December 22, 2013

“All I want for Christmas is…”


“All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,
My two front teeth, see my two front teeth.
Gee, if I could only have my two front teeth,
Then I could wish you ‘Merry Christmas.’”

      Donald Gardner (1913-2004)
       American music teacher and songwriter
       The chorus of his song
“All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)” 
Gardner wrote the song in 1944, when he was a music teacher at the Smithtown, New York, elementary school. It was first recorded and made famous by Spike Jones and His City Slickers in 1948. There are two similar but slightly different stories about the origin of the song. One story quotes Gardner as saying he heard some kids telling their teacher what they wanted for Christmas that year and noticed they “were all using the same phrase, ‘All I want for Christmas.’” Then, recalled Gardner, “the teacher said something funny and they all laughed, and I noticed that 16 of the 22 in the class were missing their front teeth.” According to another version, Gardner had asked the class of 22 second grade students to help him create a Christmas song by telling him how they would complete the sentence, “All I want for Christmas is...” As they answered, he noticed that 16 of them had noticeable lisps due to missing front teeth.
       After Gardner wrote the song, his students performed it at the school’s annual Christmas pageant. A local woman who worked for the Witmark music publishing company heard it and told her boss. He liked the song and Witmark published sheet music for it, but it wasn’t recorded until 1948. That year, it was recorded for the first time by Spike Jones and his group, with band member
George Rock singing it in a falsetto child’s voice with a whistling lisp. Their recording was released on December 6, 1948 and soon hit #1 on several Billboard music charts. It went on to become a modern Christmas classic.


“All I want for Christmas, Mariah, is you to stop performing for dictators.”
Alexandra Petri   
       Writer of the satirical ComPost blog on the Washington Post site 
       Petri used the line above (a takeoff on Carey's popular Christmas song “All I want for Christmas is You”) in the headline of a post about critics of the singer’s apparent willingness to perform paid gigs for dictators.
As Petri noted, Carey did a paid performance for Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Gaddafi Gaddafi in 2011, for a fee of $1 million. Recently, for another million dollar fee, Carey performed at an event in Angola that was attended by Jose Eduardo dos Santos, another controversial authoritarian who has held the reins in that country for 33 years.
       (At left, Mariah Carey poses with Angolan dictator Jose Eduardo dos Santos.)


“Of my choices for St. Nick
Seinfeld, Zach Braff and Jon Stewart
Are the boys with a big schtick.
‘Cause I just want them here tonight
Holding on to me so tight
I’ll take Zac Efron too
All I want for Christmas is Jews.”

HOT BOX comedy troupe’s parody song “All I Want For Christmas is...Jews”


“All I want for Christmas is an AR-15 with an attached grenade launcher...huh? Wait a sec, that’s not how the song goes! Or is it?…At the Scottsdale Gun Club in Arizona, kids (and adults) can get their pictures snapped with Santa and an automatic weapon of their choice – or several automatic weapons of their choice. So much for a Silent Night.”
Jacqueline Burt
       American magazine writer, book author and blogger
In a post in her column on The Stir website


“All I want for Christmas is for naked pictures of Shaun White to stay unpurchased and unpublished.”
Richard Langford
       Columnist for the Bleacher Report website
       His comment
in an article about TMZ’s revelation that X-rated photos of professional snowboarder and skateboarder White having sex with a female fan were being shopped around to the highest bidder

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy Everything Else from!

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December 11, 2013

About God’s mysterious way(s)…


“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.”

William Cowper (1731-1800)
       British poet and hymn writer
       From his Hymn No. 35,
“Light Shining Out of Darkness” 
       These are the opening lyrics of the hymn, which was first published in Olney Hymns (1779). The first two lines are usually misquoted as “God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform” and often
wrongly assumed to be a Bible quote.


“God does not work in mysterious ways — it’s blindingly obvious when he’s dropping you a big hint.”
       A comment I read in 2010 on a now-vanished blog
       At the time, it stuck me as something that could be applied to the Gulf Oil Spill, which had recently occurred (and which still may be doing mysterious things to the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico).


“God works in mysterious ways. But at least he works. He’s never on welfare in mysterious ways.”

Stephen Colbert
       One of his straight-faced faux Conservative quips on the June 23, 2010 episode of
The Colbert Report


“There are no atheists in a foxhole, and there are, apparently, no atheists in the Ku Klux Klan. God sometimes moves in mysterious ways, His lip service to exact.”  
       Attributed to
Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983)
       American author and journalist


“I have yet to see a good answer for why God is all-powerful and all-knowing and all-good – or even anything close to all-powerful and all-knowing and all-good – and still isn’t perceived by everybody. Does anybody have one? (And if you say ‘Mysterious ways,’ I’m going to scream.)”  
Greta Christina 
       Atheist blogger and author
       In a
post she wrote for AlterNet

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December 2, 2013

As American as apple pie, cherry pie – and marijuana...


“Violence…is as American as cherry pie.”
H. Rap Brown (a.k.a. Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin)
       A prominent black civil rights activist in the 1960s, currently in prison for killing African-American police officer Ricky Kinchen.
       In the 1800s, American-style apple pies became known for their special sweetness and flavor and the term “American apple pie” was used to distinguish them from apple pies made in other countries. The phrase “as American as apple pie” dates back to at least 1920. By the 1940s, it was a common idiomatic expression.
       The most famous — and infamous — variation of that expression was created by H. Rap Brown in a press conference he gave on July 27, 1967. Brown told reporters:
       “I say violence is necessary. Violence is a part of America’s culture. It is as American as cherry pie.”
       It’s not clear why he chose cherry pie instead of apple pie. But in his controversial 1969 autobiography Die Nigger Die!, Brown helped popularize his version of the expression by using it in the pithier form that’s usually cited: “Violence is as American as cherry pie.”  
Read more about this quotation on my site)


“We live in a culture where bullying is as American as apple pie.”
Tom Reilly 
       Columnist for the
Millbury-Sutton Chronicle (Millbury, Massachusetts)
an opinion piece published on November 27, 2013
       (The cartoon lampooning Miami Dolphins football bully
Richie Incognito was done by Nate Beeler, cartoonist for the Columbus Dispatch.)


“Hating the Yankees is as American as pizza pie, unwed mothers, and cheating on your income tax.”
Mike Royko (1932-1997)
       Legendary Chicago sportswriter
       One of his
most widely-cited zingers (though I couldn’t find a specific date or source for when he said it)


“Today, deep-fried food is almost as American as apple pie—which, incidentally, can be dunked into a vat of oil and emerge with a greasy, crunchy coating, along with almost any kind of food.”
Marina Koren
       Staff correspondent at the National Journal
       In her November 27, 2013 column
on the National Journal website 
       (Cartoon by James Cahill
via the DeviantArt website.)


“SAMHSA [The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration] research determined more than 100 million Americans have consumed marijuana...Marijuana is as American as apple pie - and healthier.”
William Breathes
       Writer for the Denver Westworld News
the November 14, 2013 edition of his "Dear Stoner" column

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November 22, 2013

“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.


“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.”
       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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November 7, 2013

Life is like riding a bicycle…or maybe a horse, a wave, or an escalator...


“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
       Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
       German-born theoretical physicist 
       In a letter to his son Eduard Einstein, dated February 5, 1930
       Since this famous bicycle metaphor appears on many websites and in Facebook posts without any specific date or source, I wondered if it might be another one of the phony Einstein quotes that float around online. So, I emailed one of my favorite quote mavens, Dr. Mardy Grothe, and asked him. He said it was indeed a real quote and told me he cited the source in his new quotation database, Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations (an amazing resource for quotation buffs).
       As documented there, the origin of the popular saying is a letter Einstein wrote to his second son Eduard on February 5, 1930, while Eduard was studying medicine at Zurich University. In the book Einstein: His Life and Universe, author Walter Isaacson notes some other less-famous pieces of fatherly advice that Albert passed on in the letter. Commenting on the fact that Eduard had recently become enamored with an older woman, Albert suggested he should instead have a dalliance with some younger “plaything.” He also told Eduard he should get a job, saying: “Even a genius like Schopenhauer was crushed by unemployment.”
       The line about keeping one’s balance turned out to be sadly ironic. In 1930, Edward became increasingly imbalanced. Not long after he received his father’s “bicycle” letter, he abandoned his studies and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In 1932, Eduard was committed to a psychiatric sanatorium in Zurich, for the first of many times. He eventually died there in 1965, at the age of 55.


“Life is like riding a bicycle…As long as you keep pedaling, you won’t fall down.”
       Poster tagline for the movie Forest for the Trees (1998)


“Life is like riding a beautiful, wild stallion. You either throw yourself up in the saddle and ride the wind, or you let him bronc and throw you to the ground.”
       Alice Collins  
       American newspaper columnist
       From one of the humorous “Cookies ‘n Chaos” columns she wrote for Chicago-area newspapers, collected in the book
Cookies ‘N Chaos: A Selection of Reader's Favorites from the Past 25 Years (2006)


“Life is like riding a wave. One stupid mistake and its all over...but if u get it right it can be the ultimate high.”
       Anonymous Facebook post

       (Wikimedia Commons photo, from the page about “Big Wave Surfing.”)


“Sometimes, life is like riding an escalator. We stand fairly still and it just carries us along. Sometimes, though, it feels as if we’re trying to go in one direction and the path of travel is heading somewhere else.”
       Jonathan Cainer 
       Astrologer and author
       In the August 18, 2012 edition of his syndicated Daily Horoscope column. (From that day’s horoscope for people born under the sign of Leo.)


“Life is like riding a department store escalator which dismounts you on the floor of oblivion, which is right next to men’s shoes.” 
       Jimmy Jabroni 
       American humorist 
       In his book Everyday, Ordinary, Insane Life (2006) 
       (The “Escher Escalator” animated GIF is from
The Mighty Optical Illusions site)


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October 24, 2013

War as politics, politics as war – and various other things “continued by other means”...


“War is the continuation of politics by other means.” 
Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831)
       Prussian general and military theorist
       On War (1832-1834), Bk. VIII, Ch. VI, Section B:
“War is an Instrument of Policy”
       This is the traditional English translation of a line from On War (Vom Kriege), a collection of writings by Clausewitz that was published posthumously by his wife in three volumes between 1832 and 1834. It encapsulates a point Clausewitz made, but it’s not an exact translation. One issue is that some words can be translated several ways. For example, the German word politik can mean either ‘politics’ or ‘policy.’ In German, the full sentence the maxim comes from says: “Wir behaupten dagegen, der Krieg ist nichts als eine Fortsetzung des politischen Verkehrs mit Einmischung anderer Mittel.” This can be and has been translated in several ways, but essentially says something like: “We maintain [or ‘assert’] however, that war is nothing but a continuation of politics [or ‘policy’] with the admixture [or ‘addition’] of other means [or ‘resources’].” In context, the point Clausewitz was making is that he disagreed with the idea that war amounted to an end of political ‘intercourse’ (Verkehr) or discourse. He asserted that war is merely another kind of political communication that has it’s own ‘grammar’ (Grammatik). In short, while the oft-quoted maxim does seem to reflect Clausewitz’s line of thought, the common English translation is not literally correct.


“American politics is now the continuation of ‘war by other means.’...Government shutdowns, threatened debt default, racism, homophobia and Islamophobia can seem like discrete political struggles for democracy, good governance, and equal rights. Progressives and moderates make a huge mistake when they do not see the connections extremists make among them. It is crucial to see that to the extreme right-wing that is hijacking our political process right now, these are not discrete issues but part of a cosmic war on Satan played out in our American political life.”
       Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
       Professor of Theology at the Chicago Theological Seminary, author of #Occupy the Bible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power  
       In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, October 15, 2013
       (Cartoon by David Horsey)


“War is the improvement of investment climates by other means.” 
       Ben Kingsley as the character Walken, The Viceroy
       In the satirical anti-war movie
War, Inc. (2008)


“Technology is the continuation of evolution by other means, and is itself an evolutionary process.”
       Ray Kurzweil
       American inventor, author and futurist
       In his book
The Age of Spiritual Machines (2000)


“Law in a good society is first and foremost the continuation of morality by other means.”
       Amitai Etzioni
       German-born American sociologist
       In his book
The New Golden Rule (1998)


“Litigation...the continuation of business by other means.”
       Frederick L. Whitmer
       Professional litigator and author
       In his book
Litigation Is War (2007)


“Mr. Raimi [movie director Sam Raimi]...has cited the Three Stooges as his comic inspiration, and indeed, Evil Dead II is a sort of continuation of Stoogism by other means. Here, an eyeball isn’t just poked, but poked out and sent flying across the room, to be swallowed by an innocent bystander. Of such things, Moe Howard could only dream.” 
       Dave Kehr
       American film critic
       Referring to the famed
“eyeball popping” scene in the horror film Evil Dead 2 (1987)
a DVD review in the New York Times, October 18, 2005

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October 15, 2013

From “Absolutism tempered by assassination” to today’s “Ideology untempered by pragmatism”…


“Absolutism tempered by assassination.”
       German diplomat Georg Herbert zu Münster (1820-1902)

       Quoting an unnamed Russian
in Chapter II of his book Political Sketches of the States of Europe 1814-1857 (published in 1868)   
Absolutism tempered by assassination” is the usual translation of the phrase Münster used that’s cited by many books of quotations and websites, though original translations gave it as “Absolutism moderated by assassination.” In the book, Münster wrote: “An intelligent Russian once remarked to us, ‘Every country has its own constitution; ours is absolutism moderated by assassination.’” Other sources, all of which seem to have been published after 1868, say that a similar quote was said to Münster’s father Ernst Friedrich Herbert zu Münster (1766-1839), who was also a German diplomat. According to those sources, when Czar Paul I was assassinated in 1801, a Russian nobleman told Ernst, in French: “Le despotisme tempéré par l’assassinat, c’est notre Magna Charta” — which translates as “Despotism tempered by assassination, that is our Magna Carta.”


“The people we elected to represent us on the national stage, people who are supposed to be leaders, are too immature and fixed in ideology untempered by pragmatism to sit down and compromise with each other. The atrocious partisan nature of the Senate and the House would be humorous if our livelihoods didn't hang in the balance.”  
       Editorial about the budget stalemate in Congress,
in the Times Beacon Record, October 6, 2013. (Cartoon by Tom Stiglich)


“The best government is a benevolent tyranny tempered by an occasional assassination.”
       Attributed to
Voltaire (1694-1778)  
       French novelist, philosopher, poet and historian
       Although this quote is
widely attributed to Voltaire, it does not seem to appear in any of his writings.


“If we substitute elective dictatorship tempered by assassination at the ballot box, we have a system with more virtues than flaws.”
Bruce Anderson
       Columnist for the UK Independent
an opinion piece posted on the Independent’s website, February 27, 2006


“Tyranny is usually tempered with assassination, and Democracy must be tempered with culture. In the absence of this, it turns into a representation of collective folly.”
John Stuart Mackenzie (1860–1935)
       British philosopher
       In his book
An Introduction to Social Philosophy (1895)


“RABBLE, n. In a republic, those who exercise a supreme authority tempered by fraudulent elections.”
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913)
       American writer and curmudgeon
       One of the satiric definitions in his book
The Devil’s Dictionary (1925)


“The President proclaims war, and those Senators who dissent are not those who know better, but those who can afford to...Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
       American Philosopher, essayist and poet   
       In an
entry in his journal written in 1847, after American President James K. Polk declared war on Mexico


“I think Churchill is right, the only thing to be said for democracy is that there is nothing else that’s any better, and therefore he used to say, Tyranny tempered by assassination, but lots of assassination. People say, If the Congress were more representative of the people it would be better. I say the Congress is too damn representative. It’s just as stupid as the people are; just as uneducated, just as dumb, just as selfish.”
Dean Acheson (1893-1971)
       U.S. Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman
an interview with Theodore A. Wilson and Richard D. McKinzie on June 30, 1971 


“After many unhappy experiments in the direction of an ideal Republic, it was found that what may be described as a Despotism tempered by Dynamite provides, on the whole, the most satisfactory description of ruler — an autocrat who dares not abuse his autocratic power.”
Gilbert and Sullivan (W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan)
Said by the character Calynx (originally played by Bowden Haswell) in Gilbert and Sullivan’s penultimate comic opera Utopia, Limited, or The Flowers of Progress (1893), which is set in a mythical South Seas island where kings who “lapse from political or social propriety” are blown up by “The Public Exploder.” 


“Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence; conservatism, distrust of the people tempered by fear.”
William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898)
       British Liberal politician who served as Prime Minister four times between 1868 and 1894
oft-quoted definition of “Liberalism” and “Conservatism” comes from a speech Gladstone gave in Plumstead, England, in 1878


“Of course, the great drawback to democracy is that it’s messy. And the real danger of democracy is disunity…The key is democracy tempered by love and acceptance; where you accept the fact that you don’t always get your own way and not everyone sees things the way you do.”
Reverend Robert Cleveland
       American Universalist minister
       From a sermon he gave at the First Universalist Church of Central Square in New York, July 24, 2005

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