Quote of the Day: On a Great Danger Approaching

Today’s quote is from a clever commenter in our W/H discussion last week:

"With the enemy’s approach to Moscow, the Moscovites’ view of their
situation did not grow more serious but on the contrary became even
more frivolous, as always happens with people who see a great danger

At the approach of danger there are always two voices that
speak with equal power in the human soul: one very reasonably tells a
man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of escaping it;
the other, still more reasonably, says that it is too depressing and
painful to think of the danger, since it is not in man’s power to
foresee everything and avert the general course of events, and it is
therefore better to disregard what is painful till it comes, and to
think about what is pleasant."

–Leo Tolstoy, "War and Peace"

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. engineer al commented on May 9

    I assume this is your point on the approaching danger …

    During the last great gasoline price run-up around 1979 or ’80, I remember expert forecasts of the day predicting $5/gal gasoline by the turn of the century. “Prepare yourselves!!”

    As painful as $1.50/gal was at the time, the year 2000 and $5/gal seemed like an eternity away.

    I saw an old farm magazine several years ago. Implement and Tractor from the late 30s? An article was trying to convince farmers to finally give up the horse/mule and purchase a tractor. Apparently, the biggest worry holding the last of the horse drawn set back was that oil would eventually run dry and their new machinery would be worthless. Based on proven US reserves, the I&T writer guaranteed steady fuel supplies through 1955 … at least.

    Rather than a federal fuel tax holiday, McCain/Clinton should bring back the Texas Railroad Commission to regulate crude as it once did. $0.30/gal gasoline again? Maybe they can also do away with “self-serve” pumps. Bring back the ol’ guy dressed in gray twill with the red rag hanging out of his back pocket? “Can I check your oil and wash your windshield, sir?”

  2. Marcus Aurelius commented on May 9

    Listening to the second voice gets you rounded up and put on a cattle car.

  3. DonKei commented on May 9

    Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

  4. wnsrfr commented on May 9

    This is very true but I think even more potent and being ignored is the future collision of the baby boomers, Social Security, U.S. debt, lack of personal savings…(!)

    Makes me want to buy a little piece of land offshore somewhere and bury gold coins in random spots there…I thought of burying barrels of gasoline, but so bulky!

  5. Mr Reality commented on May 9

    Yeah. We know what happened to the frog setting in the pot of boiling water don’t we?

  6. Estragon commented on May 9

    It’s interesting how the first paragraph of the quote speaks of “the Moscovites’ view of their situation”, and “always happens with people“, then in the second paragraph speaks of a voice which “very reasonably tells a man…”.

    Maybe unintentionally this quote points out the difference between how we might think individually versus how we behave in groups.

    When faced with a grave danger beyond our individual ability to address, we instinctively look to our nearby social structure for assistance. Becoming “even more frivolous” is a common mechanism for endearing ourselves to our social structure, and goes some distance in resolving the apparent contradiction.

  7. mysterious eggs commented on May 9

    Is it “too depressing and painful to think of the danger, since it is not in man’s power to foresee everything and avert the general course of events” because “the means of escaping it” created the situation? Nature wins. Always.

  8. wunsacon commented on May 9

    David, neither of the sources you cite supports your claim that the frog story is inaccurate. Do you have another source?

  9. Cannabis Queen commented on May 9

    Funny…I don’t know this guy but he is clearly a member of my social circle.

  10. The Fly commented on May 9

    My favorite book of all time, with Don Quixote running a close second.

  11. Bruce commented on May 9

    As my dad, Alfred E. Neuman summed it up ever more laconicly, “What? Me worry?”

  12. Policy Pete commented on May 9

    The Texas Railroad Commission is an interesting analogy, but not for the reasons Engineer Al supposes. In the old days it created the artificial shortage of supply that kept prices from falling. It did so by a regulatory system based on MERs – maximum efficient rates of production. By claiming to know what was just the right rate to produce every field it kept lots of oil off the market.

    Our problem is that we keep waiting for the free market to deliver the goods, but the regulatory situation is just as gamed as it ever was in the days of the railroad commission, even though supply capacity no longer needs to be constrained.

    How many people know there are several times the reserves of Saudi Arabia locked in the oil shales of Colorado? If you want to track down the story, here’s a lead on the state of play three years ago.


    Ask the BLM why none of it is available.

  13. johnnyvee@yahoo.com commented on May 9

    Trouble has been at the door step for sometime now. Pretty soon, but probably no later than August, the occupants will realize that trouble is coming through the door instead of moving along.

  14. AGG commented on May 9

    My Boomer brothers and their story:
    1966: Life is short. What do we try smoking next between free love sessions?
    1976: Hell, we made it through Nam, we can make it through this. Gimme another beer.
    1986: Hume was right. Tolstoy was a pussy. Get rich or die trying.
    1996: Dude, we’ve got, like, technology, 401ks and pacemakers. We’re going to live forever.
    2006: Uh Oh.
    2016: Manufactured homes are really cool.

  15. wunsacon commented on May 9

    >> The Texas Railroad Commission is an interesting analogy, but not for the reasons Engineer Al supposes. In the old days it created the artificial shortage of supply that kept prices from falling.

    And in the older days before the Commission, wildcatters ruined one of the biggest fields in the US. (That’s according to Matt Simmons.)

    Without controls, some drillers would maximize short term profits for long term profits — and everyone loses. (And it’s not like there isn’t precedence for that.)

  16. Winston Munn commented on May 9

    Proof that Tolstoy was right.

    NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — These days, more and more people are saying “Charge it.”

    Finding themselves strapped for cash and unable to use their home as an ATM, Americans are increasingly turning to credit cards to cover gas, groceries and other living expenses.

    But many find themselves struggling to pay the burgeoning bills at a time when even the basic needs are growing costlier.

  17. engineer al commented on May 9

    My only real point in bringing up the Texas Railroad Commission was that this was once “our” game.

    We set the rules.

    But we don’t anymore and we haven’t for a long time.

  18. Douglas Watts commented on May 9

    Oil shales perfectly capture why supply side solutions are useless for our energy problem. They are a solution only in the sense that a mountain of crack is a solution for a crackhead. Oil shales are very expensive to process and the degree of environmental and landscape destruction (and water use) in ‘processing’ them is monumental. It is like burning your house down to light up your cigar. A more efficient transportation system in the U.S. will “create” far more oil than any reserves we have locked up as tiny particles of tar lodged between sand and clay grains in a friable sedimentary mudstone.

  19. DownSouth commented on May 9

    ☺☺”We set the rules.
    “But we don’t anymore and we haven’t for a long time.”
    Posted by: engineer al | May 9, 2008 8:03:04 PM

    “If you want to know what London was like in 1905, come to Washington in 2005. Imperial gravitas and massive self-importance. That sense of being the centre of the world, and of needing to know what happens in every corner of the world because you might be called on – or at least feel called upon – to intervene there. Hyperpower. Top dog. And yet, gnawing away beneath the surface, the nagging fear that your global supremacy is not half so secure as you would wish. As Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary, put it in 1902: “The weary Titan staggers under the too vast orb of his fate.”

    “The United States is now that weary Titan.”–Timothy Garton Ash, “Stagger on, Weary Titan”


  20. VennData commented on May 9

    You want restrictions? How about Cindy McCain’s beer distributorship? The ultimate in outmoded, archaic government rules limiting competition. That’s what got her family and her rich, not hard work, a government rule.

    And she won’t follow the custom of releasing her tax returns. The reviled Clintons did. Why can’t she? Wouldn’t have anything to do with those off-shore trusts would it?

    And to distribute those fine American products of Bud and Bud Lite. How proud America will be to have her as a First Lady.

  21. Jon H commented on May 9

    That quote pretty much describes Republican governance in a nutshell.

    They don’t even get credit for “tackling tough, unpleasant issues like fighting wars” because they depicted Iraq as being a cakewalk – it was basically a game for them. They *avoided* all the tough questions and decisions.

  22. jagmohan Swain commented on May 9

    A great crisis also is a great opportunity.Let’s not forget that.I don’t see any great danger approaching.I see plenty of opportunities for everybody.For the first time in the history of mankind all civilizations are so intertwined, thx in no small measure to fast transportation and rapid growth of telecommunication including internet.Knowledge created in one place is being shared among the rest of the mankind at a rate not seen before.That alone would ensure better days ahead for everyone.Imagine knowledge, process knowhow being created in one place, being manufactured/served from another place and consumed by everyplace on the planet with each place doing it’s job in most efficient manner.Imagine the productivity growth for world as a whole.All that’s happening is that world which was more euro centric for last 3-4 centuries will not be the same as the former eastern powers rise again.But throughout histroy we have seen that happen
    again and again.It doesn’t demean the existing great powers just that they have to share the space with others.

  23. montaigne commented on May 10

    “It doesn’t demean the existing great powers just that they have to share the space with others.”

    Tell that to the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Aztecs, Incans, Mayans, Japanese, Russians, British, etc.

  24. wunsacon commented on May 10

    Thanks, Whammer. Here’s what I find…

    The Wikipedia article (Dave’s link) refers to two experiments: one where the frog doesn’t jump and one where it does. In the 2nd experiment, the rate of temperature increase is 2 degrees/minute. It’s a much higher rate than the 1st. The article does not say whether anyone ever repeated the first experiment.

    In the link you posted, the only reference is to the 2nd experiment. Since this 2nd experiment doesn’t repeat the conditions of the first, citing it doesn’t disprove the 1st experiment or its results.

    What’s a man gotta do around here to test the theory? Must I actually boil a frog? MMmmmm….(Homer noises…)

  25. wunsacon commented on May 10


    In your link, read the post with this header:

    Subject: Re: Replace boiling frog legend with biologically sound example?
    From: reptilerescueca-ga on 13 Sep 2006 00:02 PDT

  26. DavidB commented on May 10

    I just want to know at what rate the temperature needs to rise in the pot before the frog invites some lady frogs in for some Pina coladas?

    On predictions:
    In 1900 they took a look at the growing rate of horses and carriages in Washington DC and predicted the city would be buried in horse manure by the year 2000. Though they were right about what Washington would be buried in by 2000, they were completely wrong about the nature of it

  27. engineer al commented on May 10

    “It doesn’t demean the existing great powers just that they have to share the space with others.”

    Another quote from someone long since turned to dust: “We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.”

    In another century, whale oil was the fuel of choice for lighting. Demand for whale oil nearly drove the big fish to extinction before another, more abundant, cheaper, cleaner fuel (coal oil) came along to light our homes.

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