Q is for a Famous Quotation

My late father used to say, fairly frequently as I recall, this quotation: “It is better to remain silent and be thought of as a a fool than to speak up and remove any doubt.”

But who was he quoting? I couldn’t find anything in Bartelby or Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, the latter, in print form, a constant source of my entertainment growing up.

Finally, I found a similar quotation at Quote Investigator. Was it attributed to Abraham Lincoln? Mark Twain? A Biblical Proverb?

“There is a biblical proverb that expresses a similar idea, namely Proverbs 17:28. Here is the New International Version followed by the King James Version of this verse:

“‘Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.’

“‘Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.'”

After dismissing Lincoln and Twain because the attributions to them were so much after their time, and noting the Proverbs have not quite the same sentiment, QI favors Maurice Switzer, from a “book titled ‘Mrs. Goose, Her Book’… The publication date was 1907 and the copyright notice was 1906. The book was primarily filled with clever nonsense verse, and the phrasing in this early version was slightly different:

“It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”

This all begs the question, Is it true? Do people actually think you’re smart if you retain a mysterious silence? Perhaps; this does not appear to be a period in history when a lot goes unsaid. That apparent need to always say SOMETHING is often to the detriment of the speaker, and, quite often, of us all.

Rather off topic, but LISTEN to the Tremeloes sing Silence is Golden.

For ABC Wednesday

Mark Twain on war, patriotism and religion

We may not understand fully our prayers of war.

marktwainReading Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, I found a quote, noted by a soldier named Logan, who returned from Iraq, with a date for another deployment set.

“After six years in the military, he felt the collision of the cross and the sword and felt like he was trying to ‘serve two masters’…. Logan decided to file for conscientious status.” Because the military thought he was crazy, he got out of the service.

In a subsequent letter to the book authors, writing about his “redemptive work of reconciliation,” Logan included a quote from Mark Twain called The War Prayer, described as “a short story or prose poem… a scathing indictment of war, and particularly of blind patriotic and religious fervor as motivations for war… The piece was left unpublished by Mark Twain at his death in April 1910, largely due to pressure from his family, who feared that the story would be considered sacrilegious.” It was finally published in 1923, nearly twenty years after it was written.

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering;… a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun… in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause…

Then The Stranger speaks:

“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think.

We may not understand fully our prayers for war.

You can read the whole thing HERE.

See an animated rendition HERE or HERE.

A film reenactment an epilogue to the Public Television 1981 production: A Private History of A Campaign That Failed, with Edward Herrmann as the stranger, you can view HERE. Yet another iteration can be found HERE.

One more quote from Twain, in a speech from October 1907: “We build a fire in a powder magazine, then double the fire department to put it out. We inflame wild beasts with the smell of blood, and then innocently wonder at the wave of brutal appetite that sweeps the land as a consequence.”

Armed Forces Day is Saturday, May 16.

Loss of data

I was putting together my monthly list of links, when it struck me that some of the pieces were of a type. They were all about information of one form or another and how sometimes, it goes away.

JEOPARDY! wiz Ken Jennings – he won 74 games in a row – gave a TEDx talk at Seattle University in February 2013 called The Obsolete Know-It-All. It runs about 18 minutes, in which he discusses the JEOPARDY! competition with Brad Rutter (human) and the IBM computer named Watson, as. He talks, among other things, about how a part of the brain shrinks when one uses GPS, or uses the cellphone to look up your friends’ numbers. This is one of those issues I respond to viscerally. Looking it up on Google may be more “efficient,” but it doesn’t compare with knowing stuff.

If the technologies fail us – power grid crashes, computers compromised by cyberattacks – what will we still know? What does it all mean in terms of our human interaction? By contrast, 5 ways robots can improve accuracy, journalism quality.

Andy Marx writes about the day he and his grandfather Groucho saved the television show ‘You Bet Your Life’ from ending up in a Dumpster. If he hadn’t answered the phone, the shows would have been lost forever. In the comments, there was an interesting link to a story of how much of our cultural history depends on one person’s decision to preserve something instead of throwing it away.

Speaking of TV, Ken Levine’s comment about the late Bonnie Franklin, and her TV show ONE DAY AT A TIME falling between the cracks prompted the question about why some shows remain perennially popular while others fade out. “It doesn’t necessarily seem to be question of quality.” Interesting responses in the comments section.

Mark Twain Captured on Film by Thomas Edison in 1909. It’s the only known footage of the author.

Finally, since Jaquandor inspired this with his lazy linkage, I appreciated reading what he has to say: When going back to edit your writing, how do you determine what to keep and what to weed out? I imagine novelists in particular whether to exorcise a scene, or just save it for another book.
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My first thoughts about the end of this year’s Boston Marathon. Probably not my last.

February Ramblin’

I still have trouble with Leviticus myself, so this is quite intriguing.

I think I have an instinctive sense of balance about my blog between the personal and the other stuff (politics, popular culture, etc.). Obviously, that’s been skewed more than a little this month, and frankly, I’m all right with that.

Serene Green- the flower arrangement my office sent to my mother’s funeral (and which we brought to my parents’ gravesite

I received a bushel of great notes of condolences re: the passing of my mother earlier this month. Some came in the form of e-mails, others in comments to various blog posts. I received cards, e-cards, cards with flowers. This doesn’t even count the telephone calls and the face-to-face comments. One that struck me greatly was written by someone I’ve worked with for 17 years:

It must be more than just a coincidence that the last blog post you wrote before telling the news of your mother was about circle songs. When I see “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” in print, I always hear Aaron Neville’s voice, singing of “my dear old mother”.

Judging by the comments to your posts, you have many wise friends, with all manner of experiences. I’ve no clue what to say, except that your mother will live on in song, and in spirit. Bless her soul, and my best to you and all your family.

So I played the Neville Brothers’ track and I cried more than I had all month.

Anyway, I’m sure that I’ll get back to my less open-book self-analysis blog. Eventually.

Steve Bissette notes a terrific new documentary illuminating the music & marvels of composer/musician Raymond Scott. YOU may not know Raymond Scott, but the folks doing old Warner Brothers cartoons, Motown, Devo, and composer John Williams did. And speaking of my buddy Steve, there’s an interesting early 1990s, two-part Lou Mougin interview of him here and here, where he talks about Swamp Thing with Alan Moore, independent comic publishing, and other interesting items.

I get an e-mail about a “truly infamous and heinous work [called Obama Nation – get the pun?] that a couple of people in the comics profession have just done. I am just plain ashamed to see this, and the commentator can’t even bring himself to show the whole thing (though what he describes is enough to make your blood run cold). It’s like a time warp back to Jim Crow, I kid you not.”
Then Mark Evanier writes that the cartoon WASN’T “racist or disgusting, especially compared to a lot of what’s said about the Obamas on the web these days.” A low threshold, IMO.
Certainly, the caricature that Alan David Doane showed in his post makes me queasy, but ADD is certainly correct when he says that Obama Nation is “a loathsome, unfunny comic strip obviously fueled by hatred.”

From the 1944 movie Broadway Rhythm, the Ross Sisters doing Solid Potato Salad. You WILL say, “How did they DO that?”

Here’s THE most interesting thing I ever found in my spam filter:

“Unexpected lessons on the power of obedience—and how grace can fuel it. – HOW TO BE PERFECT, Daniel M. Harrell – One Church’s Audacious Experiment in Living the Old Testament Book of Leviticus. As a longtime minister and preacher who had successfully skirted Leviticus for most of his life, author Daniel Harrell wanted to come to grips with all that Leviticus teaches–not just loving neighbors, but the parts about animal sacrifice, Sabbath-keeping, skin diseases, homosexuality, and stoning sinners, too. Yet rather than approaching Leviticus with a view toward mitigating its commands, he decided to simply obey them. http://www.danielharrell.com/

I still have trouble with Leviticus myself, so this is quite intriguing. Even if I don’t necessarily come to the same conclusions as the author – and there’s a lot here to examine without having read the book – I applaud the effort to tackle it, rather than do what some modern Bible studies do, which is to selectively ignore it.

A revision of Genesis 19.

An edit of Huck Finn that I could get behind. And, BTW, Toni Morrison’s introduction​on to the 1996 Oxford edition of Huck Finn (pdf).

What ‘The Simpsons’ could teach us about global warming

“Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets and then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again.”
– Marin County newspaper’s TV listing for “The Wizard of Oz”
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Video of Eyes on the Prize – Mavis Staples.

Editing literature and the N-word Questions

As usual, The Daily Show addresses the Mark Twain controversy well.


You’ve probably heard about someone wanting to take the works of Mark Twain and republish them, replacing the word N@$$%! with the word “slave”. I think this is pretty lame as I have previously indicated.

Yet, while I’m not crazy about the word, I’m less bothered by it when it’s 1) used in historic context or 2) to make a particular point. Film critic Roger Ebert got into some hot water using the word recently. He didn’t bother me, but some of the comments I’ve seen in response to his use – “well, he has a N@##%! wife” – seems to justify my general antipathy for the word.

Should Huck Finn and other works of Mark Twain be edited to remove a word current sensibilities might find offensive? If so, how should such a book be labeled?

When, if ever, are racially charged words acceptable? There’s a John Lennon song that I believe is making a larger point of social commentary.

As usual, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart addresses this well. NSFW, if the use of N@##$! might get you fired.