16 August 2008

"May you live in interesting times"

The title of this entry is a line often described in popcult contexts as an "ancient Chinese curse."

The actual history of the expression is tangled -- it MAY have Chinese antecedents, although nobody has been able to trace it authoritatively earlier than the 1930s, when officials in the UK, some of them indeed with Chinese connections, began to use the phrase as a way of expressing their anxiety about the darkening of the diplomatic climate in Europe.

Reporters want interesting times, of course. The curse is a "slow news day," whatever the ancient Chinese or Chamberlain-era Brits might have thought.

I thought of the expression when I read this morning a story in The New York Times by David Kocieniewski lamenting the fact that the summer of 2008 seems especially unremarkable -- uninteresting: one might even say -- uncursed.

Mr. Kocieniewski longs for days when every summer in that city had its signature story. The son of Sam, the West Nile virus, black outs, or even a rash of pit bull attacks.

Chill out, Mr. Kocieniewski.

Or, in the words of another purportedly Chinese curse, you may get what you wish for.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.