Quotations of Chairman Roland

One of the advantages of owning a press is you get to publish your pithy pontifications. — Jon Roland

On old age

I'm so old that most of the sayings attributed to others were probably first said by me, but I don't remember which ones.

I don't like to say how old I am but when I was a kid there was only one continent.

My sign? When I was born we didn't have the same constellations.

I'm so old if I were a grandfather clock the shadow of my pendulum would've worn a hole in the back of the case.1

Youth and old age alike provide ready excuses for our indiscretions.

On people

There are three kinds of people:
The first kind learn from their mistakes.
The second kind don't learn from their mistakes.
The third kind learn from other people's mistakes.
I try to be one of the third kind.1

Texans are the only people who pray for hurricanes to hit us. We want the rain. We don't mind a little wind. We get worse from our politicians.

All women are beautiful when they smile.

On herds

Humans are herd animals. They try to figure out where their herd is going and then position themselves somewhere in the middle for safety.

Most humans swarm, like birds in flocks or fish in schools, not centrally directed, but responding mainly to their immediate surroundings and remaining oblivious to the larger world.

There is no wisdom in numbers. Whenever too many people agree too easily they are probably wrong.

Power corrupts, and the most corrupting power is the Herd.

One of the most important things anyone can learn in life is to recognize herd behavior and resist it. The herd may happen to be right, but it should always be presumed to be wrong.

The only real courage is the willingness to stand alone against the world.

Real courage is found, not in the willingness to risk death, but in the willingness to stand, alone if necessary, against the ignorant and disapproving herd.

On natural laws

Roland's First Corollary to Finagle's Law:2 The Universe is rational only to first approximation.

Roland's Second Corollary to Finagle's Law:2 The Universe is unmanageable.

Roland's First Corollary to Murphy's Law:2 Nothing ever works out the way you expect it to unless you expect it to work out differently.

Roland's statement of General Finagle Theory: The Universe is out to get you.

Roland's Rule of Finagle Engineering: The Universe is not organized for your comfort or convenience.

On laws of tyranny

Law #1: Any power that can be abused will be abused. (Roland's Second Corollary to Murphy's Law)

Law #2: Abuse always expands to fill the limits of resistance to it.

Law #3: If people don't resist the abuses of others, they will have no one to help when abuses reach them.

On wisdom

The ultimate wisdom is a good sense of humor.

On technology

The good news is that those offshored jobs are coming back. The bad news is that when they do they will be done by machines.

If we get to where anyone can build a doomsday device from commonly available materials, freedom will end.

On future visions

It is easier to get people to agree on tactics than goals, and on which futures are more desirable than are actually available.

Despots overestimate their ability to control outcomes, and repeat what doesn't work with tragic results. Despotism is enabled by the people who underestimate their own ability to influence the future.

On morality

The species of morality correspond to the interrogatives: who, what, how, where, where, why, and whither.

Ultimately what matters is not what we did but what our lives stood for.

In the end it is not about outcomes, but about having one's life stand for something admirable.

Reward kindness by passing it on double.

Intentions and outcomes are important, but not all-important. What matters is the drama, and what the players stand for. In the drama of being, we are each players and playwrights.

Evil is cleaving to power over principle.

On obligation

To the Future we owe our stewardship; to the Past we owe the truth.

On corruption

Political corruption begins with every voter who votes his pocketbook instead of for what's good for the country. There is little difference between the selling of his vote by an elected official and the selling of his vote by a voter, to whatever candidate promises him some benefit.

Tyranny and injustice thrive when people make economic decisions rather than stand on principle.

When law becomes a game only lawyers can play, only lawyers can win.

On rights

People have only those rights they are willing and able to unite to defend, with armed force if necessary.

On election candidacy

It is not the job of the candidate to win. His job is to be the best candidate. Electing the best candidate is the job of the people.

Some cleave to charisma, some to competence, but the two are rarely packaged together. The first can get people moving, but lack of the second can get them killed.

On political ideology

During the late 20th century the word "liberal" came to mean someone whose copy of the Bill of Rights was missing the Second and Tenth Amendments, and the word "conservative" someone whose copy was missing the First and the Ninth.

Never confuse the stated purpose of legislation with what it would actually accomplish. Most enactments will be ineffective or counterproductive.

On public policy never be assured decisionmakers know what they are doing. Most of them don't even know who the experts are, if there are any experts, and on most issues there are none, or ever likely to be. All we can do is improve the odds, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

On making a difference

A ripple here, a ripple there.
Now there's something in the air.
A wave is building in the sea
As we play the game of history.

I decided history needed a course correction, so I reached for my keyboard.

There is no autopilot. We have to fly the plane.

On life

Life is getting a mission but not being told what it is.

That reality is only in our minds is refuted by unexpected pain.

Doloro, ergo sum. I feel pain, therefore I exist.

Life is like a warranty. It runs out just before you figure out how the thing works.

Like others of my time, I bought into the rightness of first completing my education, then getting established in my career, then finding a partner, courting her and marrying, then having sex and bearing children, to repeat the cycle. I'm still working on completing my education.

"It was a dark and stormy night and I felt like a character in a short story that ends abrup..."

On love

Love's a thing most can find unless they look for it.

The real need is not to be loved but to love.

Speech evolved for sex. Women go for smoothe talkers more than for looks, brains, or money.

I love everyone and everything, but don't necessarily like them.

Most difficult are those things we must do for love.

Love the world and protect it, if only from yourself.

On science

We make decisions using models of the world we think we understand because we know how we made them.

Systems too complex to predict can exhibit regularities too delicate to control.

On law and government

There are four constitutions: of nature, of society, of the state, and of government. Each is subject to the ones above it.

There are three fundamental rights: to a presumption of nonauthority, to the means to effectively supervise public servants, and to law that is logical.

The duty of the social contract is militia: to mutually defend the rights of one another.

Sound constitutional design is not arbitrary. It is an optimal strategy for the game of history.

A constitution represents a strategy for the long term. It is subverted by those whose strategies are only short term.

The rule of law comes from devotion to a civic religion of constitutionalism.

If starting tomorrow everyone shared all my knowledge, skills, and attitides, most of the world's problems would cease to exist and the rest would be disposed of within a month. Knowledge of the solutions is not some secret. It is just not distributed widely, or is actively resisted. That is the real problem, for which no one has the solution.

Human diversity has its advantages for survival of a few but its disadvantages for the rest.

The simplest, most direct policy proposal is almost invariably ineffective and usually counterproductive. The simple solutions that work are already being used.

If it's simple, direct, obvious, and appealing you can be sure it won't work and will probably make things worse.

In the beginning this country was run by militia and juries. But people tried to avoid their civic duties by hiring public servants, who could never fill the gap, and emerged as our masters.

In the early 1800s voters could adequately supervise public officials taking an hour or two a week. Today it would be more than a full-time job.

Without supervision servants become masters.1

The greatest blow to civic life was the advent of television.

Government is like a hammer, good for pounding nails but not for brain surgery.

Trying to solve public problems without first achieving strict compliance with the Constitution is like trying to take a motor trip through the mountains without brakes or a steering wheel.

In politics and law nothing is ever finally settled.

Every system of government can be characterized by the kind of people it elevates to positions of authority. Some systems elevate sociopaths and narcissists.

If you think defending rights is expensive try doing without them.

There is a fundamental conflict between following precedent and following the Constitution. They represent different logical systems that will become inconsistent if we let them.

Our ancestors adopted juries because judges can't be trusted.

Randomly selected juries are the only way anyone has found to avoid undue influence in making public decisions.

Seeking a reform without providing the exact language, or supervising the implementation, is not asking something be done for you but asking it be done to you.

On rhetoric

In the twentieth century being "well-spoken" came to mean speaking in such as way that you can't easily be discredited by being quoted out of context.

One of the first rules of effective communication is to so compose the message as to anticipate all the ways it could be misinterpreted, and minimize such misinterpretation. This is especially important with laws, which are messages from the past to the future. It is well to keep in mind Murphy's Law of Lawmaking: "If it can be misinterpreted it will be, and it will be misinterpreted in the worst way possible."

Be careful what you say. Someone might take you seriously.

On happiness

When in doubt, do without.

Happiness is a choice, and only a fool chooses to be unhappy.

Happiness comes from doing one's best to make a difference for the good, even if no one else knows.

Why would anyone choose not to be a nice person? It's easier and a lot more fun.

The best way to avoid negative feelings is to control the way you perceive things, so that nothing provokes them.

For a comedian Heaven is a steady supply of straight men.

On injustice

Nursing grievances doesn't cure them, especially if you inflict your bitterness on others.

On freedom

No one can be truly free who has not first said goodbye to life.

On religious belief

I ask the questions. I don't claim to have the answers. If I thought I did, I wouldn't necessarily tell anybody about it.

On management

There is no art to managing perfect people with an abundance of resources, or an impossible lack thereof. The art comes when one has just enough if one does everything just right.

A market can operate among organizations but not within them. When organizations become too large, too well-connected, or too many adopt the same strategy, they overwhelm the corrective influence of the marketplace and we get crashes.

You go to politics with the activists you've got.

To err may be human, but it is also human to get it right the first time, and every time.

On education

Speedreading, which is really speedlearning, is the most valuable skill public schools won't teach.

Grouping students into classes by age has been a historical mistake. It has caused their development to be dominated by their peers instead of by adults, and has resulted in a nation of adolescents.

In 1856 the focus of the civic education of youth was jury and militia service. Today those things are barely mentioned.

On perspective

Thirty is about the age at which people who think no one over thirty can be trusted discover that no one under thirty can be trusted either.

On passing on

Survival tip: Charm the medical staff.

Died once, but got sent back with a lot of questions and no answers.

I've led a good life and I'm ready to go. But I intend to outlive anyone who tries to hasten my departure.

Dying is fascinating!

If you ever get a report of my suicide you can be sure it wasn't.

The final stage direction of my life play is "Exit laughing."

Epitaph for humanity: They were smart enough to create problems for themselves they weren't smart enough to solve.

My epitaph: Now it's up to you. Good luck.


1. Perhaps not entirely original but I've been saying it so long it feels like it is. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

2. Finagle's Law: The perversity of the Universe tends to a maximum. John W. Campbell, Jr.

3. Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong will.



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