February 14, 2017

A government — and a nation — of laws…

John Adams government of laws quote WM


A government of laws and not of men.”
John Adams (1735-1826) 
       American lawyer, politician and 2nd President of the United States
       Although the basic concept of “a government of laws, and not of men” reflects a political philosophy dating back to the ancient Greeks, Adams gave it lasting fame in those exact words, initially by using it in his
7th “Novanglus” letter published in the Boston Gazette in 1775, then more famously by including it in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.
The “Novanglus Letters” were a series of essays Adams wrote for the Boston Gazette under the pseudonym Novanglus (meaning “New Englander”). In them, he argued that Great Britain’s treatment of American colonists violated their rights under British law.
       In the seventh Novanglus letter, Adams said:
“If Aristotle, Livy, and Harrington knew what a republic was, the British constitution is much more like a republic than an empire. They define a republic to be a government of laws, and not of men. If this definition is just, the British constitution is nothing more nor less than a republic, in which the king is first magistrate. This office being hereditary, and being possessed of such ample and splendid prerogatives, is no objection to the government's being a republic, as long as it is bound by fixed laws, which the people have a voice in making, and a right to defend.” 
       Five years later after he wrote the Novanglus letters, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts adopted the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. Adams was primary author of that historic document. In it, he again used the phrase “a government of laws and not of men.” In the section outlining the crucial principle of the separation of powers, he wrote:
       “In the government of this Commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them: The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them: The judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them: to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.” 
       “A government of laws” and the variation “a nation of laws” came to be commonly used in commentaries on legal issues, political disputes and court decisions. They are sometimes
used almost simultaneously by people on both sides of such issues, who believe their interpretation of the law is the correct one — often regardless of what the courts decide.



“We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws.  As a sovereign country, America has the right to control its border.”
Sen. John Neely Kennedy 
       Republican politician now serving as U.S. Senator for Louisiana
a press statement he released on January 30, 2016 in support of President Donald Trump’s travel ban executive order. The order, designed to bar the entry of travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations into the U.S., was soon blocked by a federal judge whose decision was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. 
       Presumably, Sen. Kennedy respects that outcome as an example of how the separation of powers works in our nation of laws. (But somehow I doubt it.)




“We are a nation of laws. And, as I have said, as we have said, from day one, that those laws apply to everybody in our country, and that includes the President of the United States.”
Bob Ferguson
      Washington State Attorney General
      In a
press conference on February 9, 2017 after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the state’s favor in a lawsuit challenging President Trump’s “travel ban” executive order. As I write this, it’s unclear whether President Trump will appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
       It also remains to be seen whether supporters or opponents of the ban will be happily (or grumpily) using “a nation of laws” when the legal dust finally settles.

Archibald Cox


“Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people.”
Archibald Cox (1912-2004)
      American lawyer and law professor who served as a Special Prosecutor during the investigation of the Watergate scandal
Comment to the press on October 20, 1973 after President Richard Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox from his Special Prosecutor position for zealously pursuing access to the then still-secret Watergate Tapes.
       Richardson refused to fire Cox and resigned in protest. Deputy Attorney General
William Ruckelshaus also refused to carry out the president’s order and resigned. Nixon then succeeded in getting Robert Bork, who’d been tapped as acting head of the Justice Department, to fire Cox on Saturday, October 20, 1973. 
      This so-called
“The Saturday Night Massacre” didn’t help Nixon. It simply generated negative press, public outrage and even more intense Congressional investigations. Ultimately, Nixon was forced to release the tapes. On August 9, 1974, he became the first American president to resign, knowing he’d be impeached if he didn’t.



“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.” 
       Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006)
       American politician who served as 38th President of the United States
       Lines from
his speech on August 9, 1974, the day he ascended from being Richard Nixon’s Vice President to be inaugurated as President of the United States after Nixon resigned.
       One month later, President Ford gave Nixon a “full, free and absolute pardon” for any crimes he committed while president. Whether “the people” agreed with that decision didn’t matter. In our nation of laws, the president has the legal power to grant such pardons under the powers given to him by the U.S. Constitution.

Philip K. Howard


“In our obsessive effort to perfect a government of laws, not of men, we have invented a government of laws against men.”
Philip K. Howard (b. 1948)
       American lawyer and conservative political commentator and author 
       A quote from his 1994 book The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America
       In the book, Howard argues that the increasing number of laws and regulations in the United States have reached a point of absurdity that stifles our economy, personal freedom and our quality of life.



“The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced.”
Frank Zappa (1940-1993)
       American rock musician, provocateur and entrepreneur     
       A famous quotation
widely attributed to Zappa, though it’s unclear if and when he said it 
his excellent Big Apple language history site, Barry Popik notes that in a 1992 interview journalist Jon Winokur reminded Zappa that he “once said” the line.
      Zappa didn’t actually confirm that he’d said those words in the interview. But the quote does seem consistent with his typically critical view of the American political and legal system.

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February 8, 2017

“We don’t need no stinking badges!” (Or badgers!)


“Badges? We ain’t got no badges! We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!” 
       Alfonso Bedoya, as the Mexican bandit “Gold Hat”
       In the classic film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
       Contrary to what many people think, the famous quote about “stinking badges” in the movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is not “We don’t need no stinking badges!” That’s a comic paraphrase of the words spoken in the film.
       The movie’s famous lines are from a tense scene in which three American gold prospectors, played by Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston and Tim Holt, are confronted by a group of heavily-armed Mexicans in a remote area of Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains. The character who is the leader of the Mexicans, called “Gold Hat” in the credits, is played by Alfonso Bedoya.
       He tells the prospectors: “We are federales. You know, the mounted police.”
       Bogart says skeptically: “If you’re the police, where are your badges?”

       Bedoya sneeringly responds
: “Badges? We ain’t got no badges! We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!” 
In the 1927 book by B. Traven that inspired the film, Gold Hat’s answer is: “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabron and ching’ tu madre.”


“Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”
Mickey Dolenz 
       In a 1967 episode of The Monkees TV show (Season 2, Episode 1)
       “We don’t need no stinking badges!” was made world famous when it was used in the 1974 Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles. But that was not the first use.
      In the Monkees episode
“It’s A Nice Place To Visit,” originally aired on September 11, 1967, Mickey and two of his Monkees bandmates, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith, dress up as Mexican bandits to save their singer Davy Jones from a “real” Mexican bandit. Before they leave to find Davy, Michael Nesmith says: “Wait a minute, don’t you think maybe we oughtta take something out with us, like a club card or some badges?”
      Mickey replies with a heavy Mexican accent: “Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!”


“Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!” 
Rick Garcia, playing a Mexican bandit 
       In the movie Blazing Saddles (1974)
       This is the use that popularized those famed words and made it common for people to say “we don’t need no stinking [whatever]” as a joking comment about almost anything. The lines come in a scene in which the corrupt State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr, played by Harvey Korman, gives a sheriff’s badge to one of his Mexican bandit henchmen, played by Rick Garcia. Hedley says: “Be ready to attack Rock Ridge at noon tomorrow. Here’s your badge.”

       Garcia throws the badge away and sneers
: “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”


“Badgers? Badgers? We don’t need no stinking badgers.”  
Trinidad Silva, playing TV show host Raul Hernandez
       In the 1989 “Weird Al” Yankovic movie UHF 
       The character Raul Hernandez is the host of a low-budget show about animals called “Raul’s Wild Kingdom” in this gonzo movie.
During one scene, a truck pulls up outside his house to deliver some new animals. The driver reads Raul a list of the animals in the shipment — which include three badgers.
       Bogart says skeptically: Raul responds with an homage to the Monkees/Blazing Saddles quote by saying: “Badgers? Badgers? We don’t need no stinking badgers.”


       In a cartoon about Noah and the ark by Alex Barker, on his
Cake or Death site

Lucinda Williams DUST album

“I don’t have what Tom Petty has. I don’t have catering, I don’t have limousines. I’ve got Buick 6! I don’t need no stinking limo!”
       Lucinda Williams
       American rock, blues and country music singer and songwriter 
       A funny comment she made in a January 2017 interview about her latest concert tour. Her backup band includes three musicians who play together under the name “Buick 6.” They are bass player David Sutton, drummer Butch Norton and guitarist Stuart Mathis.

We Don t Need No Stinkin Leashes tshirt

“We Don’t Need No Stinkin Leashes!”
      The slogan on a T-shirt I bought on Amazon, which features an image of dog dressed like Alfonso Bedoya’s Mexican bandit “Gold Hat” in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

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Related reading, viewing and stinkin’ fashionwear…


January 25, 2017

“I think, therefore I am” — and some variations I think are funny (therefore they are)…

Rene Descartes cogito ergo sum quote 3a

Cogito ergo sum.” (“I think, therefore I am.”)
       René Descartes (1596-1650)
       French mathematician and philosopher  
       Famous axiom in his book
Principia Philosophiae (Principles of Philosophy, 1644)
       Descartes first recorded the axiom in French, as “Je pense, donc je suis,” in his philosophical and mathematical treatise, Le Discours de la Méthode (A Discourse on Method, 1637). However, the Latin version from Principia Philosophiae —
“Cogito ergo sum”is better known.
       The French and Latin versions of the quote have traditionally been translated in English as “I think, therefore I am.”
       Alternate translations include “I am thinking, therefore I am” and “I am thinking, therefore I exist.”


“He tweets, therefore he is. Twitter gives him a platform to say whatever he wants completely unfiltered. The media can’t and won’t do that for him.”
John Feehery
       Republican political consultant
in an article media writer James Warren posted on the Vanity Fair website on December 6, 2016
       (Cartoon by
Kim Warp.)

We Eat Therefore We Hunt poster-8x6

“We eat, therefore we hunt.”
       Sarah Palin
       Conservative American politician, celebrity and avid hunter 
       This comes from the
rambling speech Palin gave on July 26, 2009, announcing her resignation as Governor of Alaska. The full quote is: “Stand strong, and remind them patriots will protect our guaranteed, individual right to bear arms, and by the way, Hollywood needs to know, we eat, therefore we hunt.”

I Suck Therefore I am-8x6

“I Suck Therefore I Am” 
       Agus Suwage  
       Indonesian artist
       This is the title of the 2004 painting by Suwage shown at left. At the time, it was estimated to be worth up to 207,000 Malaysian Ringgits (over $61,975 in U.S. currency). Other works by Suwage have
sold for even more, so I guess some people don’t think he sucks.

I Shop Therefore I am-8x6

“I Shop Therefore I Am”
Barbara Kruger
       American multimedia artist  
       These words on the artwork by Kruger shown at left are seemingly a send-up of consumerism. But ironically, the image was
later used on tote bags and t-shirts sold by Bloomingdale’s. 


I Teach Therefore I Drink-8x6

“I Teach Therefore I Drink”  
       A slogan on t-shirts
sold on Amazon and other sites. They seem to be quite popular. I’m not sure what that says about the teaching profession. 

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Some books with a title or subtitle based on Descartes’ quote (there are even more)…

January 24, 2017

What’s the beginning of wisdom?


“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”  
Psalms 111:10    
       The full verse in Psalms 111:10 says: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.”
       There’s a similar verse in The Book of Proverbs (
Proverbs 1:7): “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
Job 28:28 offers this variation: “And unto man he [God] said, Behold, the fear of the LORD, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”

Clarence Darrow-8x6

“The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the death of wisdom. Skepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom. The modern world is the child of doubt and inquiry, as the ancient world was the child of fear and faith.”
Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)
       American lawyer, agnostic and free speech advocate
       In his essay
“Why I am an agnostic” (1896) 

Bertrand Russell 2-8x6

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty.  To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavour after a worthy manner of life.” 
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
       British philosopher, mathematician, atheist and social critic 
       From his essay
“An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish”, included in the book Unpopular Essays (1950)

Thomas Aquinas-8x6

“The beginning of a thing is a part of it. But fear is not a part of wisdom, since fear is in the appetitive power, whereas wisdom is in the intellectual power. Hence it seems that fear is not the beginning of wisdom.”
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
       Italian Catholic priest, philosopher and saint 
       In his
Summa Theologica (“Summary of Theology”), written 1265-1274 A.D.

Multicultural Dictionary of Proverbs-8x6

“To question a wise man is the beginning of wisdom.” 
German proverb
       Quoted in
The Multicultural Dictionary of Proverbs (2005) 

George William Foote-8x6

“If the fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom, it is at least the beginning of religion.”
George William Foote (1850-1915)
       British writer and social critic
“Letters to the Clergy,” published in The Freethinker, Volume 10 (1890)

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January 17, 2017

“Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” (Or, as Franklin actually said: “Il n’y a rien d’assure que la mort et les impôts.”


“Nothing is certain except death and taxes.”
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) 
       American “founding father,” publisher, diplomat and scientist 
       This is the usual English translation of a comment Franklin made
in a letter he wrote to French scientist Jean-Baptiste Leroy, dated November 13, 1789.
       Franklin wrote his letter to Leroy in French. His “death and taxes” remark was related to the Constitution of the United States of America, which had been adopted two years earlier. What he actually wrote was:
       “Notre constitution nouvelle est actuellement établie, tout paraît nous promettre qu’elle sera durable; mais, dans ce monde, il n’y a rien d’assure que la mort et les impôts.”
       The common English translation of this sentence is: “Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.”  (Sometimes the last part is translated as “
Nothing is certain but death and taxes.”)
       As noted by the invaluable
Phrase Finder site and other reference sources, similar quotations about death and taxes pre-date Franklin’s letter. But the English translation of Franklin’s version is certainly the most famous. (For more background see this post on my ThisDayinQuotes.com blog.)

Donald Trump cartoon from usnewscom


“With Donald Trump as President almost nothing is certain except uncertainty itself.”
       David C. Kibbe
       President and CEO of the non-profit healthcare information technology organization DirectTrust 
       A remark quoted in a January 9, 2017 press release discussing health industry IT trends that seems applicable to more than health industry IT trends.
       (Cartoon by Dan Wasserman.)


“The difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”
       Attrib. to
Will Rogers (1879-1935)
       American humorist
       A quip
widely attributed to Rogers, but without any specific source
       There’s no contemporary record of Rogers uttering or writing this old joke. However,
quote maven Barry Popik has noted that a similar line was used by another humorist Rogers had a connection with, the witty newspaper columnist Robert Quillen (1887-1948).
       In several of the humorous columns Quillen wrote in the early 1930s, he said the “difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time the legislature meets.” In a 1934 column, Quillen added Congress, saying: “The main difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get any worse every time congress or the state legislature meets.” That same year, movie producer George Marshall and screenwriter Lamar Trotti visited Quillen and purportedly used him as the model for the newspaper editor Will Rogers played in the film Life Begins at Forty. The film’s credits credit Quillen for “contributing dialogue.” My guess is that, if Rogers ever did use the line about Congress, he may have borrowed it from Quillen.


“Death and taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them!”
Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949)
       American novelist, journalist and philanthropist  
       This is what the character
Scarlett O’Hara says about the “untimeliness” of her pregnancy, in Chapter 38 of Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone with the Wind
       The line was not used in the classic 1939 movie adaptation, in which actress Vivien Leigh played Scarlet. But if it had been, I imagine her adding one of her favorite sayings: “Fiddle-dee-dee!”


“In life only one thing is certain, besides death and taxes...No matter how hard we try, No matter how good our intentions, we are going to make mistakes.”
Dr. Meredith Grey (played by Ellen Pompeo)
       In the
“Heart of the Matter” episode of the TV show Grey’s Anatomy (Season 4, Episode 4, first aired Oct. 18, 2007)


“Ben Franklin was wrong. There is more certainty in life than just death and taxes. There is also the very reliable need for ‘just one more’ piece of golf equipment.”
Dorothy Langley
       American author and golfer
In her book A View from the Red Tees: The Truth About Women and Golf (1997)


“To the typical American on the eve of the twentieth century it appeared a unique country, a land of promise where one person's gain was another person’s opportunity, and the inevitable was not just death and taxes but improvement and growth.”
Richard M. Abrams
       Historian and Professor Emeritus, University of California at Berkeley
       An observation
in his book The Burdens of Progress, 1900-1929 (1978)


“Besides death and  taxes, this too is certain: The American economy will never return to its  maximum prosperity until it completes a very broad-based tax reform.” 
Glenn Hubbard and Peter Navarro
In their book Seeds of Destruction: Why the Path to Economic Ruin Runs Through Washington, and How to Reclaim American Prosperity (2010)

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