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Bruce Springsteen (1) vs. Veronica Geng; Monty Python advances

Yesterday’s contest wasn’t particularly close, as it pitted a boring guy who got lucky with one famous book, vs. some very entertaining wits. I saw Life of Brian when it came out, and I think I laughed harder at that spaceship scene than any other time in my life. In any case, Ethan brings it home with the comment, “I want to hear Monty Python riff on pystan,” and Dzhaughn seals it with, “How many at Hormel owe their terrible disgusting jobs to this comedy troupe? Canned meat was dead in the water. Literally. But now “Spam” is on everyone’s lips. . . .” And this, from Tom: “There is the opportunity here for a seminar ending with a hall full of people singing ‘Always look on the bright side . . .’ It is that or listen to someone whose name ends in F.” f, actually, as we’re not shouting here. Whatever.

Today we conclude the first half of the draw with the top seeded person from New Jersey, against another person from our Wits category. Unseeded or not, Veronica Geng was very witty. The Boss would pull in the crowds, but maybe Geng works better for a university audience. What do you all think?

Again, the full bracket is here, and here are the rules:

We’re trying to pick the ultimate seminar speaker. I’m not asking for the most popular speaker, or the most relevant, or the best speaker, or the deepest, or even the coolest, but rather some combination of the above.

I’ll decide each day’s winner not based on a popular vote but based on the strength and amusingness of the arguments given by advocates on both sides. So give it your best!


  1. Anonymous says:

    I recently watched a 2016 documentary about Bruce Springsteen called “In his own words”. I was entertained, impressed, and inspired by it.

    It features some early pictures and videos of Bruce Springsteen, which is fun to view. And it let’s him speak a lot about several things, including his youth/upbringing, and about his difficult relationship with his father (if i understood things correctly).

    I found that interesting to hear, and i often enjoy reading or hearing about people trying to find their “own way/path” in life. Perhaps even more when they become “successful” doing that.

    I think i therefore would *not* want to listen to Bruce Springsteen talk. I reason it would probably only take away from the feeling, and inspiration, i got from watching the documentary. I therefore nominate Veronica Geng.

    Here’s Bruce Springsteen performing “Dead man walking”, which includes the following lyrics which i find beautiful:

    “Now the clouds above my prison
    Move slowly across the sky
    There’s a new day comin’
    And my dreams are full tonight”

  2. Dzhaughn says:

    In the way that many search their memories for significant aromas when they read Proust, re-reading Geng led me to recollect my youth in Speech Club, of weekends of interpretive readings and arguments about Mr. Reagan.

    On the other hand,

    All this seemed much more innocent in those days.

  3. DanC says:

    Veronica Geng. Springsteen has been in the public eye for decades. He’s plenty visible and I doubt we’d get anything surprising from him.

    Geng died before I knew about her, but reading her has been a joy. Would love to have been able to see her in person.

  4. Thomas B says:

    After several annual iterations of these ‘playoffs’ I can’t be alone in finding them really boring, trivial and unfunny.

    • Jonathan (another one) says:

      Then you should be careful not to have them on your blog.

    • Andrew says:


      We have done exactly two of these competitions. We did it in 2015 and we’re doing it again now. So it’s not several, and it’s not annual. But maybe we’ll do it again next year, because lots of people do enjoy it. Think for a moment about the payoff structure here: if some people like a topic and some people find it boring, it can still be a plus to include it. The people who like it can read these posts; the people who find it boring can easily just skip them.

  5. Ethan Bolker says:

    Columbia should invite the home heroine New Yorker, not the guy from Jersey.

  6. J Storrs Hall says:

    From Stack Exchange:

    Sometimes it is very convenient to use stringstream to convert between strings and other numerical types. The usage of stringstream is similar to the usage of iostream, so it is not a burden to learn.

    Stringstreams can be used to both read strings and write data into strings. It mainly functions with a string buffer, but without a real I/O channel.

    Here is an example of how to use string streams.

    ostringstream os;
    os << "dec: " << 15 << " hex: " << std::hex << 15 << endl;
    cout << os.str() << endl;

    The result is dec: 15 hex: f.

    To summarize, stringstream is a convenient way to manipulate strings like an independent I/O device.

    … so there's that.

  7. zbicyclist says:

    “Ben Yagoda in About Town: The New Yorker and the World it Made called many of her [Geng’s] later writings “subtle to the point of unintelligibility.””

    This would seem to make her an ideal academic seminar speaker.

    (from Wikipedia)

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