News Quiz

To Sir, With Love

No. 127: “To Sir, With Love” By Randy Cohen

Who said this about what? “I’m at your mercy. Please don’t torture me any longer, sir.” by noon ET Wednesday to e-mail your answer (

Responses to Monday’s question (No. 126)–“Dead Reckoning”:
The numbers are 508 and 9. What’s their significance?
“They rule!”–Tim Rogers“The ages of Strom Thurmond’s children.”–Larry Amaros“The standard ratio of twinkly close-ups to wistful close-ups in any given Robin Williams movie.”– Jennifer Miller“(Farrakhan voice: ON) Well, 508, you take that, you add it up–5 and 8. You get 13, which is the number of the apostle who betrayed Christ. And his name? Judas. And you can’t have Judas without ‘Jew.’ And nine? Well, what is the ninth letter of the alphabet? It’s I, of course, which is short for Israel, and Israel means what? Bloodsucking Jews, that’s what … (Farrakhan voice: OFF)”–Tim Carvell“Easy. Each of these numbers is divisible by … I don’t know, some other number.”–Jim O’Grady Click here for more responses. Randy’s Wrap-Up
Keeping detailed numerical records is thought to demonstrate an intense feeling for baseball and a lack of feeling for your sexual partner; an inappropriate precision in matters of the heart displays a want of affection. (Of course, if your sexual partner is a professional ballplayer, the pressure must be unendurable. Record precise box scores? Rely on richly detailed narrative accounts?) That a mathematical model can provide the comforting illusion of control is demonstrated daily on the financial pages of any newspaper or on any of the dozens of All Wall Street cable channels. Counting and calculating provide stock brokers and the more clinically disturbed a means of self-control, or at least a retreat from the self that refuses to be controlled. Irresistible counting is a familiar obsessive-compulsive behavior. Once when Dr. Johnson was suffering from intense emotional distress, his friend Mrs. Thrale discovered him performing an elaborate computation to determine how broad a band it would make if the national debt were converted to silver and wrapped around the Earth. Eventually, he felt better. And sometimes, as in death statistics, there is modesty and sadness in uninflected numbers; their quiet precision articulates what ambiguous language cannot.
Grim Backlog Answer
There are 508 men and nine women on California’s death row, more than in any other state. For years, Gov. Jerry Brown and his appointee, state Supreme Court Justice Rose Bird, resisted death penalty advocates. Each is now out of power. Both California senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, say hang ‘em high, or at any rate, lethally inject them. And they’re the liberals.
Death’s waiting list results from the lack of experienced death penalty lawyers to represent the condemned in the appellate process. The median time between conviction and execution is 14 years; about 180 of these prisoners have no lawyers to begin their appeals. To hasten the slaughter, the state legislature is now recruiting and training lawyers. The pace of execution should soon be quite brisk.
Interview With the Pope to Promote His New Encyclical Extra
(Pope John Paul II’s remarks, excerpted from his 13th encyclical, “Fides & Ratio,” are authentic but grotesquely out of context. “News Quiz” questions inserted later for comical interview effect.)
News Quiz: Eminenza, why do so many people stumble through life to the very edge of the abyss without knowing where they are going?
Pope John Paul II: The ephemeral is affirmed as a value, and the possibility of discovering the real meaning of life is cast into doubt. This is why so many people stumble through life to the very edge of the abyss without knowing where they are going.
NQ: I won’t name names, but what about those whose vocation it is to give cultural expression to their thinking?
PJP: Those whose vocation it is to give cultural expression to their thinking no longer look to truth, preferring quick successes to the toil of patient inquiry into what makes life worth living.
NQ: Lazy bastards. You mean like Fox TV?
PJP: It is undeniable.
NQ: Couldn’t we leave all this to some bioengineered, superintelligent philosopher-monkeys?
PJP: It is the nature of the human being to seek the truth.
NQ: Yeah, but we can only attain it by way of reason. It’s not like we could leave it to some kind of truth expert who’d give us a guarantee.
PJP: Such a truth–vital and necessary as it is to life–is attained not only by way of reason but also through trusting acquiescence to other persons who can guarantee the authenticity and certainty of the truth itself.
NQ: Wow, a truth guarantee! A lot less work, letting someone else do the thinking. It’s like, I don’t fix my own sink; I hire a plumber.
PJP: There is no doubt that the capacity to entrust oneself and one’s life to another person and the decision to do so are among the most significant and expressive human acts.
NQ: Dare to grovel! Hey, let me throw something at you out of left field–the new Shania Twain, Come on Over?
PJP: As a philosophy of nothingness, it has a certain attraction for people of our time.
NQ: Yeah, sure, right. Hey, could I have one of those Fides & Ratio tour jackets? I bet they’re catnip to the ladies.
PJP: It is undeniable.
(The entire News Quiz interview with the Pope can be seen on MTV’s Philosophers Rock and Help Sell the Products of Our Fine Sponsors .) Save the Virtual Children Extra
Participants are still encouraged to nominate an actual Web site that meets Congress’ new forbidden criterion “harmful to minors,” along with a brief yet harrowing description of the horrors it might loose on the impressionable young. Highlights will run at week’s end.
Pump-priming example:

  • (Republican National Committee)–Ruthlessly promotes bloated defense expenditures as an alternative to education spending. Site includes the Net’s least persuasive use of the phrase “fun and free stuff.”

Edward Furey points out that the C-130 cargo plane is built in Newt Gingrich’s district. News Quiz regrets both yesterday’s error and the sad state of affairs that underpins the correct information.

Randy Cohen writes News Quiz for Slate.

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