’t we all mad?” The advice was good and that was why I didn’t follow it, — from a spirit of contradiction, I dare say.

– Paul Gauguin, Gauguin’s Intimate Journals

Namwali Serpell: “In his well-known collection of essays Decolonising the Mind (1986), Ngũgĩ [wa Thiong’o] provides telling anecdotes about his childhood inculcation in linguistic imperialism. Refusal or inability to speak English was punished in both corporal and psychological fashion: strokes of the cane upon the buttocks; metal plates around the neck saying I AM STUPID or I AM A DONKEY. Each time a student spoke in a mother tongue, they would receive a button; they would hand it on when they overheard the next culprit; at the end of the day, the students would sing the names of whoever had passed them the button; all the offenders would then be punished. In this way, cultural shame was both internalized and self-regulating.”

Richard Ford: “I don’t like trusting people, and almost never do it. And I’m uncomfortable when people want to place trust in me, and almost always discourage it. Trust seems an entirely optional and unnecessary article of pseudo faith, one that’s too much about my being predictable (which I’m not); or about my being able to be depended on to act in someone’s best interest, which I always want to do but routinely fail at, particularly when my own interests are involved. Nowadays, the worst people can say about you is that they can’t trust you. To which I say, then don’t.”

As a general election approaches, Henry Jeffreys urges us to renounce the devil and all his works: “Twitter was once like a rowdy pub conversation, but lately the level of bile has made it more of a bar brawl. Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is particularly enlightening on how much of the unpleasantness online comes from those convinced they are doing things for noble reasons. […]  As the novelist Ned Beauman wrote recently: ‘I’m impressed with anyone who can follow all the skirmishing on here and still maintain the same level of creative output and general wellbeing. I prefer not to maintain a state of simmering irritation and disgust throughout every waking hour.’ ”

For some it’s a book title. For others, a code to live by.

At the end of the nineteenth century, as France was swept by a wave of fanatical anticlericalism, many town councils and municipalities adopted the policy of erecting urinoirs along the walls of local cathedrals and churches; under the pretext of ensuring hygiene and public decency, the brilliant idea was to have the entire male population of the town pissing day and night against the most venerable monuments that the religious had built.

– Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays (2011)