Highlights from Recent Reading

This morning there had been a brief shower but then it had turned into a beautiful sunny day. The venerable chaplain, Colonel Stephen Williams, held Sunday services outside, attended by almost all of the Indians as well as the soldiers. It was an excruciatingly long and complex Calvinistic sermon taken from Isaiah, which was not finished until well after noon, since at the end of each sentence he had to pause so that the Mohawk interpreter could translate for the natives. They watched him closely and listened intently and when he was finished at last they clapped their hands together and thudded the ground with their bare feet.

Perplexed, Williams asked the interpreter what that outburst was for and the man bobbed his head and grinned and then said, “they think you are one of the funniest storytellers they have ever heard.”

from Wilderness Empire, by Allan W. Eckert

Uncle Stanley Gibbs, Grover’s father, had no teeth at all and talked like a bubbling spring, and would say anything at all — anything — that he thought of. And sometimes he said, as Grover put it, “things that he nor nobody else ever thought of.”

from Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry

Am I oversimplifying here? Yes. Is all our media stupid? Far from it. Were intelligent, valuable things written about the rush to war (and about O.J. and Monica, and then Laci Peterson and Michael Jackson, et al.)? Of course.

But: Is some of our media very stupid? Hoo boy. Does stupid, near-omnipresent media make us more tolerant toward stupidity in general? It would be surprising if it didn’t.

Is human nature such that, under certain conditions, stupidity can come to dominate, infecting the brighter quadrants, dragging everybody down with it?

from The Braindead Megaphone, by George Saunders

Slow rain puckered the surface of the pool and made the marble angel glisten in the dusk. Sometimes a breeze passed and a chain of water slopped from the hanging branches onto the lawn, soaking one or the other of them. But Enderby was an English gentleman, and while God’s rain might be falling on the rest of mankind, he was damned if it was going to fall on him.

from Smiley’s People, by John le Carré

But the repercussions of the handwriting problem extend far beyond professional writers such as me and William Shakespeare. Have you ever asked yourself why the federal government, despite employing millions of bright people, displays the collective intelligence of a squeegee? The answer is that all of the important early documents that our government is based on — the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, and the Scarlet Letter — are written in totally illegible cursive handwriting. For over 200 years the Supreme Court has been basically guessing what the Constitution says. It is only recently that historians, using modern handwriting-analysis equipment, have been able to start deciphering the handwriting; so far they have discovered that:

— The so-called Bill of Rights is actually a detailed order for party supplies.

— There’s no mention of any “Congress.”

— The president is mentioned, but his only specified duty — which is not further explained is to “blow the Horn of Cheese.”

from Dave Barry in Cyberspace, by Dave Barry

Wit was in short supply, although Bob Hope got off a decent line: “He’s a symbol of the Old West where men are men and women are women, and the way he walks could fall into either category.”

from John Wayne: The Life and Legend, by Scott Eyman

Yakima Canutt is in most of the pictures, usually as the dog-heavy and to double Wayne. In many of the films, Canutt doubles Wayne chasing Canutt, i.e., Canutt chases himself. (Canutt’s bald spot gives away his presence when he’s doubling Wayne in fight scenes; so does his square body.) During one picture Malvern forgot to hire a second stuntman for an action sequence that involved Canutt, doubling Wayne, leaping from a running horse onto a railroad handcar. If Canutt doubled Wayne, there was nobody to double Canutt as the bad guy on the handcar.

Wayne looked at Canutt, and Canutt looked at Wayne. They exchanged clothes, and Canutt doubled Wayne while Wayne doubled Canutt — Canutt made the transfer from the horse to the handcar with Wayne catching him, and they started fighting in a long shot. The long shot completed, they changed clothes and went back to playing themselves.

from John Wayne: The Life and Legend, by Scott Eyman

Inject honesty into Political Campaigns. I am not using the word “inject” figuratively, here. I am talking about the mandatory injection of large dosages of sodium pentothal — also known as “truth serum” — into the veins of all presidential candidates. Under my plan, every candidate would be accompanied at all times by a syringe-toting physician employed by the Federal Elections Commission, who would be responsible for making sure that the candidate had enough sodium pentothal in his bloodstream to ensure that he told voters what he was actually thinking.

from Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway, by Dave Barry

Yes, Washington has had its troubles. But it has emerged from those troubles to become one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities in the entire southern Maryland area; a city where, as a visitor, you experience the thrill of knowing that you are at the epicenter of federal power, and at any moment you, an ordinary citizen, could turn a corner and find yourself bumping into the Deputy Administrative Assistant to the Assistant Executive Deputy Associate Administrator to the Acting Interim Executive Undersecretary for Coordination of Interstate Urban Fish Hatchery Affairs, or one of his top aides!

from Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway, by Dave Barry

I’ve always been fascinated by the protective colorations of various kinds of wildlife. How did it happen that certain creatures blend in so perfectly with their background? I’ve never been able to buy Darwon’s theory of survival of the fittest. Let’s say that a few eons ago a bunch of pretty, little, bright red bugs show up on a sandy desert, but a couple of these bugs are defective and turn out to be an ugly sandy color. All the pretty bugs make fun of the ugly bugs, but then one day a big flock of sparrows shows up and eats all the pretty red bugs. The sparrows don’t even notice the little defective sand-colored bugs, who are sitting off on a dune laughing themselves silly. From then on, all this species of bug is sand colored. That’s essentially the survival-of-the-fittest theory. One of the many flaws in the theory is that while the two little sand-colored bugs are sitting on the dune laughing, a camel walks by and squishes them. This, to me, is a much more accurate view of life. Darwin was just too much of an optimist.

from The Good Samaritan Strikes Again, by Patrick McManus

What characterizes modern man … is that he disregards the voice of conscience which is tormenting him inwardly. He thinks he has silenced it. He thinks he has promulgated a new morality. Thus his conflict is unconscious; it is a sickness, a dramatic struggle which destroys his personhood. Conscious moral struggle, on the contrary, the struggle with sin in the name of a consciously recognized law, is constructive, even though man may have his defeats.

from The Whole Person in a Broken World, by Paul Tournier

Here’s a similar bonehead error that guys often commit in guest bathrooms: They see soap on a soap dish, and they use it to wash their hands. This of course ruins the guest soap, which is defined as “soap that guests are not supposed to use.” Its purpose is to match the guest towels.

In his letter to me, Dick criticized this kind of thinking by comparing it to a hypothetical situation involving guys. Suppose, he wrote, that a guy is working on his car, and he asks you to hand him a 9/16 wrench. You go over to some wrenches hanging on the wall, and you start to take one, and the guy yells, “NOT THOSE! THOSE ARE FOR DECORATION!”

Dick, when you put it that way, the concept of purely decorative towels DOES seem silly. But there’s actually a very logical explanation for it: Women are insane.

from Boogers Are My Beat, by Dave Barry

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