obit for Martin Gardner (thought RAW hated him)

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RMJon23

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Sep 7, 2010, 4:00:09 AM9/7/10
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[Nice obit. For the RAW content, skip to the pre-penultimate
paragraph.-rmjon23]

Title:Martin Gardner: the polymath.(In memoriam)
Pub:The Humanist
Detail:Howard Schneider. 70.4 (July-August 2010): p46(2). (1088
words)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

MARTIN GARDNER, who died on May 22 at the age of ninety-five, was
described in his New York Times obituary as a polymath. That's a word
not often used anymore, because there are few who embody its meaning
(my American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "a person of great or
varied learning:" Gardner was both). For all his impressive erudition
Gardner wasn't a boastful man and would probably have eschewed the
polymath designation. On the other hand, he enjoyed wordplay and might
have been tickled by being described by a word whose last syllable was
a subject he loved and artfully opened up to many, many readers. That
was Martin Gardner: a real intellectual--a thinker on profound
subjects, but with a light touch.

Gardner's writ ran wide; he seemed to write about everything: math (he
wrote Scientific American's "Mathematical Games" column for over
twenty-five years), science, technology, pseudoscience, fiction,
poetry, language, philosophy, politics, history, magic, popular
culture, the Zeitgeist. I don't doubt that I've left things out. His
writing filled seventy-plus books; that's a lot of cogitating. He was,
I believe, often thought of as a popularizer, particularly of science
and math. But I don't think that term does him justice: it has
connotations of oversimplification and talking down to one's audience.
Gardner was popular, because with his straightforward prose and
playfulness he could explain all sorts of usually arcane topics
without degrading them. Moreover, he was too personally decent to be
condescending; he even gave his intellectual enemies their due.

I'm certain that there are many others who are as surprised as I am
that Gardner was not an atheist. He discusses this at some length in
his intellectual memoir, The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (1983).
As he says in one passage in the book: "I am quite content to confess
with Unamuno that I have no basis whatever for my belief in God other
than a passionate longing that God exist [sic] and that I and others
will not cease to exist. Because I believe with my heart that God
upholds all things, it follows that I believe that my leap of faith,
in a way beyond my comprehension, is God outside of me asking and
wanting me to believe, and God within me responding."

But Gardner's theism didn't encompass miracles and one consequence of
this was that he spent decades--since the 1952 publication of his
groundbreaking book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science--
warring on pseudoscience and the hucksters and dupes who embraced it.
If I had to choose one field in which Gardner's contribution to the
public good was most pronounced (a choice I'm reluctant to make), it
would be this one. He often used humor to challenge pseudoscience
silliness, but he took his campaign against this poppycock seriously:
he helped found an organization dedicated to exposing and excoriating
paranormal and occult absurdities and wrote a regular column for the
group's journal. Pseudoscience affronted Gardner's intelligence; more
significantly, I suspect that he believed it was a danger to a
democratic society: it fostered ignorance, gullibility, and
foolhardiness and those, in turn, undermined our country's politics
and institutions. (Gardner wrote a number of classic essays on
pseudoscience for the New York Review of Books. Many of them can be
found in Science: Good, Bad and Bogus [1981].)

I edited book reviews that Gardner wrote for the journals Dimensions
and Education and Society. Unfortunately, I never met him face to
face; our relationship was conducted through the phone and
correspondence. He was always cordial and cooperative, although I'm
sure he felt that I overedited his work. (I still remember one of his
few strictures: He never began a sentence with "But." He was also
diligent: When he reviewed the novel W: Or the Memory of Early
Childhood [the essay is reprinted in The Night Is Large, 1996] by the
French writer Georges Perec, he contacted the translator to clear up
some questions he had.) One of the other things, in my professional
capacity, that I admired about him was that he wasn't a snob:
Dimensions and Education and Society weren't exactly glittering
publishing venues, but if I pitched an idea to him and he found it
interesting, he would accept the assignment.

While Gardner could be very funny in print, I don't recall his ever
cracking a joke in any of my conversations with him. Nevertheless, he
had what I think of as a heartland earnestness (he was born and raised
in Oklahoma) that I found endearing. He once, very kindly, agreed to
read part of a novel I was working on. (He praised what I showed him,
which I'm still proud of.) To tease him, I situated one of the book's
more outre episodes in Hendersonville, North Carolina, where he was
then living. He wrote back and resolutely explained why Hendersonville
was the wrong site for the shenanigans I depicted because it was a
really nice, sophisticated place inhabited by many intelligent
Northerners. Another time, when I was chatting with Gardner on the
phone, I said that I had recently been present at a lecture by Robert
Anton Wilson (the writer and somewhat eccentric science and societal
pundit) and when I had asked a question and mentioned Gardner's name,
Wilson had drubbed him with some snarlingly bilious remarks. "He hates
me!" Gardner exclaimed, but he seemed more upset that I had to endure
Wilson's bad manners than with his petulant comments.

We probably won't see his like again. Gardner appealed to the super
smart as well as those of more modest intellectuality, but the culture
is becoming so fissured, indeed fragmented, that before long the man
or woman of letters who can bridge all kinds of different intellects
and interests will be as defunct as the trilobite.

About a month before Gardner's death, I met the novelist Robert Coover
at the Mysterious Bookshop in Lower Manhattan. Someone mentioned
Coover's novel, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry
Waugh Prop., which toys with mathematical concepts that manifest
themselves in a rather portentous board game played with dice. I told
Coover that Gardner liked the book (see the latter's Mathematical
Magic Show [1977]) and Coover, pleased, said that he liked Gardner's
writing too. "What's Gardner up to now?" Otto Penzler, the owner of
the bookstore, asked. I replied that at the age of ninety-five,
Gardner was still writing and publishing. "I want to be like that at
ninety-five," Penzler said. Same here.

Howard Schneider is a writer and editor in New York City.


Psmith

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Sep 7, 2010, 11:11:58 AM9/7/10
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I don't think Bob Wilson hated Gardner. Bob wrote positive comments
about Gardner's intellectual puzzles. Bob disliked Gardner's advocacy
of censorship and Gardner's unscientific attitudes towards Reich and
other unconvential thinkers.

RMJon23

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Sep 7, 2010, 6:12:24 PM9/7/10
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I don't think RAW hated Gardner either. But doesn't it seem ironic
that Gardner seemed to see criticism and satire as "hate"? It seems to
further point out Gardner's either/or thinking.

re: Reich: re-read the chapter on Korzybski from Fads and Fallacies In
the Name of Science.

Dan Clore

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Sep 7, 2010, 8:59:15 PM9/7/10
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Psmith wrote:

Yeah: In The New Inquisition, where Gardner comes under heavy attack,
RAW also took care to point to something that he liked and appreciated.
I don't know if RAW ever read it, but I would add The Annotated Alice as
a book that I wouldn't want to do without.

--
Dan Clore

New book: _Weird Words: A Lovecraftian Lexicon_:
http://tinyurl.com/yd3bxkw
My collected fiction, _The Unspeakable and Others_:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0035LTS0O
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http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

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immarcescible purple of poetry before the color-blind.
-- Clark Ashton Smith, "Epigrams and Apothegms"

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Sue Howard

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Sep 8, 2010, 6:02:55 AM9/8/10
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[Google chewed up last last two attempts formatting-wise, here's a
shorter version, and sorry for duplicates if you received them]


"Snarlingly bilious"?! (according to obit's author). I suspect that if
we had an audio recording of RAW's remarks, only a very tiny minority
of people would characterise it in terms similar to those.

Rev. 11D Meow!

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Sep 9, 2010, 4:17:43 AM9/9/10
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On Wed, 8 Sep 2010 02:54:43 -0700 (PDT), Sue Howard
<nospam.su...@nspco.org.uk> wrote:

> On Sep 8, 1:59 am, Dan Clore wrote:
> > Psmith wrote:
> > > I don't think Bob Wilson hated Gardner.
>
>

> The obit's author wrote: "and when I had asked a question and


> mentioned Gardner's name, Wilson had drubbed him with some snarlingly
> bilious remarks."
>

> "Snarlingly bilious"?! I suspect that if we had an audio recording of


> RAW's remarks, only a very tiny minority of people would characterise
> it in terms similar to those.

'listening to recordings'

"WE KNOW FOR SURE EXACTLY WHAT BOB SAID AT THE MOMENT"

oh, sure

Even RAW would laugh at it at Face-Value...

Rev. 11D Meow!

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Sep 9, 2010, 4:20:55 AM9/9/10
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On Thu, 09 Sep 2010 01:17:43 -0700, Rev. 11D Meow! <Ji...@Crack.Corn>
wrote:


FACE minus VALUE equal UPROARIOUS LAUGHTER

in other words

ha ha

Rev. 11D Meow!

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Sep 9, 2010, 4:22:10 AM9/9/10
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DOn't YOu MEan MArVIn GArDEns?

Rev. 11D Meow!

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Sep 9, 2010, 4:23:35 AM9/9/10
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On Wed, 8 Sep 2010 02:59:32 -0700 (PDT), Sue Howard
<nospam.su...@nspco.org.uk> wrote:

> On Sep 7, 4:11 pm, Psmith wrote:
> > I don't think Bob Wilson hated Gardner.
>

> The obit's author wrote: "and when I had asked a question and


> mentioned Gardner's name, Wilson had drubbed him with some snarlingly
> bilious remarks."
>

> "Snarlingly bilious"?! I suspect that if we had an audio recording of


> RAW's remarks, only a very tiny minority of people would characterise
> it in terms similar to those.
>

> [Sorry if you got a duplicate of this post - Google chewed up my first]


Gahan Wilson, most likely . . .

http://lambiek.net/artists/w/wilson_gahan.htm

Don Stockbauer

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Sep 9, 2010, 11:14:07 PM9/9/10
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On Sep 9, 3:22 am, Rev. 11D Meow! <Ji...@Crack.Corn> wrote:
> On Wed, 8 Sep 2010 03:02:55 -0700 (PDT), Sue Howard
>
> <nospam.susan.how...@nspco.org.uk> wrote:
> > [Google chewed up last last two attempts formatting-wise, here's a
> > shorter version, and sorry for duplicates if you received them]
>
> > "Snarlingly bilious"?! (according to obit's author). I suspect that if
> > we had an audio recording of RAW's remarks, only a very tiny minority
> > of people would characterise it in terms similar to those.
>
> DOn't YOu MEan MArVIn GArDEns?

Have you seen "Straw Dogs" yet, kitty?

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