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The specters' report

Current events sometimes summon the greats from their eternal rest

Mark Twain on Temperament, Circumstance and a No-fly Zone for Libya

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The Ten Commandments

Mark Twain (from Fables of Man)


The Ten Commandments were made for man alone. We should think it strange if they had been made for all the animals.


We should say “Thou shalt not kill” is too general, too sweeping. It includes the field mouse and the butterfly. They can’t kill. And it includes the tiger, which can’t help it.


It is a case of Temperament and Circumstance again. You can arrange no circumstances that can move the field mouse and the butterfly to kill; their temperaments will ill keep them unaffected by temptations to kill, they can avoid that crime without an effort. But it isn’t so with the tiger. Throw a lamb in his way when he is hungry, and his temperament will compel him to kill it.


Butterflies and field mice are common among men; they can’t kill, their temperaments make it impossible. There are tigers among men, also. Their temperaments move them to violence, and when Circumstance furnishes the opportunity and the powerful motive, they kill. They can’t help it.


No penal law can deal out justice; it must deal out injustice in every instance. Penal laws have a high value, in that they protect - in a considerable measure - the multitude of the gentle-natured from the violent minority.


For a penal law is a Circumstance. It is a warning which intrudes and stays a would-be murderer’s hand - sometimes. Not always, but in many and many a case. It can’t stop the real man-tiger; nothing can do that. Slade had 26 deliberate murders on his soul when he finally went to his death on the scaffold. He would kill a man for a trifle; or for nothing. He loved to kill. It was his temperament. He did not make his temperament, God gave it him at his birth. Gave it him and said Thou shalt not kill. It was like saying Thou shalt not eat. Both appetites were given him at birth. He could be obedient and starve both up to a certain point, but that was as far as he could go. Another man could go further; but not Slade.


Holmes, the Chicago monster, inveigled some dozens of men and women into his obscure quarters and privately butchered them. Holmes’s inborn nature was such that whenever he had what seemed a reasonably safe opportunity to kill a stranger he couldn’t successfully resist the temptation to do it.


Justice was finally meted out to Slade and to Holmes. That is what the newspapers said. It is a common phrase, and a very old one. But it probably isn’t true. When a man is hanged for slaying one man that phrase comes into service and we learn that justice was meted out to the slayer. But Holmes slew sixty. There seems to be a discrepancy in this distribution of justice. If Holmes got justice, the other man got 59 times more than justice.


But the phrase is wrong, anyway. The word is the wrong word. Criminal courts do not dispense “justice” - they can’t; they only dispense protections to the community. It is all they can do.


Reverend Bayes Speaks (about the shootings in Tuscon)

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We live in a democracy; we get the government we deserve. If people elect fools who don't understand basic Bayesian logic they should be humiliated.

Reader-commentor HiPhD, Champaign, Illinois, in NYT April 20th, 2011


[eFeuilleton]:  Reverend Bayes, thank you for accepting our invitation to write feuilletons.  We thought that a good way to introduce you to our venerable readership would be to interview you today about the shootings in Tuscon.

Thank you for the invitation, although for satire, you really want the incomparable Mr. Charles Dodgson.

[eFeuilleton]:  Well, you did mention to us that you are a huge fan of Jon Stewart...  In any event, I am confident that we can set your wisdom into the appropriate framework.  To get started, can you tell our readers why you are interested in the events in Tuscon?

Yes, Jon Stewart is a wry and noble feuilletonist.  As for Tuscon, I have an affinity for questions of causation and how people reason.  I happened to run across three statements in your media related to the Tuscon shootings that made me think that the people in the colonies would benefit from a more probabilistic approach in their thinking.

[eFeuilleton]:  A more probabilistic approach?..

Yes, people think that the only correct form of inference is deduction, that if you can't prove that A causes B and B causes C, then you cannot say anything about the relationship between A and C.   The colonial schools don't teach the well-developed methods for dealing with uncertainty that are used in so many fields today, like economics and medical diagnosis.

[eFeuilleton]:  What were the three statements that caught your attention?

They all addressed the question of whether words and images could have influenced or caused Mr. Loughner's rampage.  The first was a sentence written by Mr. Brooks of the NY Times, "Loughner was locked in a world far removed from politics as we normally understand it."

The second was a sentence written by Mr. Robert Wright: "But it's not as if this is the only data point we have."

The third were comments by Mr. Jon Stewart himself, who said it would really be nice if we could draw a straight line of causality between the rhetoric and the crazy behavior of Mr. Loughlin.  I quote: "...but others are working feverishly to find the tidbit or two that will exonerate their side from blame or implicate the other...  Did the toxic political environment cause this?  A graphic image here, an ill-timed comment, violent rhetoric; those types of things?  I have no F*ing idea.  We live in a complex ecosystem of influences and motivations and I wouldn't blame our political rhetoric any more than I would blame heavy metal music for Columbine.  And, by the way, that is coming from somebody who truly hates our politcal environment.  It is toxic.  It is unproductive.  But to say that that is what has caused this, or that the people in that are responsible or caused this, I just don't think you can do that.  Boy would that be nice.  Boy would it be nice to be able to draw a straight line of causation from this horror to something tangible, because then we could convince ourselves that, if we just stopped this, then the horrors will end."  [Video: 21 minutes]

(Ring, ring)

Would you excuse me a minute, I'm always so busy with questions from policy makers.  Perhaps your readers would like to learn a little about me while I take this call?   There is a humble bio on wiki...


Ten Bears Speaks

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Ten Bears Speaks


Mila the Intern Pitches a Story to the Tribal Elders

Recovered from the Diary of John Dunbar

Mila the Intern: Ted Turner could have graduated with a degree in Classics. He could have become a Professor Emeritus of Greek and Latin. He could have become, what his father referred to as “a Classic snob” --an insular, impractical dreamer reasoning about reasoning.

Instead, Ted was a good son. He took to heart the impassioned words of his father who wrote Ted a letter in response to his decision to major in the Classics at Brown. Ted chose the path advised by his father -- to work with people who are “doing things, who have an interesting, not a decadent outlook.”

This World’s Untold Story would be about the man who created CNN. Without this man, television would not be what it is today. The news would not be as we know it.

Recently, Ted has been trying to give advice to CNN. But is CNN listening to its father?

Ted says to deliver serious news, more news, quality news. In an October interview with Bloomberg, Ted said that he wants to come back to CNN so it would get rid of “fluffy” news and expand its coverage (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=afyLWnoS2WlA).

CNN should heed Ted's fatherly advice to aim higher, do better, eliminate the small talk, the chatter, the dog-without-a head stories, and to become more international.

CNN can begin to fulfill its filial obligation by running Ted’s story in the World’s Untold Stories. The international audience--as opposed to the American public that already knows Turner’s story and can get this info from his autobiography and other books--does not know the story of the man for whom CNN has been a life’s work. The international audience now takes world news as a given, as a staple courtesy of this remarkable man. But CNN’s international audience should know more about his life, his aspirations, dreams, his hopes and why he thinks that news is important.

To tell Ted’s story as a World’s Untold Story would be to tell CNN’s own biography, its story. By doing so, CNN could show its commitment to do more, to do better and to become the unquestioned leader in delivering quality journalism to a worldwide audience for generations to come.

Wind in his Hair: This story is not a World’s Untold Story. Everyone knows this story. Teddy the Bear left our camp. I don’t care for this talk about the man. He is no longer Sioux. We should forget him. There is no honor in his words. I am not afraid of him. I will ride out to his camp and shoot some arrows into this white man. If he truly has medicine, he will not be hurt. If he has no medicine, he will be dead.

Ten Bears: Mila the Intern speaks what is in my mind.  I think about this man often.  He left our land.  But make no mistake about it, Teddy the Bear was a great chief.  Our enemies know this.  For many moons we hunted buffalo and took scalps with him.  But the people do not speak of him or seek his council.  There are great changes coming from the east.   The chiefs speak of people more numerous than the stars who will come and take our lands and our way of life.  Teddy the Bear knows of this world.  We should speak with him.

Mila the Intern shows courage to speak of Teddy the Bear to the elders.  She is noble and willful like him. I think Mila the Intern will visit the fort of Teddy the Bear.  She will bring him a pipe.  They will sit and smoke a while.  Those are my thoughts.

Kicking Bird: It is not right for us to talk with Teddy the Bear. He is no longer one of our people. He is just a man with a smart horse. It will bring dishonor to a great chief like Ten Bears to parley with him.

Ten Bears: It is easy to be confused by these questions. It is hard to know what to do. I think you will go with Mila the Intern to Teddy the Bear’s camp.  You will make a present to Teddy of your best horse and bring a cameraman for a live interview.  That is all I have to say.


[Sources:  The film Dances with Wolves]