Posts Tagged ‘Mark Twain’

Twain on school boards!

October 3, 2008

Scott and Shtetl-Optimized quotes Twain:

Twain, incidentally, was the one who wrote that “in the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then He made school boards.”

And, the next line tells you how to bypass God’s plans as revealed by Twain:

The genius of DonorsChoose is that it bypasses those pinnacles of God’s handiwork, letting you route money directly to deserving teachers.

Yes! Scott’s post is for donations to DonorsChoose. Take a look — and, if possible, chip in a few dollars too!

An online Mark Twain project

June 26, 2008

About the site:

Mark Twain Project Online applies innovative technology to more than four decades’ worth of archival research by expert editors at the Mark Twain Project. It offers unfettered, intuitive access to reliable texts, accurate and exhaustive notes, and the most recently discovered letters and documents.

Its ultimate purpose is to produce a digital critical edition, fully annotated, of everything Mark Twain wrote. MTPO is a collaboration between the Mark Twain Papers and Project of The Bancroft Library, the California Digital Library, and the University of California Press.

Via Maud.

Twain on Austen!

June 21, 2008

From this piece of Emily Auerbach (via Maud):

Mark Twain expressed unparalleled hatred of Jane Austen, defining an ideal library as one with none of her books on its shelves. “Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it,” Twain insisted in Following the Equator.

In his extensive correspondence with fellow author and critic William Dean Howells, Mark Twain seemed to enjoy venting his literary spleen on Jane Austen precisely because he knew her to be Howells’ favorite author, In 1909 Twain wrote that “Jane Austin” [sic] was “entirely impossible” and that he could not read her prose even if paid a salary to do so. Howells notes in My Mark Twain (1910) that in fiction Twain “had certain distinct loathings; there were certain authors whose names he seemed not so much to pronounce as to spew out of his mouth.”

His prime abhorrence was my dear and honored prime favorite, Jane Austen. He once said to me, I suppose after he had been reading some of my unsparing praise of her—I am always praising her, “You seem to think that woman could write,” and he forbore withering me with his scorn, apparently because we had been friends so long and he more pitied than hated me for my bad taste.

Rather than pitying Twain when he was sick, Howells threatened to come and read Pride and Prejudice to him.Twain marveled that Austen had been allowed to die a natural death rather than face execution for her literary crimes. “Her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy,” Twain observed, apparently viewing an Austen novel as a book which “once you put it down you simply can’t pick it up.” Yet one becomes suspicious of Twain’s supposedly frenzied loathing when he confesses that he likes to reread Jane Austen’s novels just so he can hate them all over again. In a letter to Joseph Twichell in 1898, Twain fumed, “I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read “Pride and Prejudice” I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

Take a look!

Fenimore Cooper of sociobiology

March 17, 2008

Cosma Shalizi points out:

Ladies, gentlemen, and distinguished others, I give you Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics, the Fenimore Cooper of sociobiology, a man who has leveraged an inability to do data analysis or understand psychometrics into an official blog at Psychology Today, where he gets to advocate genocidal nuclear war as revenge for 9/11. He seems to mean it, rather than be fukayaming.

His argument — to the extent that it is an argument and not just a wish-fulfillment fantasy — has to do with his earlier attempt to explain “why most suicide bombers are Muslims”. Leave to one side whether his attempted explanation is coherent, two things strike one on reading that. The first is his near-total disconnection from the literature on, precisely, the causes and motivations of suicide bombing — no Sageman, no Pape, the only mention of Scott Atran (an actual evolutionary psychologist, and very aware of the problems with the kind of crude ad hominid argument Kanazawa pushes) basically misses Atran’s point, etc. The second is that the fact he is trying to explain something which isn’t true: the tactic was pioneered by the decidedly non-Muslim Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. This is well-known to anyone even slightly interested in understanding this horrible practice; Kanazawa doesn’t even try to explain it away. But facts like these don’t matter when the real goal is some combination of, on the one hand, constructing and projecting a fantasy ideology, and, on the other, sheer self-promotion.

I don’t know of any systematic data on whether James’s distinction between tender-minded and tough-minded thinkers really holds up, but at the level of casual empiricism it’s pretty persuasive, and I fall very much on the tough-minded end of the spectrum. I find that sort of position persuasive, but at the same time it takes only a minimal amount of self-knowledge (certainly that’s all I’ve got) to realize that it exposes one to certain characteristic errors or temptations. One of them is self-congratulation at being, precisely, so tough-minded. And one prominent expression of that is a delight in one’s superior ability to perceive things as, supposedly, they really are, stripped of sentimental ornament; more than that, a delight in imagining how the tender-minded will be shocked by having to confront these realities. It is especially a delight in reductionism, not as a productive if not inevitable explanatory strategy, but as a series of “nothing-but” claims. This is one of our characteristic forms of wishful thinking, just as much devising imaginary consolations for real sufferings is a characteristic of the tender-minded. With these thoughts in mind, I invite you to read the conclusion of Kanazawa’s article on suicide bombers:

Maybe the Muslim suicide bombings are not “terrorist” acts, as the term is usually used. Maybe it has nothing to do with Israel or the American and British troops. Maybe it’s all about sex, as everything else in life is. Men do everything they do in order to get laid (Kanazawa, 2003). Maybe young Muslim men are no exceptions.

Satoshi, mon semblable, mon frère: whoever they are, I really hope the sex is worth it.

Take a look!

PS: Mark Twain’s dressing down of Fenimore Cooper is also a great read, by the way!

Cooper made the exit of that stream fifty feet wide, in the first place, for no particular reason; in the second place, he narrowed it to less than twenty to accommodate some Indians. He bends a “sapling” to the form of an arch over this narrow passage, and conceals six Indians in its foliage. They are “laying” for a settler’s scow or ark which is coming up the stream on its way to the lake; it is being hauled against the stiff current by a rope whose stationary end is anchored in the lake; its rate of progress cannot be more than a mile an hour. Cooper describes the ark, but pretty obscurely. In the matter of dimensions “it was little more than a modern canal-boat.” Let us guess, then, that it was about one hundred and forty feet long. It was of “greater breadth than common.” Let us guess, then, that it was about sixteen feet wide. This leviathan had been prowling down bends which were but a third as long as itself, and scraping between banks where it had only two feet of space to spare on each side. We cannot too much admire this miracle. A low-roofed log dwelling occupies “two-thirds of the ark’s length”–a dwelling ninety feet long and sixteen feet wide, let us say a kind of vestibule train. The dwelling has two rooms–each forty-five feet long and sixteen feet wide, let us guess. One of them is the bedroom of the Hutter girls, Judith and Hetty; the other is the parlor in the daytime, at night it is papa’s bedchamber. The ark is arriving at the stream’s exit now, whose width has been reduced to less than twenty feet to accommodate the Indians–say to eighteen. There is a foot to spare on each side of the boat. Did the Indians notice that there was going to be a tight squeeze there? Did they notice that they could make money by climbing down out of that arched sapling and just stepping aboard when the ark scraped by? No, other Indians would have noticed these things, but Cooper’s Indians never notice anything. Cooper thinks they are marvelous creatures for noticing, but he was almost always in error about his Indians. There was seldom a sane one among them.

The ark is one hundred and forty feet long; the dwelling is ninety feet long. The idea of the Indians is to drop softly and secretly from the arched sapling to the dwelling as the ark creeps along under it at the rate of a mile an hour, and butcher the family. It will take the ark a minute and a half to pass under. It will take the ninety foot dwelling a minute to pass under. Now, then, what did the six Indians do? It would take you thirty years to guess, and even then you would have to give it up, I believe. Therefore, I will tell you what the Indians did. Their chief, a person of quite extraordinary intellect for a Cooper Indian, warily watched the canal-boat as it squeezed along under him, and when he had got his calculations fined down to exactly the right shade, as he judged, he let go and dropped. And missed the house! That is actually what he did. He missed the house, and landed in the stern of the scow. It was not much of a fall, yet it knocked him silly. He lay there unconscious. If the house had been ninety-seven feet long he would have made the trip. The fault was Cooper’s, not his. The error lay in the construction of the house. Cooper was no architect.

There still remained in the roost five Indians.

The boat has passed under and is now out of their reach. Let me explain what the five did–you would not be able to reason it out for yourself. No. 1 jumped for the boat, but fell in the water astern of it. Then No. 2 jumped for the boat, but fell in the water still farther astern of it. Then No. 3 jumped for the boat, and fell a good way astern of it. Then No. 4 jumped for the boat, and fell in the water away astern. Then even No. 5 made a jump for the boat–for he was a Cooper Indian. In the matter of intellect, the difference between a Cooper Indian and the Indian that stands in front of the cigarshop is not spacious. The scow episode is really a sublime burst of invention; but it does not thrill, because the inaccuracy of the details throws a sort of air of fictitiousness and general improbability over it. This comes of Cooper’s inadequacy as an observer.