Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Twain annoyed by "individual liabilities"

* * * those two words, "individual liabilities," are the very meanest words in the English language to write, and I suppose I have written them some ten thousand times during the past week. Now when a man is in a hurry, he can make but slow progress if he separates his words—he must string them all together without lifting his pen from the paper, if he would accomplish the least degree of speed. You can't "dot" an i, you know, without taking your pen up, and that inevitably "breaks your gait." If you want to ruin your disposition, write an essay on individual liabilities the next time you are in a special hurry. You will discover that it is easier to write sixteen or eighteen hundred words an hour on any other subject than it is to write thirteen hundred on that. * * * They named the State "Nevada." It is a good enough name, and has no i's in it.
Mark Twain, letter to Morning Call (San Francisco) from Carson City, Nov. 14, 1863, published Nov. 19, 1863. Quoted in William C. Miller et al. eds., Reports of the 1863 Constitutional Convention of the Territory of Nevada: As Written for The Territorial Enterprise by Andrew J. Marsh & Samuel L. Clemens and for The Virginia Daily Union by Amos Bowman (Carson City, Nev.: Legislative Counsel Bureau, 1972), p. v.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What do Americans want?

"The American people," Dacheekan [campaign strategist] said, "are interested only in little things, not big things. They want to be fat., They want to be happy. That's all they care about, all they know. That's the reality."
"I have been with the people of this country from the Hudson to the Pacific," Freddy said, "and I know that you're wrong. It's people like you, who are no better than your contemptuous description of them, who crank the machinery that dulls their lives, who cater to the worst among them. They are a spiritual people. They want love and greatness. I know it. I've seen it. I've lived among them as you have not. I was taught to listen to the deeper heart, and from one end of this country to the other, I have."
Mark Helprin, Freddy and Fredericka (New York: Penguin, 2005), p. 463

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What soccer moms want

"What about issues?" Dot asked. "What about soccer moms?"
"What about them?" Freddy wanted to know.
"What should he [the presidential candidate] say? What would you have him say?"
"Soccer moms," Freddy said, "spend all day driving around in shapeless vehicles that look like Flash Gordon's bread truck, and their children watch television in the back and ape the superficial characters therein. This is the cause of deep unhappiness, because what they want is so different from what they have, even if they don't realise that this is so. They don't want their children to dress like circus clowns, speak like zombie chipmunks, and behave like programmed machines. They want sons and daughters they can talk to; they want a struggle that they can win but that they are not assured of winning; they want to know physical exhaustion; they want to be sunburned; they want to smell eucalyptus; they want to weep; they want to dance naked for their husbands; they want to feel the wind, see the stars, swim in a river, slam the back door, and laugh uncontrollably with their children. That's what they want. They don't want the crap they have, the crap [President] Self promises, or the crap you would promise if you could figure out what to promise. They want to be free, to have dignity, to know honour and sacrifice. What else does anyone want?"
Dot was stunned into silence, because this was what she wanted too, and had always wanted.
Mark Helprin, Freddy and Fredericka (New York: Penguin, 2005), p. 463

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

People learn the facts they need

First, the goal of Do Facts Matter? is not to skewer the public or politicians for their ignorance. . . .
. . .
For one thing, it is difficult to define meaningful political ignorance; what people need to know to be effective citizens is not obvious. As the columnist Gene Weingarten (1996) pointed out, 40 percent of adult Americans may be unable to name the vice president but "72 percent of the residents of greater Helena, Mont., were able to identify, on one of those creepy diagrams, every known slice of cow"—and the vice president probably cannot do that. People learn the facts they need to run their lives but do not bother to learn facts that seem valueless in their particular circumstances.
Jennifer L. Hochschild & Katherine Levine Einstein, Do Facts Matter? Information and Misinformation in American Politics (Norman, Okla.: Univ. Of Oklahoma Press, 2015), ch. 2 (citing Gene Weingarten, "Read It and Veep," Washington Post, Feb. 4, 1996).

Monday, November 7, 2016

Using mistaken "facts" can be dangerous

[W]e can articulate the central claim of this book": people's unwillingness or inability to use relevant facts in their political choices may be frustrating, but people's willingness to use mistaken factual claims in their voting and public engagement is actually dangerous to a democratic polity.
Jennifer L. Hochschild & Katherine Levine Einstein, Do Facts Matter? Information and Misinformation in American Politics (Norman, Okla.: Univ. Of Oklahoma Press, 2015), ch. 1.

What you "know" about society affects your policies

A 1995 survey asked an unusual battery of questions, focusing on substantive knowledge about the well-being of different groups of Americans. Respondents were asked if African Americans were at least as well off as the average white in six domains—income, housing, education, health care, jobs, and risk of job loss. The empirical evidence on all of these points is clear; the correct answer is no for each.
Many respondents were, however factually mistaken in answering these questions. Roughly three in five whites agreed that African Americans are as well off or better off than whites with regard to their jobs or risk of job loss, access to health care, and education; more than two in five said the same with regard to inc one and housing (only 14-32 percent of African Americans, depending on the arena in question, were similarly misinformed).
Misinformation was systematically associated with a distinctive policy stance. Compared to those with correct information, white respondents who were misinformed on at least one item were more likely to favor a balanced federal budget, cuts in personal income taxes, tax breaks for businesses, limits on abortion, and limits to affirmative action; there was no difference between the two groups on welfare reform and reforming Medicare. Overall, misinformed white respondents supported policies that were racially and fiscally more conservative than were the policy views of the correctly informed.
In short, some Americans hold incorrect "knowledge" that is associated with distinctive involvement with the public arena. We label this third group the "active" or "engaged misinformed." Here, too, the label only begins to identify a group around whom questions swirl: Why do they hold misinformation? Are their mistaken opinions causally linked, in either direction, to their distinctive political and policy views or activities? Can they be taught the facts, and is it worth the effort? How and how much does their activity affect democratic decision making?
Jennifer L. Hochschild & Katherine Levine Einstein, Do Facts Matter? Information and Misinformation in American Politics (Norman, Okla.: Univ. Of Oklahoma Press, 2015), ch. 1.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Even Clarke took decades to learn the cornet

I was cornet soloist with Gilmore at the age of twenty-four, held the same position with Sousa at twenty-five and did not really know how to play the cornet correctly until I was thirty-five! Since then it has never been a task to play my chosen instrument all day long.
Herbert L. Clarke, How I Became a Cornetist  ( 2011) (orig. pub. 1934), Ch. 24

He can write!

Bryan had shown him his manuscript, "the magnum opus" entitled The Last Bus Driver. "Well," Martin murmured politely when he returned it to Bryan, "it's certainly different. And you can write, there's no doubt about that." And he wasn't lying, Bryan could write, he could take a pen with turquoise ink in it and make big, loopy joined-up handwriting with verbs scattered randomly throughout sentences—sentences that in every comma and exclamation point screamed crazy. But Bryan knew where Martin lived and so he wasn't about to antagonize him.
Kate Atkinson, One Good Turn (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2006), p. 56.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Mesmerized by fire (and cable too)

Every evening since their arrival they had lit a fire and sat in front of the sitting-room hearth with the same kind of devotion that prehistoric people must have afforded flames, except that prehistoric people didn't have Victor's extensive cable package to entertain themselves with.
Kate Atkinson, Case Histories (New York: Little Brown & Co., 2004), p. 113.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Politics are madness -- Helprin

[P]olitics are madness, and even if one does not know it, a country in electoral season experiences flares of lunacy like the great storms that sometimes march across the golden surface of the sun.
Mark Helprin, Freddy and Fredericka (New York: Penguin, 2005), p. 376

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The many things that royalty can't do

"Before we married, I told you, and you agreed, that though there are many things we can do that most people cannot even dream of doing, there are many more things we cannot do that most people could not dream of doing without." 
"Like going to a disco?" 
"And walking through Chelsea in daylight, having tea in a hotel, sitting in a park while reading the paper, holding regular employment ent, being unnoticed, not bearing the weight of a thousand years of tradition, et center a. It is indeed awful in they modern sense of they word, and it is wh6y, if I had a choice, I would not be king."
Mark Helprin, Freddy and Fredericka (New York: Penguin, 2005), p. 33 (Freddy, the Prince of Wales, speaking with his wife, Fredericka)

"People don't know, and they'll never know, that no collection of things and no human deference can ever make up for not being able to ride home, tired and alone, on the train to Camden Town, and disappear into a block of flats unmatched, in glorious and absolute privacy."
Id., p. 54 (Queen Philippa speaking)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Darwin sees nobility in old former slave

This spot [near Rio de Janeiro] is notorious from having been, for a long time, the residence of some runaway slaves, who, by cultivating a little ground near the top, contrived to eke out a subsistence. At length they were discovered, and a party of soldiers being sent, the whole were seized with the exception of one old woman, who sooner than again be led into slavery, dashed herself to pieces from the summit of the mountain. In a Roman matron this would have been called the noble love of freedom: in a poor degrees it is mere brutal obstinacy.
Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (London: John Murray, 1913 reprint ed., ch. II, p. 19

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Inspiring soloist plays easily, without a purple face

The cornetist again arose, but this time stepped to the front of the platform, and to my wonderment played the entire solo through for the second time without seeming tired or making a slip. The remarkable thing about his performance was that he played so easily, gracefully; apparently with unconcern, and without any facial muscular contortions or movements. His face did not become purple, distorted, or show any signs of strain. I always had made such hard work in playing even a simple little polka which did not reach G on the first space above, that to watch him play with such perfect ease a number which seemed filled with top "C's" and then end it on the highest note, actually dumfounded me. It was both a revelation and an inspiration!
Herbert L. Clarke, How I Became a Cornetist (orig. pub. 1934; reprinted in 2011 by, ch. 10.