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The round of 8 begins: Mark Twain (4) vs. Miguel de Cervantes (2); Carlin advances

For yesterday‘s contest I really really really wanted to pick John Waters. For one thing, of all the 64 people in the bracket, he’s the one I think I’d like to hear the most. For another, he’s still alive and just might conceivably be amused enough by this whole contest to come up from Baltimore and give a talk. Which would just be amazing.

But . . . the rules are the rules. And there was only one relevant comment in the thread, from Z:

Andrew and Carlin could debate whether it’s rational to vote. George Carlin makes some arguments that it’s not (, while we all know that Andrew thinks it is (

Not the most persuasive argument but it’s what we have.

And today the round of 8 begins with a face-off between the two greatest comic novelists of all time! (I’m partial to Peter De Vries, but he’s clearly a minor figure compared to these two.) Who’s it gonna be? Huck Finn or Don Quixote?


  1. Jonathan (another one) says:

    DeVries is great, and I’d add Laurence Sterne. Wodehouse, I guess, is in a different category.

    But now to the matter at hand…..

    Doesn’t the popularizer of the most misleading quote ever about statistics have to get eliminated? Now it’s true that in context the quote is charming, preceded by “Figures often beguile me. particularly when I have the arranging of them myself.” But within this charm lies an abject confession unworthy of your seminar. It reminds me of the quote from Bill James: “Sportswriters, in my opinion, almost never use baseball statistics to try to understand baseball. They use statistics to decorate their articles. They use statistics as a club in the battle for what they believe intuitively to be correct. That is why sportswriters often believe that you can prove anything with statistics, an obscene and ludicrous position, but one which is the natural outgrowth of the way that they themselves use statistics. What I wanted to do was teach people instead to use statistics as a sword to cut toward the truth.” Obscene and ludicrous — that’s what letting Twain perform would be.

    The only good thing about Twain would be the Huckleberry Finn protesters outside the hall.

  2. Ethan Bolker says:

    This Twain quote from “Life on the Mississippi” needs to come into play some time in this tournament. If the quote is too long, just go with the last two sentences as a teaser for the seminar.

    In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

    • zbicyclist says:

      Yes, even years after death, Twain’s critique of statistical extrapolation continues to work as a caution. That alone is reason to hear what he might say about the era of Big Data.


      But I owe a great debt to Twain. At the Christmas gift exchange in second grade (maybe third) I received … a book! Imagine my disappointment at receiving not some cheap toy, but a gigantic volume called Tom Sawyer.

      It was a week until Christmas, with nothing going on. I started reading the book, and was hooked. Tom Sawyer was the first real book I ever read — the first time I realized that reading long books could be a joy. I read it to each daughter for bedtime stories when they were in third grade (to my younger daughter when my older daughter was reading the book for junior high English).

      My daughter and I arranged a bike trip from St. Charles Mo to Chicago by way of Hannibal, to visit Mark Twain Cave and the other memorabilia. My wife and I enjoyed Hal Holbrook in “Mark Twain Tonight” a couple of years ago when it played here. I read Twain’s “Following the Equator” on a Blackberry screen. I am not objective.

      Almost forgot we spent a day in Hannibal on our honeymoon. (My wife hasn’t forgotten.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    If Quixote comes by you would need a really good translator that knows how to speak Spanish from 500 years ago. That means less cookies for everybody at the seminar.

  4. David Blankley says:

    Twain would be a no show. He’d be too concerned about the fallout from his autobiography whose publication he wanted delayed for 100 years since he “named names”.

    Assuming Hobbes advances, a Cervantes win would setup a final four that pits giants of the 16th century vs. greats of the 20th.
    Hobbes Cervantes would also be interesting as it represents the inflection point away from Spanish dominance to English.

  5. brianG says:

    twain has a humor prize named after him. said prize was won by carlin a few years ago. that would make for a great final match up in this little contest…

  6. Anonymous says:

    Cervantes was foundational and still relevant. That’s a long time to be a candidate for best comic of all time.

  7. Manuel says:

    I would love to have the opportunity to ask Cervantes if he believes Bruno Frey suffers PMS (Pierre Menard Syndrome)

  8. Conor says:

    Too bad that Waters is out, he’s a great guy. I saw him at a bar called Dear Mom a few years ago. I finally got the courage to approach him, and I said “sorry, are you John Waters?” He smiles and replies with “I’ll give you three guesses.” Then he took a picture with me and bought me a drink. Class act. Honestly, he’d probably get a kick out of being invited to a seminar, you should definitely try to make that happen.

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