Saturday, 05 April 2008

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More Unfortunate Phrasing, Only Now Concerning Homeopathy (Or Something) In the comments to yesterday's post, I mentioned that while the phrase obviously had great currency, its meaning is elusive. I should've spoken more forcefully, as further research convinces me I have absolutely no idea what that phrase means. Consider this passage from W.H. Burgess's Chronic Disease (1907): A doctor in Maine writes: "I read your book with profound interest, not thinking of 'a nigger in the woodpile' until I came to your drug list. But he looks like a good nigger, so here goes my check for the first order. And if what you sell accords with what you say other orders will follow." Another doctor writes: " I have used your tablets for two years and do not see how I ever practiced without them," and incloses a $15 order. A great many have written: "I cannot practice without your drugs." Old men retired from practice, who had taken drugs for their infirmities until drugging lost its effect, finding relief and a new lease on life and health from the use of the congenials, have written long letters that bring the tears to our eyes. One suffering with spinal disease, caused by nerve tension, wrote that he must die, but his work was not done. Bichromate of potash and veratrum relaxed the tension, and Epsom water application to the spine every night neutralized the toxins that made the tension, kept down every vestige of inflammation and gave ease and sleep and cured the spinal trouble and set him on his feet again with the power to finish his work. It was our tablets Nos. 3 and 5 which did the work. The doctor said it was a good nigger in our woodpile. He is right; there is no other nigger like ours. Our nigger tries to be as white as he can, and if he was somewhere else you could not tell that he is one. He is not obliged to hide in the woodpile, like the niggers of the great manufacturing concerns, neither is he afraid of the officers like the coons in the medical trust; he never stole a chicken in his life and fears no one. It was necessary for him to take charge of the woodpile, we have use for him there, and what pleases us so much is that he feels his importance and will not associate with other niggers or the "common white folks," but will run to meet a doctor any time and calls him " Boss." [...] If it were not for our little nigger, our work must be left to the mercy of the character that has no mercy. If we allow our calcium to be deprived of the sharp alkaline sting on the tongue, and everything soluble to be leached from our chalk, and to have our sudorifics and stimulants totally destroyed by incorporated anodynes, then our work is a failure, and we might have been the servant of theory as well as truth, and the obligations we...
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What Does Being "More Pessimistic" Actually Entail? The concept of "pessimism" as a quantity seems utterly foreign to me. I've spent the early afternoon charting the events responsible for the growth of Mark Twain's pessimism. The resemblance to Kurt Vonnegut's diagram of The Metamorphosis is uncanny: Transpose those plot points into the real world and you get a sense of why Twain became increasingly pessimistic during the 1890s. Not that I know what that means anymore, mind you, because I can't currently wrap my head around pessimism as a quantifiable concept. Like when you repeatedly write your name until it no longer belongs to you then scribble it a couple hundred times more until the very concept of naming ceases to be meaningful. I doubt my befuddlement will abate anytime soon. You could say I'm pessimistic. How pessimistic am I? I am 23 pessimistic. I began this post 96 pessimistic. (In pessimism as in golf, a lower score is better.) Although I'm better pessimistic now than when I began writing, forecasters say my inability to account for the 74 point shift will likely cause a 16 point pessimistic swing. Would that it were so easy. Instead, I'm forced to determine whether Twain's more pessimistic after his business fails or his eldest daughter dies. Or after his youngest daughter develops epilepsy or his wife slips into permanent invalidism. Does his pessimism simply accumulate over time or does it fluctuate? Does his bankruptcy create a baseline of 54 pessimistic or does it temporarily knock him to 54 then allow him to recover? Does a minor tragedy at 51 pessimistic feel like a major one at 54? Is pessimism exponential? I'm not sure. I don't even know if pessimism is a limited resource. Does my being 18 pessimistic mean someone else must compensate for the other 14 dour points I should be feeling?

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