Thursday, April 2, 2009

Vote for Shakespeare!

I know, online polls can be a pain in the ass, and generally devolve into a popularity contest, but…

The Mental Floss Blog is currently running a Tournament of Genius in the style of March Madness, with brackets and head-to-head contests. Readers get to vote and that determines the winner.

Early on you could vote as many times as you wanted in a match-up, but this resulted in an unexpected first round upset win for Burt Reynolds over Leonardo Da Vinci. When the folks at Floss realized that all of Reynolds’s votes came form one computer they invalidated that result, limited it to 1 vote per IP address, and repeated the vote to prevent that travesty.

And yet another travesty is on the verge of being perpetrated! We’re into the Sweet 16 round now and William Shakespeare (a #2 seed) is going up against Louis Pasteur (#3). And Pasteur is winning with 54% of the vote to 46%!

Now, I enjoy a good glass of pasteurized milk or juice as much as the next fellow, and I don’t doubt that it required a superior intellect to come up with the process, but “intellect” does not equal “genius”.

I confronted this distinction early on in the tournament when Bill Gates (8) went head-to-head with Steve Jobs (9). I realized that I was certain Bill Gates was “smarter” than Steve Jobs, but Jobs was clearly more the “genius”. Why? To me, “genius” means being smart without ever having learned to be. Bill Gates could program Steve Jobs under the table, but he had to learn how to do that. Jobs can make an offhand remark like “I dunno, make the headphones white like the iPod” and it turns into masterstroke.

I voted for Jobs and he won (only to lose in the next round to Isaac Newton).

Pasteur was a scientist. He studied long and hard to get as smart as he was. Shakespeare (while not the ignorant lower-class goob people who like to think he didn’t write his works would like you to believe) certainly did not have much of a formal education. He just knew how to write, and somehow find the time to write in spite of also working as an actor through-out his career. (Ben Johnson, for instance, worked exclusively as a playwright.)

Which leads me to a pet-peeve of mine in relation to all those ne'er-do-wells who like to claim Shakespeare was not Shakespeare. Why is it that no one questions that a patent clerk could come up with the Theory of Relativity, but somehow the son of a glove maker couldn’t write Hamlet? Why can we have mathematical geniuses but not literary ones? Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Suck it up and deal.

And he was a million times more the genius then Louis Pasteur. True, Pasteur’s work saved lives and changed the world, but Shakespeare wrote plays 400 years ago so true to the human spirit they’re still fresh, funny, tragic, and topical today. You do the math.

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In 1789, the governor of Australia granted land and some animals to James Ruse in an experiment to see how long it would take him to support himself. Within 15 months he had become self sufficient. The area is still known as Experiment Farm. This is my Experiment Farm to see how long it will take me to support myself by writing.