Mr. Punch

by Henry Farrell on March 9, 2006

“Pamela” of _Atlas Shrugs_ has a very funny and over the top encomium to Charles Johnson at the “Blogometer”: today.

bq. Who is your favorite political blogger? Favorite non-political blogger?

bq. Little Green Footballs. Hands down. When the history books are written, Charles Johnson will surely go down as a great American that made a critical difference between victory and defeat. His role has been largely ignored but so what? Most of the greats are ignored in their time. Van Gogh was ignored in his time too, although I don’t think Charles can draw… but you get my meaning. The media wants Charles and the blogs for that matter to just go away. But just the opposite is happening, the blogs are dictating the national dialog. What’s on the blogs today, is in the news 3,4 sometimes a week later.

Now, while you could certainly draw an interesting comparison between Charles Johnson and Vincent van Gogh, it wouldn’t be in terms of Johnson’s unrecognized genius. More generally, Pamela’s claim reminds me of this passage on palmistry from John Sladek’s 1974 book, _The New Apocrypha_.

bq. Palmists are of course in no doubt as to who was right. As with all cranks, they feel they haven’t been given a fair hearing and that orthodoxy is ganging up on them. [quoting palmistry author Noel Jaquin] “The reward of the pioneer is so often the ridicule of his fellow-men. We are not very much more just today. Of recent years men of genius have been deprived of their living and literally hounded to death by the ridicule of their more ignorant brethren.” How true, how true. They laughed at Galileo, they laughed at Darwin, they laughed at Edison … and they laughed at Punch and Judy.



John Quiggin 03.09.06 at 8:12 pm

Sladek is great. I particularly liked the hollow earth theory.


Belle Waring 03.09.06 at 10:44 pm

is she joking? I’m confused. JQ–wait, you mean the earth isn’t hollow?


Seth Finkelstein 03.10.06 at 12:10 am

More commonly seen version:

“They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.” – Carl Sagan


John Quiggin 03.10.06 at 12:42 am

It’s only a theory&trade, Belle!


Nabakov 03.10.06 at 12:45 am

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Sladek novella,”The Communicants”. Even though it’s 37 years old it’s still a wicked take on modern mores and desk life. Chucky and Pam would be right at home in its surrealistic paranioa.


Nabakov 03.10.06 at 12:51 am

Bugger me, I was more on target than I ever imagined. Just inspected that blogometer interview and found this quote.

“I chose my social outings carefully, mostly War on Radical Islam will get my attention.”

It really does seem these days that the world is being storylined by Philip K Dick with dialogue by John Sladek.


Wile E. Coyote (Super Genius) 03.10.06 at 1:35 am

Ah, yes the hero’s journey. I too am misunderestimated an misunappreciated in my own time. But you’ll see… at four o’clock I’m going to make everyone two feet tall. Genius. Pure Genius… they laughed at Jack Ruby too…


Daniel 03.10.06 at 3:02 am

Charles Johnson will surely go down as a great American that made a critical difference between victory and defeat

I see where she’s coming from but I don’t think it’s quite as hopeless as that.


Backword Dave 03.10.06 at 4:30 am

Why does she want America to lose? I don’t get it.


Brendan 03.10.06 at 4:48 am

Has anyone actually heard any of Johnson’s crappy very very good jazz funk epics?

How bad great are they, on a scale of 1 to 11?


ajay 03.10.06 at 5:20 am

“Charles Johnson will surely go down as a great American that made a critical difference between victory and defeat

I see where she’s coming from but I don’t think it’s quite as hopeless as that.”

(snigger) Reminds me for the incident in “A Bright Shining Lie” (quoted from memory):

STAFFER: Now, look here, Mr Vann, I’ve heard all your predictions about how the war in Vietnam is failing, but I have a Congressional report here that absolutely states that this fighting will be over within the next six months. What do you say to that?
VANN: Six months? Oh, no, I’m sure we can hold out longer than that.


Backword Dave 03.10.06 at 6:03 am

Never having actually read much of LGF, I found that I’d bought into the myth that Johnson writes some vaguely right-wing stuff, and the commenters go it like piranhas. But actually, he attracts these nuts for a reason. The best analysis of his bile is by Denis the Peasant. For instance, this is masterly.


Gray 03.10.06 at 6:13 am

“Van Gogh was ignored in his time too, although I don’t think Charles can draw… but you get my meaning.”

No! This is a huge understatement! Theo van Gogh had to get killed so that a significant number of people recognized his name. Johnson only needed the pajama media fiasco to achieve the same level of publicity!


Nabakov 03.10.06 at 7:01 am

“Has anyone actually heard any of Johnson’s crappy very very good jazz funk epics?”

Well, I gather he’s no George Benson.

Actually I imagine something like a John McLaughlin with far less flair and skill but in the service of an even more belief system-addled mind.

Or Jeff Beck without the talent and cosmopolitain saviour-faire.


Tim Worstall 03.10.06 at 7:54 am

Didn’t Chas play for Al Jareau? Doesn’t make him the finest guitarist in the world, I know, but must be at least competent. And Dennis (nn!) is indeed excellent on LGF.


Daniel 03.10.06 at 8:15 am

I am pretty sure he was on “School Days” by Stanley Clarke which was a decent album, albeit that I don’t really remember much about the guitar playing on it.


Backword Dave 03.10.06 at 8:26 am

Nn, my bad, Tim. You peddant.


Adam Kotsko 03.10.06 at 8:50 am

How can he simultaneously have made “a critical difference between victory and defeat” and “been largely ignored”? Do the troops just have this vague feeling that somewhere out there, some brave patriot is doing a really kick-ass blog?


Barry 03.10.06 at 8:54 am

Adam, it’s like the liberal media leading us to defeat. It’s so spiritually powerful that the GOP ownership of all three branches (and most of the media) can’t stand against it. Not even George’s faith (sorry, Faith) can withstand it.

It’s stronger than God.


Down and Out in Saigon 03.10.06 at 9:05 am

How often, or do you ever, read a newspaper in its dead-tree (i.e. print) form?

I dig the Sun, I can not lie…

Is Mrs. Shrugs talking about the “Page 3 girls” Sun published in the U.K.? A odd choice for print media, methinks.


Kieran Healy 03.10.06 at 9:29 am

NY Sun I’d say.


thepoetryman 03.10.06 at 9:52 am

Please, Charles, snatch me from the jaws of victory before it’s too late! Where’s the Beauty of Iraq


MFA 03.10.06 at 10:02 am

Y’know, I’m not sure he’s in Van Gogh’s league just yet; but if he’ll cut off his ear and kill himself, I’d begin to admire him more.


tbogg 03.10.06 at 10:03 am

“Charles Johnson will surely go down as a great American that made a critical difference between victory and defeat

Well, if anyone is an expert on ‘going down’ it’s Pajamaline Partygirl Pamela.


andy 03.10.06 at 10:35 am

Charles Johnson is more like Thomas Kinkade, a Sphincter of Light©


P O'Neill 03.10.06 at 10:55 am

As good a time as any to recall James Wolcott’s classic analysis of Pamela’s meeting with the Professor.


novakant 03.10.06 at 12:06 pm


we should make that “encomium”


nate-dogg 03.10.06 at 12:36 pm

My theory is that all of Chaz’s bike riding has given him erectile dysfunction. Seems to fit with the observable facts.

Busting on Muslims gives him that manly feeling again. Almost as good as the old days when… well, best not to dwell too deeply on it.

The thing that strikes me about him and Pamela is that they’re so gosh darn dumb. Maybe it’s rude to point that out, but whenever Chaz does something more than link to an article with a snide dig at Muslims, he displays an astounding lack of understanding and insight. With Pamela of course, it’s on display every single blog entry, along with a definite lack of facility with the English language.

They probably both come off better in the original German, as the saying goes.


Peter 03.10.06 at 1:02 pm

Henry — Can you point me to a scientific study which investigated, and found no evidence for, the claims of palmists?


Randy Paul 03.10.06 at 8:26 pm

Van Gogh cut off his ear to prove his love. If we’re lucky, Johnson only has to cut off his electricity and become Amish to prove his love for humanity.


Ray Davis 03.11.06 at 1:33 am

I get to quote my favorite Woody Allen joke twice in one year. This is a fine year.

Good spy: “You’re crazy!”

Villain planning to destroy the world: “They said Einstein was crazy too!”

GS: “No one said Einstein was crazy.”

VPTDTW: “They would’ve if he’d acted like this.”


Henry 03.11.06 at 11:35 am

novakant – thanks!

peter – am not sure whether palmistry even reaches that minimal level of perhaps-plausible sounding bogusness that would merit scientific investigation.


Peter 03.11.06 at 1:55 pm

Henry —

Well, without any demonstrated evidence against palmistry, I don’t think it behooves one to ridicule it. Certainly, a scientific attitude would, at the least, keep an open mind on the matter until evidence against it is found. To do otherwise, in the absence of any supporting evidence for a dismissal, strikes me as both irrational and unscientific.


Backword Dave 03.11.06 at 3:32 pm

Peter, your ‘defence’ of palmistry sounds very like Paul Feyerabend’s tongue-in-cheek ‘defence’ of astrology. (That is, one thing Feyerabend showed is that the dismissal of astrology is not “scientific” in the sense that science was invented along with the Enlightenment. St Augustine showed it was bogus (by argument from time twins, which since entered the lore of more inventive astrologers) but without recourse to actual experiment.

However, I think that it’s possible to divide astrologers into two types. There is possibly an art of astrology as was practiced centruries ago with the birth charts of kings. There is another form which is retricted to twelve one-paragraph predictions, each for one-twelfth of the population, daily. Does one really need experiment to know that this is bogus? The predictions are so vaguely worded as to be untestable.

AFAIK, there has never been a ‘serious’ category of palmists. It’s always been a fairground sideshow kind of thing. In a Terry Pratchett book (I forget which) there’s a line like “If you’re the Great Mystero of Klatch, why are you performing card tricks in Slice, population seven?”

I posted earlier this evening on a Tim Worstall thread on the death penalty. I think it’s worthwhile for scientists and statisticians to be involved in public policy debates. Claims about the deterrent effect of judicial measures can be tested, and it’s public money well spent in doing so. Using a university budget investigating an obvious charlatan is fatuous. In short, I think you’re (probably not intentionally) misrepresenting what science is. It depends on what you call demonstrated evidence against. I can’t think of any studies actually debunking palmistry, true, but I do know that there have been studies debunking horses which can count, telepathy, spoon bending and so forth. There is also the James Randi $1M Challenge. There also isn’t any demonstrated evidence for palmistry, is there?


Peter 03.12.06 at 10:17 am

Backword Dave —

I wasn’t defending (or even ‘defending’) palmistry. I was defending scientific method, which requires of us that we only support claims for which we have objective evidence.


des von bladet 03.13.06 at 8:21 am

The thing about “scientific method” (in the Popperian/Phillett-of-Sci sense) is that it has approximately nothing to do with anything scientistes do, or what scientistes believe, or how they come to believe it. (Which was of course Feyerabend’s point.)

And I speak with all my authority as an occasional scientist and permanent science fan on this question.

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