September 7, 2019

Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable…


THE LINE THAT LED TO A FAMOUS MISQUOTE:

“Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us...comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable.”
        Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936)
        American journalist and humorist
        Dunne put this quote in the mouth of “Mr. Dooley,” the witty Irish character who was featured in Dunne’s popular newspaper column relating what Dooley said on various topics in a heavy Irish brogue. The line was first used in a column titled “Mr. Dooley on Newspaper Publicity,” published in many US newspapers on October 5, 1902 and reprinted in the book collecting Dunne’s columns, Observations by Mr. Dooley (1902). Dooley’s remark led to many other quotes about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
        The full quote as Dunne wrote it is:
        “Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, conthrols th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.”
        The plain English “translation” is:
        “The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the militia, controls the legislature, baptizes the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted, afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead and roasts them afterward.”
        Dunne’s quote is often misquoted as “The duty [or job] of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Indeed, that version has become a kind of motto for defenders of the free press. Ironically, Dunne’s piece was not meant as praise of the press. It’s actually a negative jab at newspapers who Mr. Dooley thinks print far too much minutiae about almost everything and everyone and pokes into the private lives of citizens far too much.
        Mr. Dooley complains that, because newspapers regularly print gossip and photos about local citizens, “There are no such things as private citizens” anymore. Interestingly, many of his criticisms of newspapers sound similar to modern concerns about the internet and social media.


THE NEWSPAPER VERSION:

“Mr. Brady, it is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
        Actor Spencer Tracy, in the 1960 movie Inherit the Wind. Tracy, playing defense lawyer Henry Drummond, says the line to Fredric March, playing prosecuting attorney Matthew Harrison Brady.
        The film is an adaptation of the 1955 play of the same name, a fictionalized account of the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial.” Tracy’s famous line is not in the play, which was written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. The movie script based on the play was written by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith. I suspect the famous line was created by Young, who was blacklisted as a Communist sympathizer during the McCarthy era and hired (secretly) by the film’s director Stanley Kramer. Young didn’t coin the saying. As noted in a post on the Quote Investigator site, a filler item in 1914 a newspaper in Danville, Kentucky said: “Mr. Dooley says the duty of the newspapers is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” That was followed by many similar uses of this saying about newspapers that predate the movie Inherit the Wind, which premiered in London on July 7, 1960.


THE FAUX CLARENCE DARROW QUOTE:

“The most human thing we can do is comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
        Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)
        American lawyer and free speech activist
        It’s interesting that many internet posts and some books published in recent decades attribute this quote to Darrow, the defense attorney in the real life Scopes Monkey Trial. I couldn’t find any evidence that Darrow ever said or wrote such a line. I think it’s probably a faux quote created after the movie line in Inherit the Wind became famous.


THE FAUX WOODY GUTHRIE QUOTE:

“It’s a folk singer’s job to comfort disturbed people and to disturb comfortable people.”
        Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)
        American folk musician and liberal political activist
        This line is widely attributed to Guthrie in internet posts, but never with any specific source. As far as I can tell, he never actually said it.


THE CHRISTIAN VERSION:

“The business of the ministry is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
        Frederick W. Burnham (1871-1960)
        Pastor in Richmond, Virginia
        In a March 1944 editorial in a Latrobe, Pennsylvania newspaper, Burnham attributed this saying to an unnamed “young minister.” It’s an early version of many quotes that have applied the “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” concept to Christianity and Christian ministries.


THE ELEANOR ROOSEVELT APPLICATION:

“No woman has ever so comforted the distressed – or distressed the comfortable.”
        Clare Boothe Luce (1903-1987)
        American author, Conservative Republican politician and US Ambassador     
        Luce used this line speech in which she praised Eleanor Roosevelt at a May 1950 event, during which the left-leaning, Democratic widow of President Franklin D. Roosevelt received an award for her service to the poor and “underprivileged.” Back then, political opponents actually said some nice things about each other.


J.K. GALBRAITH’S VARIATION:

“In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong.”
        John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)
        Canadian-born economist, public official, and liberal activist
        From his 1989 commencement speech at Smith College, Massachusetts, titled “In Pursuit of the Simple Truth.” (Because London’s Guardian newspaper reprinted the speech on July 28, 1989, that is the usual citation for the source, rather than the commencement speech.)

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August 9, 2019

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



THE PLUCKY LATIN QUOTE:

“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.”



RIP, ROBIN. YOU WERE INDEED EXTRAORDINARY…

“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.”



STEVE ZAHN’S VERSION:

“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



ERMA BOMBECK’S VERSION:

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”
       Erma Bombeck
(1927-1996)
       American humorist
       Quoted as one of “Erma Bombeck’s 10 Rules To Live By” in
David Wallechinsky’s Book of Lists



SKYLER’S VERSION:

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



TEDDY ROOSEVELT’S VERSION:

“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...”


L.P. HARTLEY’S OFT-QUOTED APHORISM:

“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.


THE JOE BIDEN DILEMMA:

“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 NOSTALGIC VIEWPOINT:

“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”


ANTI-NOSTALGIA VIEWPOINT #1:

“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         


ANTI-NOSTALGIA VIEWPOINT #2:

“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)       


THE BEAT WRITER’S VIEWPOINT:

“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.”


THE MEMORABLE MOVIE MISQUOTE:

“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 ThisDayinQuotes.com site at this link.


THE UNMEMORABLE M.I.B. MOVIE VARIATION:

“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.”


THE UNMEMORABLE NETFLIX REBOOT VARIATION:

“‘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.”


THE UNHINGED ASTRONAUT APPLICATION:

“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.


A CONSERVATIVE PUNDIT’S VARIATION:

“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 RepublicanMatters.com 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 RepublicanMatters.com believe liberal Democrats are to blame.


A PRECOCIOUS LIBERAL PUNDIT’S VARIATION:

“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.”


THE OUTER SPACE TOILET VERSION:

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


THE OUT OF SPACE TRUCK VERSION:

“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!


THE FLAWED TRADITIONAL ATTRIBUTION:

“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.   


COOLIO’S COUNTERQUOTE:

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


CERSEI’S COUNTERQUOTE:

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!”


THE KICK-BUTT COUNTERQUOTE:

“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)


A VERSION APPLICABLE TO FERGUSON?

“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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