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Whiskey & Wry — Mark Twain

29. Speaking Laughter to Power

To the state, political humor is no laughing matter. Lenny Bruce rendered politics and social mores absurd through his piercing stand-up comedy routines. Of the left, he said, “The liberals can understand everything but people who don't understand them.” Of the right, he stated, “If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks.” In 1966, Bruce allegedly died of a drug overdose; he actually died of censorship, arrest, and obscenity trials.Laughter is under attack everywhere as 'hate speech,' including in supposed Western bastions of free speech: A Canadian comedian...

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25. On Rothbard, Twain, and cake ... oh my!

When Murray Rothbard's wife Joey (Josephine) put her husband on a strict diet, she admonished the staff of an upcoming conference to watch his food intake. With the words “Free at last, free at last, Thank God almighty, I am free at last!” Murray cut himself a huge slab of cake at the first dinner. An intern respectfully requested he pass on the plateful for the sake of his health. Murray stabbed the cake and waved the dessert-filled fork above his head. “Every calorie says YES to life,” he proclaimed. Mark Twain had a similar attitude toward ideas. Every idea...

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22. Corn-Pone Opinions, Part II

In our last post, we visited Mark Twain's classic essay, Corn-Pone Opinions, and we asked why people tend to reflexively defend their existing beliefs when confronted by contrary views, rather than even-handedly weighing the merits of each position. For his part, Twain emphasized the human impulse for conformity.  The author of Huckleberry Finn and The War Prayer believed that the vast majority of people unthinkingly adopt the prevailing opinions in their social environment, and that their primary value is the approval of others. In short, many people are uncomfortable if their ideas stray too far from those of their fellows, and most crave social acceptance, so great energy...

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21. Corn-Pone Opinions

In Corn-Pone Opinions, a posthumously published, autobiographical essay, the great Mark Twain addressed the timeless question of how people come to form their beliefs. As a child, Twain served as an audience of one for the private performances of a young, neighboring slave whom Twain regarded, at the time, as "the greatest orator in the United States." One of the skilled rhetorician's comments had a profound and lasting impact on the "Father of American Literature"; to wit: "You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what is 'pinions is." Here, Twain's wise idol hits...

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6. H.L. Mencken on Americana, agnosticism, and propaganda

A masterful wordsmith and literary critic, Henry Louis (H.L.) Mencken (1880-1956) was widely regarded in his time as one of America's most talented writers. In 2002, the Atlantic's Jonathan Yardley called Mencken "the greatest of all American journalists," adding:  "No matter where his writing appeared, it was quoted widely, his pungently outspoken ideas debated hotly. Nobody else could make so many people so angry, or make so many others laugh so hard." In 1948, Donald Howe Kirkley Sr., a reporter and editor with the Baltimore Sun, interviewed a cigar-chomping Mencken at the behest of the Library of Congress: www.lewrockwell.com/lrc-blog/1948-h-l-mencken-interview/  The only known recording of H.L. Mencken's voice, this...

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