What’s it all about, Alfie?

This blog, I mean. It’s not really a legal blog. It’s more of a notebook of things that catch my fancy. A poor man’s Marginalian, Maria Popova’s rebranded Brain Pickings blog. Marginal notes on life, the universe, and everything, with the occasional legal missive to make me eat my vegetables. And as much humor, wordplay, and cartoonage as it takes to get through the night. Like Scaramouche, I was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad.

The Internet is sometimes described as a massive global software platform designed to output cat videos. These are my personal cat videos, sans the cats.

Nebular by Maria Popova

Words of note

Shambolic sounds illicit—like symbology—but it’s a legitimate word meaning “chaotic or disorganized.” I discovered the word twice in one week: first in a George Will column lamenting the “shambolic syntax” of Donald Trump, then in a Wall Street Journal article lamenting the “shambolic styling” of the Bentley SUV.

To my surprise, symbology is also legit, though Dan Brown took some flak over it. Even legitwhich dates back to 1907—might be going legit!

English! How epically shambolic!

Eliot on writing

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning

—T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding (1942)

Eliot is not only a great poet, he is also a great writing instructor. By example, of course, but sometimes more directly. Here he embeds a masterful little essay on word choice and combinations between the parentheses. And surrounding that esssay he characterizes writing in teleological terms: “the end is where we start from” and “every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning.” Which suggests we can start writing from the end or the beginning or any point in between, since we make a beginning and an end with every effort.

Is any of this intentional? I can’t say. But great poetry contains many meanings, some intended by the author, some imputed by the reader. In this case, I vote to impute.

For another example of Eliot on writing, see my earlier post, The Lawyer’s Lament.

In honor of Tax Day

The Wall Street Journal, April 13, 1935, p. 1.

UPDATE: 5/28/22

In the “nothing new under the sun” department, President Biden has been arguing since last summer that his multi-trillion-dollar spending proposals will reduce inflation and budget deficits. See Biden Argues Massive Government Spending Will Help Fend Off Inflation, Not Exacerbate It (July 19, 2021); and Biden Emphasizes Deficit Reduction in Bid to Pass Economic Agenda (March 18, 2022).

The lawyer’s lament

[There is no] lawyer’s Paradise where all words have a fixed, precisely ascertained meaning…

—James Bradley Thayer (1898)

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.

—T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton (1936)

The Thayer quote reminds me of the Coolio song, Gangsta’s Paradise: “Been spendin’ most their lives / Livin’ in the gangsta’s paradise…” Thayer’s first words, which are usually paraphrased away, reinforce my mental connection: “The Chief Justice here retires into that lawyer’s Paradise where all words have a fixed, precisely ascertained meaning…” Thayer’s Chief Justice needs to spend more time reading poetry.