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For the last several years, the word has been hanging around backstage on the national television talk-show circuit waiting for somebody, anybody -- visionary poet, unemployed automobile worker, late-night comedian -- to cue its appearance on camera.

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Laughter was Mark Twain’s stock in trade, and for 30 years as bestselling author and star attraction on America’s late-nineteenth-century lecture stage, he produced it in sufficient quantity to make bearable the acquaintance with grief that he knew to be generously distributed among all present in the Boston Lyceum or a Tennessee saloon.

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The question “Why can’t I live forever?” assigns the custody of one’s death to powers that make it their business to promote and instill the fear of it—to church or state, to an alchemist or an engineer.

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Happily aloft in the vicinity of my father’s hat, and the weather having cleared since the Ohioan missed its compass heading, I was free to form my earliest impression of the sea at a safe and sunny distance, lulled by the sound of waves breaking on the beach, delighting in the drift of gulls in a bright blue sky.

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The campaigns don’t favor the voters with the gratitude and respect owed to their standing as valuable citizens participating in making such a thing as a common good. They stay on message with their parsing of democracy as the ancient Greek name for the American Express card.

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What once was sorcery maybe now is science, but the wonders technological of which I find myself in full possession, among them indoor plumbing and electric light, I incline to regard as demonstrations magical.

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