Misconfigured spambot

April 24, 2015

I’m not the first to notice or blog about a misconfigured spambot, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be amused by things like this…

{Very well|Perfectly|Well|Exceptionally well} written!|
{I will|I’ll} {right away|immediately} {take hold of|grab|clutch|grasp|seize|snatch} your {rss|rss feed} as
I {can not|can’t} {in finding|find|to find} your {email|e-mail} subscription {link|hyperlink} or {newsletter|e-newsletter} service.
Do {you have|you’ve} any?

…or this…

{Hola|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Greetings}! I’ve been {following|reading} your {site|web site|website|weblog|blog} for {a long time|a while|some time} now and finally got the {bravery|courage}
to go ahead and give you a shout out from {New Caney|Kingwood|Huffman|Porter|Houston|Dallas|Austin|Lubbock|Humble|Atascocita} {Tx|Texas}!
Just wanted to {tell you|mention|say} keep up the {fantastic|excellent|great|good} {job|work}!|
Greetings from {Idaho|Carolina|Ohio|Colorado|Florida|Los angeles|California}!

…appearing in my spam queue. Even if it were properly configured, this would still be utter gibberish.

Incidentally, I’m also a little curious why 2014 was such a banner year for blog comment spam:
Comment spam, April 2008–April 2015

Blog updates

April 23, 2015

Not that I am accusing anybody of reading this blog anymore, but I am just noting for the record that I’ve updated my theme to take advantage of some features that have been added to wordpress in the many years since I settled on this theme (which seems to have been long since discontinued). In particular, the ‘Archives’ in the sidebar are now a dropdown rather than a needlessly long list. But the other changes should be more or less transparent, despite requiring a decent amount of rejiggering behind the scenes.

David Brooks lives on another planet

April 6, 2015

Picking on David Brooks seems to be something of a cottage industry—people like Charlie Pierce and driftglass seem to have the task well in hand.

But after hearing David Brooks’s latest round of sanctimonious scolding and scoffing on NPR last week I can’t remain silent. There’s a lot to object to in what Brooks said—like suggesting that the LGBTQ community should, instead of fighting for their legal rights, take more of a hands-off approach, you know, like Abraham Lincoln dealt with slavery. But I’m really here to pick on the lowest of the low-hanging fruit (emphasis added):


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When you hear the inevitable critics of the deal sound off, ask them a simple question – do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?

CORNISH: David, is that a good starting point to come back with?

BROOKS: Well, it’s bogus (laughter). You know, those are not the options. I don’t think anybody wants a war [with Iran].

John R. Bolton:

The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program. Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure. The inconvenient truth is that only military action . . . can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.

Joshua Muravchik:

What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. . . .

[O]nly military actions — by Israel against Iraq and Syria, and through the specter of U.S. force against Libya — have halted nuclear programs. Sanctions have never stopped a nuclear drive anywhere.

Does this mean that our only option is war? Yes. . . .

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX):

I think it’s time to bomb Iran

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ):

The Israelis will need to chart their own path of resistance. On the Iranian nuclear deal, they may have to go rogue. Let’s hope their warnings have not been mere bluffs.

I suppose David Brooks may be right, and it may be true that nobody wants a war. But that would require all these people, and the many others like them, to be lying through their teeth. So maybe it’s perfectly plausible after all…

History, myth, and legend

March 6, 2015

Andrew Wheatcroft, in The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe:

Myths like [Prince Eugene of Savoy]’s are founded on reality, but memories of that reality erode and decay over time. The myths described here — the ‘Age of Heroes’, the battle for Europe and the fear of the Turk — all began with real triumphs and real fears. But over time that history has dwindled to nothing while the myths and legends have survived and flourished.

Robert Jordan, in each and every book in the Wheel of Time series:

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.

(The Wheel of Time includes an ‘Age of Legends’, rather than an ‘Age of Heroes’; but there are tales of the legendary “Horn of Valere that will summon the heroes of the Ages back from the grave to battle for the Light”.)

I’m positive that this conception of myth as accounts of historical events, where the accounts change over time is not original to either of the authors above. But it’s still interesting to see it expressed in such similar language in a work of history and a work of “epic” fantasy.

* * *

So some quick searching has revealed that, sure enough, as I assumed, plenty of others have written on the same topic. So here is something of a point/counterpoint.

Point: Thomas Bulfinch, in Bulfinch’s Mythology:

[A]n inquiry suggests itself. “Whence came these stories? Have they a foundation in truth, or are they simply dreams of the imagination?” Philosophers have suggested various theories of the subject. . .

1. The Scriptural theory; according to which all mythological legends are derived from the narratives of Scriptures, though the real facts have been disguised and altered. . . .

2. The Historical theory; according to which all the persons mentioned in mythology were once real human beings, and the legends and fabulous traditions relating to them are merely the additions and embellishments of later times. . . .

3. The Allegorical theory supposes that all the myths of the ancients were allegorical and symbolical, and contained some moral, religious, or philosophical truth or historical fact, under the form of an allegory, but came in process of time to be understood literally. . . .

4. The Physical theory; according to which the elements of air, fire, and water were originally the objects of religious adoration, and the principal deities were personifications of the powers of nature. . . .

All the theories which have been mentioned are true to a certain extent. It would therefore be more correct to say that the mythology of a nation has sprung from all these sources combined than from any one in particular.

Counterpoint: Joseph Campbell, in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

In the later stages of many mythologies, the key images hide like needles in great haystacks of secondary anecdote and rationalization; for when a civilization has passed from a mythological to a secular point of view, the older images are no longer felt or quite approved. . . .

Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives is dissolved.

I must say I mostly side with Bulfinch here, at least based on these vanishingly short excerpts. You can note that there are historical elements present in something without killing the poetry of it.

Life imitates art, cont’d

June 27, 2014

Following up on the last post—in The Distinguished Gentleman, Eddie Murphy’s con man gets elected to Congress in the first place because his name happens to be quite similar to that of the deceased incumbent. He relies on the electorate not being particularly discerning, just going with a somewhat familiar name.

Here’s a story about candidates doing various name-related things, including relying on their surnames to associate them with somebody else and even outright changing their names.

Life imitates art

June 11, 2014

…assuming an early-90s Eddie Murphy movie with a 13% Tomatometer rating qualifies as ‘art’.

Anyway. This is a Louisiana congressman explaining what he was promised for a vote:

McAllister said he voted “no” on legislation related to the Bureau of Land Management though he did not identify the bill. McAllister said a colleague on the House floor told him that he would receive a $1,200 contribution from Heritage Foundation if he voted against the bill. He would not name his colleague since he “did not want to put their business out on the street.”

“I played dumb and asked him, ‘How would you vote?’” McAllister said. “He told me, ‘Vote no and you will get a $1,200 check from the Heritage Foundation. If you vote yes, you will get a $1,000 check from some environmental impact group.’”

That answer was a surprise, McAllister said.

“I said, ‘Are you serious?’ and he told me, ‘Yeah, wait and see,’” McAllister said.

And this is an exchange in The Distinguished Gentleman, about a con man (it’s an Eddie Murphy movie, remember) who winds up in Congress and ends up being less crooked than his colleagues:

Terry Corrigan: For instance, where are you on sugar price supports?
Thomas Jefferson Johnson: Sugar price supports. Uhh… Where do you think I should be?
Corrigan: Makes no difference to me. If you’re for ’em, I got money for you from my sugar producers in Louisiana and Hawaii. If you’re against ’em, I got money for you from the candy manufacturers.
Tommy: You pick.
Corrigan: Let’s put you down as for. Now what about putting limits on malpractice awards?
Tommy: You tell me.
Corrigan: Well, if you’re for ’em, I got money from the doctors and insurance companies. If you’re against ’em, I got money from the trial lawyers. Tell you what, let’s say against.
Tommy: Terry, tell me something. With all this money coming in from both sides, how does anything ever get done?
Corrigan: It doesn’t! That’s the genius of the system!


March 19, 2014

From C. P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures: A Second Look”:

It seems to me that engaging in immediate debate on each specific point closes one’s own mind for good and all. Debating gives most of us much more psychological satisfaction than thinking does: but it deprives us of whatever chance there is of getting closer to the truth.

From Thomas Frank’s “Broken English“:

Take this business, now a sort of epidemic, of presenting everything as an “argument.” People in the land of professional commentary no longer believe things or propose things or even assert things; they argue them.

I’m familiar with this particular cliché formation because in the early 1980s, when my friends and I were high school debaters, we talked this way all the time. Arguments were what allowed us to keep score back in those days: one team argued for something, the other team argued against it, and the argument was won or lost. But high school debate was a game — a game for teenagers. The point wasn’t for an individual debater to believe any particular argument and win the room over with the radiance of his faith; it was for him to be able to argue anything. Insincerity was essential.

For the commentator class, the usage has a similar distancing effect. It’s a kind of shortcut to objectivity, and suggests that the pundit in question doesn’t actually believe something — oh heavens no — but is merely reporting that the belief might be held by someone, somewhere. So when Nina Easton appears on Fox News and says (in a sentence I have chosen for its utter averageness) that “one could argue that Barack Obama’s smartest political move was putting Hillary Clinton in his Cabinet so that she wasn’t outside with Bill Clinton causing mischief,” she isn’t actually asserting this as the truth. She’s only reporting that one might assert this, were one so inclined.

Snow states his belief — makes his assertion — in the context of an essay that is, more or less, about an earlier lecture of his that was also printed as an essay. He is deeply and primarily concerned with “getting closer to the truth”; as he puts it, his aim is to “see what modifications I should make if I were going to give the lecture again.” He admits some doubts and adds some qualifications, but on the main, after measured reflection, stands by his work, and aims “to provide not an opinion but an answer.”

Snow thought long and hard about his lecture in the first place, and continued to think long and hard about it after delivering it, and he stands behind his thinking. This can be contrasted with what Thomas Frank, in the same piece from above, goes on to lament a few paragraphs later:

Taking to the NPR airwaves in September 2012, the author Junot Díaz described a character in one of his own books like this: “What we’re left with is a character who, for the first time in his life, I would argue, is capable of being in a normal relationship.”

Here we seem to be witnessing a deliberate and extraordinary divorce of speaker from subject. After all, who knows the development and the mental state of Díaz’s character better than Díaz himself? He labored over this short-story collection for sixteen years. Surely he can indulge in a little straight talk about his own creation without carefully leaving himself a rhetorical escape hatch.

Granted, an essay or lecture that makes a case for particular policies is qualitatively a very different animal from a short story, or from an extemporaneous remark about a short story in the context of an interview. But it would have been trivially easy for Snow to litter his writing with the kinds of ‘escape hatches’ Frank bemoans.

Mountains and molehills

November 21, 2013

Sometimes in reading a book I will come across a seemingly innocuous statement that is so outright wrong, or that so clearly evinces a misunderstanding or lack of care on the author’s part, that I cannot bring myself to continue reading. This happens even (or perhaps especially) if the statement in question is at best tangentially or tenuously related to the subject of the book.

For example, I was looking forward to reading Scott Miller’s The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century, because I was curious about the turn-of-the-century Anarchist movement and the propaganda of the deed (my interest having been piqued by Joseph Conrad’s beautiful The Secret Agent; see also), as well as having an interest in the aggressive imperialist expansion the US was undertaking at the time. A book that promised to explore these issues seemed right up my alley (the author’s appearance on the Daily Show was interesting as well), and I was enjoying it thoroughly until I saw this near the end of the first chapter:

McKinley and the man who called himself Nieman lived in parallel yet vastly different worlds. Each could see that the Industrial Revolution was forever changing a nation that had long been proud of its simple, agrarian roots. Farmers were abandoning their plows for jobs in clanking, hissing factories. Steamy cities powered by desperately hopeful immigrants clawed into the countryside, and lording over it all was a new breed of American, the rapacious Wall Street tycoon.

For McKinley, these were signs of progress—a prosperous nation was a happy one—and he would do what he could to encourage America’s growing economic might. The strongest, most fit companies were allowed to gobble up the weakest until vast swaths of the economy were ruled by a handful of men who understood no economic law other than to produce as much as their straining factories could stand.

The phrase I’ve emphasized there is simply wrong. The tycoons who ran the factories didn’t follow an “economic law” of maximizing quantity of output, but of maximizing profit. The point of having a monopoly, or a combination, or a trust, or whatever, was to increase profits, which can mean a reduction in output, leading to artificial scarcity and a higher price. As this economics lecture puts it, “the monopoly produces too little output and charges too high a price compared to the efficient outcome generated by a perfectly competitive market.” As Henry Demarest Lloyd put it more memorably, writing in 1894:

The world, enriched by thousands of generations of toilers and thinkers, has reached a fertility which can give every human being a plenty undreamed of even in the Utopias. But between this plenty ripening on the boughs of our civilization and the people hungering for it step the “cornerers,” the syndicates, trusts, combinations, with the cry of “overproduction”—too much of everything. Holding back the riches of earth, sea, and sky from their fellows who famish and freeze in the dark, they declare to them that there is too much light and warmth and food. They assert the right, for their private profit, to regulate the consumption by the people of the necessaries of life, and to control production, not by the needs of humanity, but by the desires of a few for dividends. The coal syndicate thinks there is too much coal. There is too much iron, too much lumber, too much flour—for this or that syndicate.

The majority have never been able to buy enough of anything; but this minority have too much of everything to sell.

Miller doesn’t come across as sympathetic to the tycoons—he describes them as “tycoon[s]”, for one thing, and as “lording over” the rest of society. Nor does he come across as supportive of militarist expansion; he goes on a few sentences later to characterize the US as “proceed[ing] to acquire foreign territories with all the skill and grace of a hungry Labrador retriever eating dinner—at once sloppy, excited, ravenous, clumsy, and oblivious” and “lurch[ing] at the chance to snatch territory in the Caribbean and the Pacific, annex Hawaii, and begin what would become a familiar pattern of sending troops to foreign shores to ‘defend American interests.'”

To the extent that his descriptions and word choices here suggest normative political opinions about what he’s describing, I tend to agree with him. Maybe he’s trying to go out of his way to say mean things about tycoons by calling them “men who understood no economic law other than” something-something, evoking a Gordon-Gekko–like deliberate lack of concern for the human consequences of their greed. Perhaps he’s even attempting to channel the fury directed at those tycoons at the time. But in doing so he completely misunderstands or misstates the profit motive, the economic objection to monopolies, as well as a major popular objection to tycoons around the time he’s describing. In a book about the radicalization of Leon Czolgosz and McKinley’s views on his own presidency, the motivations of tycoons would seem to be a minor point. But if Miller gets that wrong, what else does he get wrong? Maybe chapters 2–34 are absolutely wonderful but I just can’t get past that sentence in chapter 1.

* * *

I couldn’t bring myself to continue Scott Miller’s book because of what’s more or less a quibble, yet I had no problem finishing a book that seemed to have a howler on every page: The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, both of whom write for The Economist. As befits men who write for that publication, they produced a book that I can best describe as “glib”, “facile”, and “rather interesting”.

I tried to like this book, but found it impossible, in large part due to the breathtaking levels of understatement and disingenuousness. This is a book that sums up Russia’s post-Soviet privatization as “far from an unqualified success”. (The Economist has referred to it as an “insiderish carve-up of the country’s assets”, described it as “the so-called ‘shares-for-loans’ scheme under which controlling stakes in Russia’s biggest and most valuable state firms were handed out to a charmed circle of bankers at knock-down prices back in 1995”, and called it “infamous” and “indefensible from almost any point of view” while oddly and incongruously saying “it worked”, having also noted that it “had left most Russians so miserably poor, but made the country’s tycoons so rich”; The Guardian has said it “usher[ed] in the most cataclysmic peacetime economic collapse of an industrial country in history.”)

This is a book where, in a chapter on multinational corporations and how they’re tragically misunderstood, the closest the authors come to acknowledging companies like United Fruit and all the shit they pulled is by saying: “In the Depression-racked 1930s, a miserable time for multinationals of all sorts, the Americans found their fastest growth in Latin America.”

This is a book that argues that “[m]odern debates about shareholder capitalism often obscure the fact that many of the best Anglo-Saxon companies have happily shouldered social obligations without much prompting from government”. Even ignoring all the weasel words in that quote, it’s extremely disingenuous to suggest or imply that there are only two ways to get companies to change their behavior: corporate beneficence or government prompting. This false dichotomy is especially ridiculous when one of the cited examples is Procter & Gamble instituting 8-hour days in 1918—while it’s true P&G’s decision came well in advance of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the company only “happily shouldered” a shorter workday after decades of non-corporate and non-governmental action and agitation demanding 8-hour days (and after some other industries already had federal 8-hour laws in place, natch).

This is a book, published in 2003, that argues that in the aftermath of Enron and WorldCom, “the ‘bad apples’ school had been proved right in one respect: the market began to correct itself”, so any additional regulation would probably be counterproductive and unnecessary.

My complaint about Scott Miller’s book is a mere niggle in comparison to all that, yet I had no problem finishing The Company. Perhaps that was because, again befitting their tenure writing for The Economist, Micklethwait and Wooldridge proudly and openly wear their biases on their sleeve. It’s not a minor quibble I have with them, but a deeper and more substantive disagreement.

* * *

What prompted this post is the book I recently picked up, having for a while looked forward to enjoying it: Edward Dolnick’s The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society & the Birth of the Modern World. I’m interested in the history of science, and Newton was by all accounts a hell of a character.

The preface to the book opens by mentioning “the late 1600s” and goes on to describe the lack of hygiene in Europe around that time. On page xvi, shortly after Dolnick mentions particular occurrences in 1599 and 1715, he includes this in a footnote: “The historian Jules Michelet described the Middle Ages as ‘a thousand years without a bath.'” I found that footnote a bit perplexing for a couple of reasons.

First, I just finished reading Life in a Medieval City by Joseph and Frances Gies, which mentions the public baths in mid-13th-century Troyes and describes how, even if the masses bathed infrequently, in burghers’ homes “[p]erhaps once a week a wooden tub for bathing is set up, and servants lug up buckets that have been heated over the kitchen fire.” So the footnote’s description of the middle ages seems wrong. There’s an endnote corresponding to the footnote, in fact, where Dolnick cites Katherine Ashenburg’s The Dirt on Clean, stating: “Ashenburg notes that Michelet exaggerated. She puts the correct figure at four centuries.” I tracked down Ashenburg’s book, and it turns out she quotes Michelet as part of a discussion of “the medieval interlude of cleanliness”:

When the Crusaders returned from the East, they brought with them the news of Turkish baths, and for a few centuries medieval people enjoyed warm water, communal baths and plentiful opportunities for sexual hijinks. Although ecclesiastical disapproval and the threat of syphilis cast a shadow over the bathhouses, it was the devastating plagues of the fourteenth century that closed their doors in most of Europe. The French historian Jules Michelet called the years that followed “a thousand years without a bath”—in fact, four hundred years without a bath would be more accurate.

So the author Dolnick cites in the endnote to the footnote agrees with what I read in the Gieses’ book about the existence and use of public baths in the medieval period. If you’re going to include an endnote that contradicts or at least heavily qualifies the footnote it refers to, why not put the qualification in the footnote itself?[1]

Second, what’s the relevance of the quote in the footnote in the first place? The late 1600s aren’t the “Middle Ages”, after all. Even allowing for some flexibility and overlap in definitions, and acknowledging that there aren’t bright lines demarcating historical eras, the middle ages ended well before the 17th century. Wikipedia says (lol) the middle ages “lasted . . . to the 15th century”; if you want to find an entry in Wikipedia’s list of “Periods of the history of Europe” that includes the late 1600s, you need to go past “Renaissance” (and the ASCII-art breasts someone recently inserted in one of the section headings in “English Renaissance“) and settle on “Early modern Europe“, which Wikipedia defines as having begun “in the late 15th century or early 16th century”, much earlier than the time period the book addresses.

OK, OK, maybe I’m focusing too much on that footnote—let’s assume Dolnick is well aware that the late 17th century isn’t the middle ages, and just included the footnote as a way to work in a quote that he really liked. Can’t fault the man for that; I’ve been known to do it myself. So I read on and find this, starting on the next page:

Nature’s laws were vast in range but few in number; God’s operating manual filled only a line or two. . . . God was a mathematician, seventeenth-century scientists firmly believed. He had written His laws in a mathematical code. Their task was to find the key.

My focus is largely on the climax of the story, especially Newton’s unveiling, in 1687, of his theory of gravitation. But Newton’s astonishing achievement built on the work of such titans as Descartes, Galileo, and Kepler, who themselves had deciphered paragraphs and even whole pages of God’s cosmic code.

So Descartes, Galileo, and Kepler deciphered whole pages of an operating manual only a line or two long? Ugh. What if I press on?

Chapter 1 is entitled “London, 1660.” The second-to-last paragraph begins as follows:

In temperament Newton had little enough in common with the other men of the Royal Society. But all the early scientists shared a mental landscape. They all lived precariously between two worlds, the medieval one they had grown up in and a new one they had only glimpsed.

There’s that “medieval” again, now being applied to the childhoods of people who were doing science in the second half of the 17th century. Is Dolnick being metaphorical in its use, saying that they were born into a more superstitious period than the one they helped define? Or is he really defining the middle ages as extending into the 1600s?

Maybe chapters 2–52 are absolutely wonderful but I just can’t get past those remarks in the preface and chapter 1.

* * *

[1] As for my own footnote/endnote . . . I am taking no position regarding the accuracy of Ashenburg’s apparent statement that Michelet was describing “the years that followed” “the devastating plagues of the fourteenth century”, as opposed to including any earlier period within his “thousand years”. Gutenberg appears to have a different translation of Michelet’s work; the thousand-year remark is rendered there (itself in a footnote, of course) as follows:

Leprosy has been traced to Asia and the Crusades; but Europe had it in herself. The war declared by the Middle Ages against the flesh and all cleanliness bore its fruits. More than one saint boasted of having never washed even his hands. And how much did the rest wash? To have stripped for a moment would have been sinful. The worldlings carefully follow the teaching of the monks. This subtle and refined society, which sacrificed marriage and seemed inspired only with the poetry of adultery, preserved a strange scruple on a point so harmless. It dreaded all cleansing, as so much defilement. There was no bathing for a thousand years!

For what it’s worth, this rendition seems much more likely to be intentionally hyperbolic or exaggerated.

Temporal distance

April 25, 2013

Some possibly counterintuitive examples of temporal distance. The first two have been making the rounds on the Internet for quite some time on “mind-blowing facts!” lists, while the third occurred to me recently.

строителство на къщи

Grate expectations

April 20, 2013

One of the books we read[1] in my senior-year AP English class was Dickens’s Great Expectations. Often when a new book was assigned in an English class, the teacher would distribute dozens of copies of the same edition; this time we each took a book from a mongrel heap overflowing with different publishers, imprints, and formats. I grabbed a copy without looking very closely.

Because of the variety of different versions of this book in the class, the teacher assigned chapters rather than page ranges, and she directed class discussion towards plot and theme rather than turns of phrase or uses of language. The first few reading assignments were a breeze. But then one day she wanted us to read a particular passage together, taking the time for us to each find the paragraph beginning with such-and-such a few pages from the end of chapter so-and-so, and it was at this point that things got weird. I found the paragraph all right, but the text that was being read aloud by a volunteer was much wordier and more verbose than the one I was trying to follow along with.

It transpired that an abridged version had somehow snuck into the school’s supply of Great Expectationses, and by the luck of the draw had ended up in my backpack. The class had a good laugh at this (I found it just as funny as anyone), while the teacher turned beet-red. She apologized profusely, though just for what I’m not quite sure and she never quite said—misrepresenting Dickens by providing me with an ersatz text might well have been a graver sin in her eyes than disrupting her own class or causing potential embarrassment.[2] She gave me another copy, after making absolutely sure that it was the whole book, and told me that it was mine and that she wanted me to keep it.

After class that day, at least three people asked me whether I still had the abridged copy and would I be willing to part with it.

* * *

[1] By “read”, of course, I mean “were supposed to read”.

[2] Come to think of it, for all I know she was apologizing to Dickens at the time, and I just happened to be nearby.

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