August 9, 2019

“Carpe diem.” (This one’s for you, Robin…)


“Carpe diem.” [Traditionally translated as “Seize the day.”]
Horace (Quintas Horatius Flaccus, 65-8 B.C.)
       Roman poet
       The famous phrase from Book I of his Odes (35 B.C.)
       “Carpe diem” is one of the two most famous quotations from Horace’s Odes. The other is:
“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” (“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”) Although the usual translation of “Carpe diem” is “Seize the day,” Latin scholars have pointed out that the more accurate translation is “Pluck the day.”  
       In fact, the phrase does come at the end of a poem that uses several pastoral and harvest-related metaphors. So, “pluck” is probably closer to the original literal meaning. Below is a longer section of the poem, translated to English:
    “Ask not — we cannot know — what end the gods have set for you, for me;
            nor attempt the Babylonian reckonings Leuconoë.
       How much better to endure whatever comes, 
            whether Jupiter grants us additional winters or whether this is our last,
            which now wears out the Tuscan Sea upon the barrier of the cliffs!
       Be wise, strain the wine; and since life is brief, prune back far-reaching hopes!
       Even while we speak, envious time has passed:
            seize [pluck] the day, putting as little trust as possible in tomorrow!”  
       Regardless of variations in translation, the meaning of the poem and the famous phrase is clear. Live life to the fullest every day and take advantage of the pleasures and opportunities each day offers. Or, as Warren Zevon put it:
“Enjoy every sandwich.”


“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
Robin Williams (1951-2014), as English teacher John Keating
       His advice to his students in the movie
Dead Poets Society (1989)
       This quote comes at the end of a great sequence in which Keating says to his students:
       “‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.’ The Latin term for that sentiment is Carpe Diem... Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Why does the writer use these lines?...Because we are food for worms lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die. Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. [Old photos of previous students.] You’ve walked past them many times. I don't think you've really looked at them. They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Carpe. Hear it? Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”


“Carpe poon, man.”
Steve Zahn (as the character Wayne)
       In the movie
Saving Silverman (2001), after seeing a good looking woman in a bar
       Thanks to fans of the movie, “Carpe poon” has now made it into the
Urban Dictionary


“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”
       Erma Bombeck
       American humorist
       Quoted as one of “Erma Bombeck’s 10 Rules To Live By” in
David Wallechinsky’s Book of Lists


Question on a school test: “Define carpe diem.”
Skyler’s answer:
“Fish of the day.” 
       In the 
Shoe cartoon strip, by Jeff MacNelly, October 8, 2010


“Get action. Seize the moment. Man was never intended to become an oyster.”
Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (1858-1919)
       26th President of the United States
       Teddy’s advice to his children, quoted in David McCullough’s book Mornings on Horseback (1981)

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July 16, 2019

“The past is a foreign country...”


“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
Leslie P. Hartley (1895-1972)
       British novelist and short story writer
       The first sentence in his novel
The Go-Between (1953)
       This is one of the most famous opening lines in modern literary history. It sets the stage for a story about class differences, sexual mores and love in England during the early Twentieth Century. The novel is written as the reminiscence of Leo Colston, a British man in his sixties. In looking through some of his old possessions, Colston comes across a diary he wrote in 1900 when he was thirteen. This sparks memories of the role he played as a fairly clueless “go-between” who carried messages back and forth for an older, upper class girl who was having a socially taboo affair with a “lower class” tenant farmer.
       The opening words of the novel have essentially become a modern proverbial saying.


“To young progressives, Biden is a voice of the past. The English novelist L.P. Hartley once wrote, ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’ Like bipartisanship and compromise. And collaboration with outright racists. To older Democrats, however, the past is when things used to work — before Trump came along to cause chaos and disruption. They’re counting on Biden to restore that past.”
        Bill Schneider
        Political journalist, Professor at George Mason University and author of Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable
        In an opinion piece published on The Hill website, July 7, 2019


“The past may be a foreign country where they do things differently as the L. P. Hartley line has it, but it is one to which many would readily immigrate given the opportunity.”
Michael Sacasas
       American writer and theologian
       In a post about the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris (2011)
on his blog “The Fairest Thing”


“It’s easy to get washed along in nostalgia, to end up overshadowed by the past, because the past is a perfect country, a place we’ve made better in our heads through selective amnesia.”               
       Emily Todd VanDerWerff
       American TV reviewer and critic 
       Reflecting on the HBO series about mobsters, The Sopranos, in a post on the AV Club website         


“If the past is a foreign country, it is a shockingly violent one. It is easy to forget how dangerous life used to be, how deeply brutality was once woven into the fabric of daily existence. Cultural memory pacifies the past, leaving us with pale souvenirs whose bloody origins have been bleached away. A woman donning a cross seldom reflects that this instrument of torture was a common punishment in the ancient world; nor does a person who speaks of a whipping boy ponder the old practice of flogging an innocent child in place of a misbehaving prince. We are surrounded by signs of the depravity of our ancestors’ way of life, but we are barely aware of them. Just as travel broadens the mind, a literal-minded tour of our cultural heritage can awaken us to how differently they did things in the past.”
       Steven Pinker
       Canadian-born Harvard psychologist and author
       From his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2013)       


“All of life is a foreign country.”
       Jack Kerouac (1922–1969)
       American writer and founding father of the Beat movement in literature
       In a letter he wrote on June 24, 1949, cited in the book The Beat Vision: A Primary Sourcebook

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July 2, 2019

“Houston, we have a problem.”


“Houston, we have a problem”
        Tom Hanks (as astronaut James Lovell) in the movie Apollo 13

        This famous line from the 1995 movie Apollo 13 is spoken by Hanks, playing the role of astronaut James Lovell, when an oxygen tank on the space craft explodes. That explosion, on April 13, 1970, forced Apollo 13’s lunar landing mission to be scrubbed and the crew came close to being suffocated or frozen to death before they managed to land safely back on Earth four days later.
       The movie line is close to what Lovell actually said, but it’s a misquote. What he actually said was, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
       For more on the backstory about this quotation and the other famous quote from the movie Apollo 13 —  “Failure is not an option” — see the post on my site at this link.


“Humor, We Have a Problem.”
       Headline for a review of the 2019 movie Men in Black: International by Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2019
       Morgenstern said (with little apparent sense of humor himself): “No need to huff and puff about the idiocy of ‘Men in Black: International.’ It is what it is, an industrial product recycled from the remnants of an exhausted franchise and aimed at a young audience that may not know or care what a joy the original was.”


“‘Lost in Space,’ we have a problem”
        Headline for a 2018 review of Netflix’s reboot of the series Lost in Space
by Matthew Gilbert on the Boston Globe website
        Like other fans of the original Lost in Space series, Gilbert was dismayed by the new versions robot, saying he “resembles the fish-man in ‘The Shape of Water,’ but he’s got a headlight for a face, a digitally processed voice, and bluish metal outfitting. He’s sleek and shiny and boring.” Gilbert concluded: “And that’s the deal with the whole “Lost in Space” reboot: sleek, shiny, and boring.”


“Houston, She’s Got Some Problems”
       Headline for a story about former astronaut Lisa Nowak
in Time magazine, February 2007, after Nowak was arrested for assault on a woman who was having an affair with a male astronaut Nowak was enamored with.
        Nowak had driven 900 miles from Houston to Orlando, Florida, carrying a knife, a BB gun, pepper spray, latex gloves and rubber tubing — and wearing a diaper as she drove so she wouldn’t have to stop on the way.


“America, We Have a Problem...The status quo — our foreign policy, our economic health, our exceptionalism — is fraying before our very eyes.”
        Headline for an April 2019 opinion piece by Conservative political pundit Robert W. Merry
on website
        In the piece, Merry notes that our country’s Social Security system is running out of money, America has looming debt crisis, illegal immigration is out of control, and the entire American geopolitical grand strategy, especially its policy with regard to Russia and Iran, is “unsustainable.” Naturally, most readers of believe liberal Democrats are to blame.


“America, We Have a Problem”
        Headline for an opinion piece about President Donald Trump by Connecticut 8th Grade student Finnegan Courtney
on his school’s scholastic newspaper website in March 2019
        Courtney says: “We have a problem as a country. No, it isn’t overpopulation, it isn’t middle school mold issues, it isn’t lead in waters, it isn’t the New York Mets. It’s a problem with the President of the United States. Donald Trump is slowly, but surely ruining our country through no fault of the common folk but of himself.”


“Houston, we have a problem. We are out of toilet paper.”
        Cartoon by Justin Vestal
published on the website in February 2010


“Houston, we may have a problem.”
        Caption for a photo on the “Twisted Truckers” Facebook page
, showing a big tractor-trailer rig stuck in a tunnel, somewhere in New York in 2018

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June 6, 2019

“Knowledge is power” – and everything most people know about that quote is wrong!


“Knowledge itself is power.” (“...ipsa scientia potestas est”)
       Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
       English philosopher and essayist
       Meditationes Sacrae, De Haeresibus (1597)
       Thousands of books and websites claim that Sir Francis Bacon coined or first recorded the saying “Knowledge is power.” In fact, that concept existed long before Bacon’s time and the Latin phrase “scientia potestas est,” which means “Knowledge is power,” probably did as well. Bacon used a version of it in his essay De Haeresibus (“Of Heresies”), one of ten essays in his book Meditationes Sacrae (“Religious Meditations”), which he wrote in Latin. 
       In one of Bacon’s typically long, run-on sentences, full of much religious and philosophical blah-blah-blah, the Latin words scientia (knowledge, science), est (is) and potestas (power, strength) are embedded in a longer phrase. The full phrase is “nam et ipsa scientia potestas est.” This is generally translated as “for knowledge itself is power.” That’s not quite as pithy as “Knowledge is power.” Moreover, in the context of the sentence and Bacon’s points in the essay, it doesn’t actually have the literal meaning that has become a cliché. In the essay, Bacon was making an obtuse argument about atheists and other people who deny the will and power of God, including those who give more weight to God’s knowledge than His power. Bacon argued that God’s knowledge is itself power.   


“If knowledge is power and power is knowledge, then
  how so many idiots be graduating from colleges?” 
       American rap musician, record producer and actor 
       A line in the lyrics of his song “The Winner” (on the Space Jam movie soundtrack)


Power is power!”
       Cersei Lannister (played by actress Lena Headey
       A point she makes, menacingly, to Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (actor Aidan Gillen), in the first episode of Season Two of HBO’s series Game of Thrones.
       In this intense scene, Baelish hints to Cersei that he knows she has an incestuous relationship with her brother and might use that knowledge to his advantage. “Prominent families often forget a simple truth,” he says. “Knowledge is power.”
       Cersei responds by telling her guards: “Seize him. Cut his throat.” The guards grab Baelish and prepare to carry out her order. As Baelish begins to panic, Cersei says almost flippantly: “Stop. Oh, wait. I’ve changed my mind. Let him go.” After they do, she glares at Baelish and tells him an even higher truth that applies in the world of Game of Thrones: “Power is power!”


“Knowledge is not power. It’s the implementation of knowledge that is power. It’s not what you know that matters, it’s what you do with what you know that matters.”
       Larry Winget
       American author and motivational speaker
       In his book Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life: A Kick-Butt Approach to a Better Life  (2011)


“Knowledge may be power under some circumstances, but, in others, power rests on denial and studied displacement. This image of a smoothly functioning social order lends itself to the creation of the capacity for fascist self-delusion.”
       An observation in the book Ethnography in Unstable Places: Everyday Lives in Contexts of Dramatic Political Change
       Edited by Carol J. Greenhouse, Elizabeth Mertz, Kay B. B. Warren
       (Cartoon by Kevin Siers)

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May 23, 2019

“Live fast, die young…”


“Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse!” 
        A saying popularized by the 1949 noir film Knock on Any Door, adapted from Willard Motley’s 1947 novel of the same name
        Sometimes cited as “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse,” this saying is often associated with actor James Dean, whose wild lifestyle and death in a car crash at age 24 fit seemed to epitomize the first four words. Dean didn’t say the line in any of his own movies. But he was a fan of Knock on Any Door and Dean’s friend John Gilmore said Dean quoted it to him in conversations.
        In the movie adaptation, the line “Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse!” is said by actor John Derek. He plays the character Nick Romano, a young Italian hoodlum from the Chicago slums accused of killing a cop. The movie line comes directly from the novel. In the book, Nick says it several times and cites it as his motto.
        Though the novel and film helped popularize the saying, it was already in use when Motley wrote Knock on Any Door. Garson O’Toole, author of book Hemingway Didn’t Say That and the website, has found precursors dating back to the 1800s.
        For more background on this famous quotation, see the post on my site at this link.


“I wanna live fast, love hard, die young
And leave a beautiful memory.”

        Faron Young (1925-1966)
        American country music performer
        The refrain from his popular 1955 song “Live Fast, Love Hard, and Die Young,” written by Joe Allison
        Young committed suicide in 1996 at age 64. Live Fast, Love Hard was used as the title of a biographical book about him published in 2012.


“Live fast, die old.”
        Slogan associated with Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, frontman of the British heavy metal band Motörhead
        This phrase, which was used as the title of a 2005 documentary about the band, seemed to sum up Lemmy’s personal philosophy and was quoted in obituaries and comments about him when he died in 2015 at the age of 70.


“Live Fast Die Hot”
        Jenny Mollen
        American magazine writer, columnist for Playboy Online, book author and actress
        Title of a 2016 book collecting some of Mollen’s humorous articles


“Live Fast Die Pretty”
        Slogan on a women’s tank top sold by


“Live fast, die young, and leave a fat, bloated, ugly corpse.”
        A quip by Tom Servo during the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring the so-bad-it’s-good biker movie Wild Rebels (1967), when the fat, ugly, biker character named “Fats” is shot


“You know that old thing, live fast, die young? Not my way. Live fast, sure, live too bloody fast sometimes, but die young? Die old. That’s the way. Not orthodox. I don’t live by ‘the rules’ you know.”
        UK actor/comedian/director Ricky Gervais, as the pompous character David Brent
        In the “Party” episode of the TV series The Office (Season 2, Episode 3, first aired in the UK in 2002).

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