Other People’s Thoughts XLII

Other People’s Thoughts is a section in the Journal of the China Heritage site. It is inspired by a compilation of quotations put together by Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans), one of our Ancestors, during his reading life.

Pierre remarked that the resulting modest volume of quotations was ‘idiosyncratically compiled for the amusement of idle readers’ (see Simon Leys, Other People’s Thoughts, 2007). Our aim is similar: to amuse our readers (idle or otherwise); as is our modus operandi: to build up an idiosyncratic compilation, one that reflects the interests of The Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology and its coterie.

In collecting this material, and by adding to it over time, we accord also with a Chinese literary practice in which quotations — sometimes called yǔlù 語錄, literally ‘recorded sayings’ — have a particular history, and a powerful resonance.

The character ‘record’ 記 in the hand of Mi Fei 米芾, or ‘Madman Mi’ 米癲 of the Song. Source: 好事家貼.

The most famous collection of recorded sayings is The Analects 論語, compiled by disciples of Confucius. Then there is the timeless 5000-words of Laozi’s The Tao and the Power 道德經, as well as the Chan/Zen 禪宗 tradition of what in English are known by the Japanese term kōan 公案, dating from the Tang dynasty. Modern imitations range from the political bon mots of Mao Zedong to excerpts from the prolix prose of Xi Jinping’s tireless speech writers, and published snippets from arm-chair philosophers and motivational speakers.

Other People’s Thoughts also finds inspiration in the ‘poetry talks’ 詩話, ‘casual jottings’ 筆記 and ‘marginalia’ 眉批 of China’s literary tradition.

We start the Lunar Year of the Dragon with this, the forty-second chapter in Other People’s Thoughts.

— Geremie R. Barmé,
Editor, China Heritage
4 March 2024


Other People’s Thoughts I-XLI:

Other People’s Thoughts, XLII



Never before have so many witnessed an industrial-scale slaughter in real time. Yet the prevailing callousness, timidity and censorship disallows, even mocks, our shock and grief.

— Pankaj Mishra, The Shoah after Gaza, London Review of Books, 7 March 2024

Gaza, cont’d.

All these universalist reference points – the Shoah as the measure of all crimes, antisemitism as the most lethal form of bigotry – are in danger of disappearing as the Israeli military massacres and starves Palestinians, razes their homes, schools, hospitals, mosques, churches, bombs them into smaller and smaller encampments, while denouncing as antisemitic or champions of Hamas all those who plead with it to desist, from the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to the Spanish, Irish, Brazilian and South African governments and the Vatican. Israel today is dynamiting the edifice of global norms built after 1945, which has been tottering since the catastrophic and still unpunished war on terror and Vladimir Putin’s revanchist war in Ukraine. The profound rupture we feel today between the past and the present is a rupture in the moral history of the world since the ground zero of 1945 – the history in which the Shoah has been for many years the central event and universal reference.

There are more earthquakes ahead. …

— Pankaj Mishra, The Shoah after Gaza, London Review of Books, 7 March 2024

Rallying for Trump

I watched the rally with my mother, who found it reminiscent of the style of the Mussolini regime under which she was born in wartime Italy. She was referring to the incoherence, the bombast, the grandiosity, the extravagant lies, the demonization, the xenophobia, the bogus nods to religiosity and patriotism, the references to himself with the royal “we,” the condescending sops to his toadies, the ecstatic gaze of the people arranged behind him on the stage. But there’s also an undeniably comic aspect, too, especially when he riffed about how he had taken the moniker “crooked” from Hillary Clinton (who is now “Beautiful Hillary”) and given it to Biden, who used to be “Sleepy” (and probably still is). I admit I sorta giggled, against my better judgment. The whole thing was sorta like, “Il Duce, Live at the Comedy Cellar.”

It’s … scarily effective. If his opponents are Biden and Kamala Harris, I fear he wins.

— Bret Stephens, Trump Is in His Element, 26 February 2024

Hef’s Grotto

There was this bathroom in the Playboy Mansion, just off Hugh Hefner’s bedroom, that was clad in black marble, with a black marble tub, black toilet and heavy curtains to shut out the light. The way Crystal Hefner (née Harris) describes it, this room sounds like a manifestation of the darkest part of Hefner’s mind. When she moved into the mansion as one of his three live-in girlfriends (she became his third wife in 2012, when she was 26 and he was 86), she’d work out which nights he expected sex because, instead of his regular dinner of tinned chicken noodle soup, crackers and cream cheese, he’d order a BLT. He took so much Viagra it made him deaf.

— Eva Wiseman, ‘I had to play mind games to survive’: Crystal Hefner on life in the Playboy Mansion, The Guardian, 28 January 2024

A Meeting of Minds

Camille Paglia: Before the election [in 2016], I kept pointing out that the mainstream media based in Manhattan, particularly The New York Times, was hopelessly off in the way it was simplistically viewing Trump as a classic troglodyte misogynist. I certainly saw in Trump the entire Playboy aesthetic, including the glitzy world of casinos and beauty pageants. It’s a long passé world of confident male privilege that preceded the birth of second-wave feminism. There is no doubt that Trump strongly identified with it as he was growing up. It seems to be truly his worldview. ….

Q.: Is there anything of lasting value in Hugh Hefner’s legacy?

Paglia: We can see that what has completely vanished is what Hefner espoused and represented — the art of seduction, where a man, behaving in a courtly, polite and respectful manner, pursues a woman and gives her the time and the grace and the space to make a decision of consent or not. Hefner’s passing makes one remember an era when a man would ask a woman on a real date — inviting her to his apartment for some great music on a cutting-edge stereo system (Playboy was always talking about the best new electronics!) — and treating her to fine cocktails and a wonderful, relaxing time. Sex would emerge out of conversation and flirtation as a pleasurable mutual experience. So now when we look back at Hefner, we see a moment when there was a fleeting vision of a sophisticated sexuality that was integrated with all of our other aesthetic and sensory responses.

Camille Paglia on Hugh Hefner’s Legacy, Trump’s Masculinity and Feminism’s Sex Phobia, Hollywood Report, 2 October 2017




The Swiftularity

The inescapability of Swift—the sense that everything from the fate of the N.F.L. to the fate of American democracy somehow hinges on Taylor and Travis, a.k.a. TNT—may have something to do with the structure of social media at the moment. Algorithmic feeds act like enormous funnels, siphoning users toward an increasingly narrow set of subjects. The combination of Taylor Swift plus Travis Kelce, feminine pop music plus male athletic contests, creates an all-consuming content vortex, a four-quadrant supernova of fame. The only way for normal folks to get attention from the recommendation algorithm is to succumb to its gravity.

— Kyle Chayka, America’s Paranoid Taylor Swift Super Bowl MAGA Fever Dream, The New Yorker, 31 January 2024




A Jeremiah

A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 million to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would have to suppress the Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.”

Yeshayahu Leibowitz: Prophet of Wrath, Harbinger of the Future, Haaretz, 13 March 2013


A.I.T.A.: ‘Am I the … er, Antagonist?’

Y.T.A.: ‘You’re the asshole.’

Something out of nothing

In a classic episode, Larry becomes addicted to a Palestinian chicken restaurant that raises a furor when it opens a branch next to a Jewish deli. (While the plot might seem uncomfortably prescient during the Gaza war in 2024, when it premiered in 2011 it alluded to the controversy over a planned Islamic center in Lower Manhattan that was mislabeled a “ground zero mosque.”)

Larry is unsettled, as a Jew, by the militant posters on the restaurant’s walls. He is seduced, as a mortal, by the delicious poultry and by a Palestinian woman he meets there, who turns him on with antisemitic dirty talk.

Does the episode stereotype? Does it caricature? Does it mock deadly serious issues? Yes — brilliantly. It blows straight through offense into transcendence, guided by the comic philosophy that all people are debased, fallen and governed by low passions, above all Larry David. He ends the episode in a parking lot between two furious crowds: a group of Jewish protesters, including many of his friends, and the Palestinian counterprotesters, including his girlfriend — tribe vs. tribe, socialization vs. appetite, the camera pushing in on Larry’s anxious, indecisive face.

‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Made Something Out of Nothing, The New York Times, 2 February 2024

Larry David

“I’ve been expecting more from myself my whole life, and it’s just not there”








Vos vs. tu

‘Caesar used the tu form with Brutus even after Brutus stabbed him, which I think is going too far.’

Larry David, Angry Middle-Aged Man, The New Yorker, 19 January 2004

Madam Nhu, ‘an oriental Lucrezia Borgia’

… reviled for her puritanical social campaigns and her callous dismissal of Buddhist monks who burned themselves to death to protest against the brutal rule of Diem and her husband Ngo Dinh Nhu. “I would clap hands at seeing another monk barbecue show, for one cannot be responsible for the madness of others,” she wrote in a letter to the New York Times. The world was stunned by photographs of monks sitting shrouded in flames; Madame Nhu simply offered to bring along some mustard for the next self-immolation. She later accused monks of lacking patriotism for setting themselves alight with imported petrol.

Madame Nhu: obituary, The Guardian, 26 April 2011

An Abiding Message

Justice has always been a human ideal, but it is not fully compatible with mercy. Creative imagination and spontaneity, splendid in themselves, cannot be fully reconciled with the need for planning, organization, [and] careful and responsible calculation. Knowledge, the pursuit of truth—the noblest of aims—cannot be fully reconciled with the happiness or the freedom that men desire, for if I know that I have some incurable disease this will not make me happier or freer. I must always choose: between peace and excitement, or knowledge and blissful ignorance. And so on.

So what is to be done to restrain the champions, sometimes very fanatical, of one or other of these values, each of whom tends to trample upon the rest, as the great tyrants of the twentieth century have trampled on the life, liberty, and human rights of millions because their eyes were fixed upon some ultimate golden future?

I am afraid I have no dramatic answer to offer: only that if these ultimate human values by which we live are to be pursued, then compromises, trade-offs, [and] arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen. So much liberty for so much equality, so much individual self-expression for so much security, so much justice for so much compassion. My point is that some values clash: the ends pursued by human beings are all generated by our common nature, but their pursuit has to be to some degree controlled—liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I repeat, may not be fully compatible with each other, nor are liberty, equality, and fraternity.

So we must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals. I know only too well that this is not a flag under which idealistic and enthusiastic young men and women may wish to march—it seems too tame, too reasonable, too bourgeois, it does not engage the generous emotions. But you must believe me, one cannot have everything one wants—not only in practice, but even in theory. The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. And then to destruction [and] blood….”

— Isaiah Berlin, A Message to the 21st Century (25 November 1995), published in The New York Review of Books, 23 October 2014

A Republican Voter in Pennsylvania

“I love American democracy so much…If it’s a Biden and Trump race, I would vote for Biden even if he was dead.”


Kill Me Now

“I am so happy to see your face,” Ms. King said, wrapping Ms. Banicki in a tight embrace. They had last seen each other in March 2020, over Zoom. “I had to make a very serious decision to leave a personal situation,” Ms. King said. “Angie helped me.” (In May of that year, Ms. King filed for divorce after 13 years of marriage to the director Kyle Newman.)

“We first met in our previous lives,” Ms. Banicki said, when she invited Ms. King on a trip to the Bahamas she had organized on behalf of a luxury resort.

Ms. Banicki and Ms. King pushed aside an ottoman and sat cross-legged on a nubby gold carpet. Ms. Banicki shuffled a deck of [Tarot] cards and spread them out, face down. Tupac Shakur’s “Do for Love” tinkled through the speaker of her iPhone.

“Because of the Taurus, you really cleared the last three years,” Ms. Banicki began, flipping over some cards. “You won’t go through that again for another 18 years.”

Ms. King said she hoped not.

“This is your magic year,” Ms. Banicki continued. “This is the year of manifesting. Your thoughts are becoming things.”

“Something is shifting in my consciousness,” Ms. King said. “I don’t know exactly what that is yet. There’s just so much junk in the world, whether it’s billboards or consumerism or parenting paradigms.” (Ms. King has two sons, ages 8 and 10.)

Ms. King, who is directing a feature called “Kill Me Now” and writing a film, “Precipice,” prefers to communicate through her work, and through activism. She was arrested, she said, during a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020. “I don’t care what trouble I get into.”

“This card is about using your voice,” Ms. Banicki said, tapping one of the cards she’d turned over. Two remained face down. “Where do you want to go from here?”

Ms. King double-tapped one. Ms. Banicki flipped it and parsed its meaning: “The greater your sensitivity, the more acutely you will feel the presence of helpful influences in your life.”

Ms. King nodded. “How do you feel right now?” she asked, leaning into Ms. Banicki.

“So good,” Ms. Banicki said. “I’m used to doing readings where I have to bring the other person into it. But I came in, and the portal was open.”

— Sheila Yasmin Marikar, Jaime King Is on a Journey, The New York Times, 15 February 2024

Academocrat vs. Algorithm

I haven’t been the least bit surprised that Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Harvard President Claudine Gay, and now Harvard’s chief diversity and inclusion officer Sherri Ann Charleston have turned out to have past records of plagiarism and/or academic misconduct. What’s surprising is that the hollow credentialism and politicized infotainment that define so much of today’s academic establishment are at last coming to light. …

Based on everything I’ve seen, my view is: Yes, let’s by all means authenticate everyone’s publications with the finest of fine-tooth combs. If that task is too terribly tedious for human beings to tackle, it’s getting easier and easier for AI. Integrity still matters, as does figuring out who’s still trying to maintain it. Let ‘er rip, and let the chips fall where they may!

The mid-term future of academic discourse may well be the story of a clash of algorithms: AI ever more precisely determining exactly what messaging influential “stakeholders” like in their clickbait versus watchdog AI becoming ever better at ferreting out academic misconduct. Perhaps technology might finally force academia to become as rigorous as it would like to think it is.

Until the AI cavalry arrives, or an army of muckrakers, the best prospect for near-term progress is for the public to start exercising a lot more day to day skepticism. Did that shiny new study in the Times miraculously affirm all of your priors? Did that silky-smooth professor on the PBS Newshour wrap everything up with a neat little bow? Reality is messy, and what seems too good to be true is probably not true. Let the buyer beware!

— Jesse Adams, How Broken Is Academia?, Persuasion, 1 March 2024






turd blossoms, an Internet expression popularised in December 2023

Wasting Time

He who cannot persuade himself to withdraw from society, must be content to pay a tribute of his time to a multitude of tyrants; to the loiterer, who makes appointments which he never keeps; to the consulter, who asks advice which he never takes; to the boaster, who blusters only to be praised; to the complainer, who whines only to be pitied; to the projector, whose happiness is to entertain his friends with expectations which all but himself know to be vain; to the economist, who tells of bargains and settlements; to the politician, who predicts the fate of battles and breach of alliances; to the usurer, who compares the different funds; and to the talker, who talks only because he loves to be talking.

To put every man in possession of his own time, and rescue the day from this succession of usurpers, is beyond my power, and beyond my hope. Yet, perhaps, some stop might be put to this unmerciful persecution, if all would seriously reflect, that whoever pays a visit that is not desired, or talks longer than the hearer is willing to attend, is guilty of an injury which he cannot repair, and takes away that which he cannot give.

— Samuel Johnson, The Robbery of Time, The Idler, 15 July 1758

Step by Step

The first step in a fascist movement is the combination under an energetic leader of a number of men who possess more than the average share of leisure, brutality, and stupidity. The next step is to fascinate fools and muzzle the intelligent, by emotional excitement on the one hand and terrorism on the other.

Bertrand Russell








— 黃永松,《春趣》


  1. 執政十年,從不以大國自居,不標榜「做一個負責的大國」,不當二傻子。
  2. 減輕農民負擔,廢除農業稅,實現了幾千年來中國農民「種地不納糧(稅)」的夢想。
  3. 實行了「新農村合作醫療」,讓千萬農民避免了「因病致貧」,「因病返貧」的悲慘遭遇。
  4. 實行城市最低生活保障,給了幾千萬下崗工人一條活路。
  5. 尊重人權,取消收容站,廢除勞教條例。
  6. 每年百分之十至十二,連續十年給退休工人增加養老金。
  7. 外事出訪,基本不帶夫人。
  8. 不輕易在國內舉辦大型國際會議。
  9. 發生自然災害,能立即親赴災區視察慰問災民。
  10. 在北京,不大搞各種場館建設,以恤民力。
  11. 平穩外交,與各國關係比較和諧。
  12. 不搞個人崇拜,不大肆宣傳個人。
  13. 所提科學發展觀的口號,務實,易於人民接受。
  14. 港澳兩個特區,十年來未出現騷亂。
  15. 任期兩屆,不留戀權位,全身裸退。
  16. 舉止文雅,有學者風度。
  17. 從不提過激口號,無為而治。
  18. 最早提出「不折騰」的口號警示國人。
  19. 光明磊落,從不在黨內拉幫結派。十年之中,國庫充盈,外匯儲備高達3萬億美元,從不爭當世界領導者,最重要的是,從不對外大撒幣。
  20. 清廉自律,無緋聞,無情人,自己和親屬均無貪腐,堂堂正正,光明正大。


Psychic spies from China try to steal your mind’s elation
And little girls from Sweden dream of silver screen quotation
And if you want these kind of dreams it’s Californication
It’s the edge of the world and all of Western civilization
The sun may rise in the East, at least it settled in a final location
It’s understood that Hollywood sells Californication
Pay your surgeon very well to break the spell of aging
Celebrity skin, is this your chin, or is that war you’re waging?
First born unicorn
Hardcore soft porn

Dream of CalifornicationDream of CalifornicationDream of CalifornicationDream of Californication

— from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Californication, 1999

Russia After Alexei Navalny

Speculative history can be hollow, and a country in need of martyrs and saints is not to be envied, and yet it is hard to overstate the loss of Navalny. Imagine the course of South African history had Nelson Mandela been killed on Robben Island. Or the fate of Czechoslovakia had Václav Havel been poisoned in his cell at Ruzyne Prison, near the Prague airport. Navalny was fearless, and a man of faith. When his friend Yevgenia Albats confided that she feared dying in exile, he told her, “There is no death.” And yet, as Albats said the other day, the loss is devastating: for now, at least, “hope is lost.”

David RemnickThe New Yorker, 25 February 2024


“He is by far the most disgraceful figure in modern presidential history. He’s only become more disgraceful since 2016, and since 2020 he has a bubbling cauldron of loathsome traits. You have to be in the throes of some sort of toxic delusion in a toxic cult to believe that Donald Trump has ever been, in any sense, emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, or ethically fit to be president of the United States. But his supporters are locked in on that.”

Bob Costas



— 蘇軾

Who’s on First

Master Yu: May I help you?

Detective James Carter: We’ll be asking the questions old man. Who are you?
Master Yu: Yu.
Detective James Carter: No, not me. You.
Master Yu: Yes, I’m Yu.
Detective James Carter: Just answer the damn question! Who are you?
Master Yu: I have told you!
Detective James Carter: Are you deaf?
Master Yu: No. Yu is blind.
Detective James Carter: I’m not blind. You blind.
Master Yu: That is what I just said.
Detective James Carter: You just said what?
Master Yu: I did not say what, I said Yu.
Detective James Carter: That’s what I’m asking you.
Master Yu: And Yu was answering.
Detective James Carter: Shut up!
Detective James Carter: You!
Master Yu: Yes?
Detective James Carter: Not you. Him! What’s your name?
Mi: Mi.
Detective James Carter: Yes, you.
Mi: I’m Mi.
Master Yu: He’s Mi and I’m Yu.

Detective James Carter: And I’m about to whoop your old ass man because I am sick of playing games! You, me? Everybody’s ass around here!

Detective James Carter & Master Yu, Rush Hour 3, 2007

Duck, Cover and Hold

RuPaul is braced for conflict. “I’m fearing the absolute worst,” he said. “We are moments away from fucking civil war. All the signs are there.” He continued, “Humans on this planet are in the cycle of destruction. I am plotting a safety net.” He was referring to a fortified compound being constructed on the sixty-thousand-acre ranch of his husband, Georges LeBar, in Wyoming. “I wouldn’t call it a bunker,” he said.

— Ronan Farrow, RuPaul Doesn’t See How That’s Any of Your Business, The New Yorker, 11 March 2024

I’m explaining a few things

And you will ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!

—from a poem by Pablo Neruda, trans. Nathaniel Tarn

Laughing Gas

Robin Williams: I was at a German talk show once (and they asked) “Why do you think there isn’t so much comedy in Germany?” And I said: “Did you ever think you killed all the funny people?”