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11

MONDAY

Crotchety, irascible, acerbic—the late journalist H.L. Mencken was the pit bull of American letters. Mencken—who once famously defined Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy” and democracy as “the theory that holds that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard”—was staunchly anti-government, anti-religion, and anti-prohibition, and he never hesitated to call a boob a boob. He was often pigeonholed as a conservative, but his was a conservatism at odds with today’s joyless, lemon-sucking, George Will variety. One can only wonder how Mencken’s definition of the Creator as “a comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh” would go over with cultural conservatives. Or, for that matter, what they’d make of his reverberating laughter at the good religious folk during that “Tennessee buffoonery,” the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. Maybe Terry Teachout’s new biography, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken, will win the native Baltimorean some new fans. The ornery bastard deserves them. Teachout and P.J. O’Rourke discuss the book at 4 p.m. at the Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Free. For reservations call (202) 789-5229. (ML)