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Sensible and Senseless Sayings
from the
Mindful and the Mindless

Epiphanies ... or Not

Father Brown Stories

George Eliot Novels

A poem by the granddaughter of an Alzheimer's patient of Lisa Gwyther of the Duke Center for Aging. (The Washington Post "Health", March 29, 1994).

I have a grandmother who sends me birthday presents
and hugs me,
just because.
My other grandmother doesn't know it's my birthday,
so I hug her,
just because.

Jackie's signature line, from an OCD-L posting. (Some years later, I happened upon a similar saying attributed to Helen Keller: "Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow." And Bad Company's song, "Crazy Circles", has the line, "Oh, I will face the sun, Leavin' shadows far behind." But I think I prefer Jackie's formulation of the sentiment.)

Face the sun, and the shadows will fall behind you.

Sara to her doll, Emily (from Sara Crewe, by Frances Hodgson Burnett):

"We are not all made alike. Perhaps you do your sawdust best."

Father Quixote, now Monsignor, to his friend, ex-Mayor "Sancho" Zancas (from Monsignor Quixote, by Graham Greene):

"I hope — friend — that you sometimes doubt too."

From the death notice for John Rollin Watson III (The Washington Post, January 1999, obituary):

To those who care ...
"Spend some time with someone
sick, lonely or dying in my memory."

Frank Burge on the death of a long-time friend (Electronic Engineering Times, May 10, 1999):

The last time I saw Ray [Mullen] and Marilyn was a week before Ray's death at their home in Hollister. He was sitting at a table in their family room, attached to an oxygen tank to keep him alive. Emphysema had taken its toll. After a several-hour visit, it was time to leave. Since I was standing and he was sitting at the table, giving him the customary hug would have required getting down in a crouch. So I took the easy way out, shook his hand, said goodbye and began to leave. After taking a few steps I walked back to Ray's side, crouched down and gave him a hug. He held on. That was the last hug I'll ever get from my buddy Ray.

My mother, who grew up on a farm, raised me in the belief that hunting and fishing should never be for sport, only for food. Jean Kohner expressed this belief perfectly in her comment on hunting "humanely" with a bow and arrow (The Washington Post "Free for All", October 14, 1995):

No creature should ever have to suffer this type of fate for someone else's pleasure.

Michael Kinsley on Microsoft colleagues (The New Republic's "Washington Diarist" column, September 2, 1996):

They're all younger than me and smarter than me: that I can deal with. But they're all nicer than me, too: now that's hard to take.

A philosophy of life — laugh and help others laugh:

To always laugh and have a great time and to help others enjoy life.

Joyce Tarpley's methods for keeping a cool temper on the highway (The Washington Post Magazine "20071" Letters, September 29, 1996):

It helps, I find, to frequently remind myself of two predictably wry observations, the first from comedian George Carlin: "Why is it that anybody who drives slower than you is a moron, but anybody who drives faster than you is a maniac?" The second, and most telling, comes from Bill Cosby: "You can't get into heaven if you died while you were doing something stupid."

William W. Goetz responding to Richard Weissbourd's comments about self-esteem in "The Feel-Good Trap" (The New Republic "Correspondence", September 30, 1996):

I have been a classroom teacher for almost forty years and visit schools in four counties yearly on a professional basis. I have never heard self-esteem preached as a "movement" (my heavens!) or practiced as an omnipresent exercise in "praising" and a "metasolution" (wow!) for every problem in the school. Does he really think teachers are so naive as to view self-esteem as a "short cut" aimed at replacing relationships with parents or so obtuse they cannot distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate praise? Does he think that such "critical faculties" as "persistence" and "the capacity to handle shame and disappointment" are unrelated to self-esteem or self concept? Urban teachers cite with anguish the same problems that Weissbourd recognizes, and I have seen them instintively and warmly use self-esteem approaches as the only means available. Teachers in affluent suburban schools use it much more selectively for obvious reasons.

Kethan Hubbard at the Youth Poetry Slam League's benefit (May 15, 1999), The Washington Post, May 17, 1999:

Profanity is a feeble mind
trying to express itself forcefully.
If you have a feeble mind
and you keep quiet,
No one will know the level of your ignorance.

Tony Porco reflecting on a story ("Hoarder Kicked Out of Her Home; Fairfax Declares Fire Hazard After Woman Packs Building for Years", The Washington Post Metro, August 29, 2001) about a woman with OCD (The Washington Post "Letters to the Editor", September 2001):

[... agrees with authorities' decision ...] Isn't it strange, however, that we live in a country where people who hoard junk are forced to get rid of it because it may pose a danger to their neighbors, but people can own as many guns as they want.

Maryfran Johnson, Editor-in-Chief of ComputerWorld, in "A Glass Half-Full", July 28, 2003:

Perhaps the meek really will inherit the earth, but the optimists are the ones who'll know how to enjoy it.

Luke Timothy Johnson on "Homosexuality & the Church":

We are fully aware of the weight of scriptural evidence pointing away from our position, yet place our trust in the power of the living God to reveal as powerfully through personal experience and testimony as through written texts. To justify this trust, we invoke the basic Pauline principle that the Spirit gives life but the letter kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). And if the letter of Scripture cannot find room for the activity of the living God in the transformation of human lives, then trust and obedience must be paid to the living God rather than to the words of Scripture.
... If it is risky to trust ourselves to the evidence of God at work in transformed lives even when it challenges the clear statements of Scripture, it is a far greater risk to allow the words of Scripture to blind us to the presence and power of the living God.

Am I the only one who gets tired of political pundits saying, as they frequently do, that "the American people are too smart for that" with regard to some attempted sleight-of-hand by a politician? Herewith a counter-example taken from man-in-the-street interviews after the (Republican) Congress failed to pass a term-limits bill (The Washington Post, March 31, 1995):

[A term-limit supporter], 44, of Garden Grove, Calif., a beer keg salesman, said that with the measure's defeat, "Congress has got the idea that what they did will keep them in longer. When their constituents find out, to me, those guys will be out quicker than anything."

Robert Kuttner on government regulation (The Washington Post op-ed page, December 12, 1995):

[In medical care, for example,] the consumer may have no practical alternative. Caveat emptor is pretty thin armor. An elderly patient in a nursing home with a feeding tube is not exactly a sovereign consumer.

Annie Groer and Ann Gerhart on Senator-elect Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who lost an arm and both legs in the Vietnam War (The Washington Post "The Reliable Source", November 15, 1996):

During [the 1996] campaign, the 54-year-old sometimes recounted a "true incident of an eyeball-to-eyeball talk" with a voter 26 years ago. The man finally said he'd back Cleland "because you've got only one hand to put in the till, and if you put it in there, you can't run very far with it".

Amy E. Schwartz on Dr. Paul Ellwood, "who is credited with laying the intellectual basis for managed care" (especially HMOs) and who began "admitting children with learning disabilities for diagnostic stays that would be paid for by insurance." Schwartz quotes Ellwood from a December 8, 1996 New York Times Magazine article, "The Ellwoods: But What About Quality? (paragraphs 3 and 4), by Lisa Belkin: "I had done this not because it was best for the kids, but because of the perverse incentives in that system." (The Washington Post op-ed page, March 17, 1997)

Perverse incentives? As opposed to, say a perverse response to existing options? [Regardless of your views, one can't help but] be spooked by this image of a man who could decide — for whatever financial "incentive" — to fill his clinic ward with children he knows don't need to be there. If the right amount of money will induce a person to hospitalize kids who should be home, how much money is the right amount to keep him from doing so?

James S. Turner's response to some of James K. Glassman's usual nonsense (The Washington Post "Letters to the Editor", July 22, 1997):

Unfortunately space did not allow James K. Glassman to report Adam Smith's complete 1783 quote on consumption ["Why We Trade", op-ed, July 1]. Mr. Glassman quoted Smith saying, "Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production." Smith continued "and the interest of the producers ought to be attended to, only in so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer."
Max Lerner's 1938 forward to The Wealth of Nations commented on "the curious paradox of Smith's position in history; to have fashioned his system of thought in order to blast away the institutional obstructions from the past, and bring a greater degree of economic freedom and therefore a greater total wealth for all the people in a nation; and yet to have his doctrine result in the glorification of irresponsibility. ... A reading of Adam Smith's work and a study of its place in the history of ideas should be one of the best solvents for smugness and intellectual absolutism."

Zing! Regarding a proposal by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) to add Ronald Reagan to Mount Rushmore at the taxpayers' expense, Denis R. Borum ably refutes the idea and concludes by suggesting that Mr. Salmon instead find an abandoned strip mine on which to chisel out his desired rock image — at no cost to the taxpayers. (The Washington Post "Letters to the Editor", March 5, 1999)

Perhaps in the spirit of Reaganomics, Mr. Salmon could put it on his credit card.

The late Oliver Willis on his Like Kryptonite to Stupid weblog (April 29, 2004):

Facts, be prepared to hurt brain.

The popular theme of term limits in the 1990s was replaced by "non-defense spending cuts" in the 2010s. In the wake of devastating tornadoes in the South that killed over 300 people (Wikipedia), GOP representative Mo Brooks from especially hard-hit Alabama said, "It's a proper function of the national government to assist people in times of national disaster. Don't get me wrong — individuals have responsibilities", recommending that people keep a 72-hour emergency supply of first aid and food. (Politico, "Spending rhetoric shifts in wake of disasters" by Marin Cogan, May 19, 2011; the content of the article is nauseating, as are the conservatives described therein; by the way, nine years later — December 2020 — Brooks still has "stupid" written on his forehead; and, when you think about it, 3 days of supplies is not some magic number and may be insufficient, as Hurricane Katrina and other disasters before 2011 had already shown us.) Commenter JRH responded to Brooks' suggestion at digby's Hullabaloo (But how do they hope to pay for it?, May 21, 2011; comments no longer shown):

There must be stupid written somewhere on his forehead. Storing enough emergency supplies to last 72 hours is great.........unless a huge f*ing tornado goes through and takes your house. Generally your supplies will fly away with everything else.

John Kenneth Galbraith in The Age of Uncertainty (1977):

But the privileged also feel that their privileges, however egregious they may seem to others, are a solemn, basic, God-given right. The sensitivity of the poor to injustice is a trivial thing compared with that of the rich.

Juan Cole's Informed Comment, "Political Obituary for the Neocons", June 10, 2004:

[A neoconservative laments that George W. Bush may come to be seen as the worst president since Jimmy Carter.] That is ridiculous. Jimmy Carter was a far better president than W. can ever hope to be. Carter made peace between Israel and Egypt. He resolved the Panama Canal issue to everyone's satisfaction, and we've never heard any more about it because there haven't been subsequent problems. He avoided a potentially disastrous US attempt to prevent or roll back the Islamic Revolution in Iran. He used the foreign aid carrot to begin the process of pushing the Latin American military regimes to democratize (a process that has been wildly successful). He raised human rights as a foreign policy issue. Carter is a quick study and a bright engineer. He was president at a time of post-Vietnam and post-Watergate doldrums, at a time when Iran and Afghanistan spun out of control, at a time of high petroleum prices, continued stagflation, and high inflation. I am not entirely sure what he could have done about any of these problems, most of which were beyond his control (and most of which remained beyond the control of his successors).

Reagan did not overturn Khomeini, rather he sold him arms. Although Reagan got the Soviets out of Afghanistan, he did it at the cost of creating a radical Islamist international [sic] and destabilizing Pakistan and Afghanistan — i.e. Afghanistan continued to spin out of control, with fateful consequences. The price of petroleum declined from $40 a barrel in 1980 to less than $10 a barrel in 1986, helping Reagan quite a lot, but it had nothing to do with any policy pursued by Reagan. (Europe cut its energy consumption by a third after the 1970s oil shock, and OPEC has a tendency to overproduce over time). After Carter retired, he spent his time building houses for disadvantaged people. He also was key to the elimination of a painful and debilitating parasite in Africa, improving the lives of millions. The vilification of Carter and the hero worship of W. is a sign of how morally warped the American Right really is. Carter's political and economic environment made it impossible for him to be a great president, but he was a damn sight better than W. any day of the week.

House, Season 8, Episode 4, "Risky Business"

Dr. House: [Y]ou're an irrational patriot. To put it another way, a patriot.

Dr. Parks: Patrotism is natural. We've always relied on our tribes to keep us safe. It's helpful for society if its members have positive feelings about that society.

Dr. House: Iranian women? Drag queens in Uganda? Patriotism is nothing but loyalty to real estate. Real estate that's been conquered 800 times by 800 different regimes with 800 different cultures. But each time it's just the best. I claim this burger in the name of Queen Isabella of Spain.

Stephen Jay Gould was asked in an interview about his stomach cancer: "Am I a better person for having suffered through and survived stomach cancer? No, I was a great person beforehand. Do I have a fuller appreciation of life? No, I appreciated it just fine before, thank you very much." (Not his actual words, but you get his drift.) In somewhat the same vein is this excerpt from a piece by the late Andre Dubus ("Remembering Andre Dubus"), titled "Crip Sheet: Why the Able-Bodied Still Don't Get It". (Utne Reader, Sept-Oct 1997; originally published in Epoch, 1997 Series, Vol. 46, No. 1)

I sing of those who cannot. To view human suffering as an abstraction, as a statement about how plucky we all are, is to blow air through brass while the boys and girls march in parade off to war. Seeing the flesh as only a challenge to the spirit is as false as seeing the spirit as only a challenge to the flesh. On the planet are people with whole and strong bodies, whose wounded spirits need the constant help that the quadriplegic needs for his body. What we need is not the sound of horns rising to the sky but the steady beat of the bass drum. When you march to a bass drum, your left foot touches the earth with each beat, and you can feel the drum in your body: boom and boom and boom and pity people pity people pity people.

(The full essay found online at a homework web site.)

Continuing on with Stephen Jay Gould, I came across a sentence with which I think he would wholeheartedly agree. From Sarah Dry's book, Waters of the World: The Story of the Scientists Who Unravelled the Mysteries of Our Seas, Glaciers, and Atmosphere — and Made the Planet Whole:

The role of mystery, ignorance, and wonder in the pursuit of science and the implementation of its findings remains as important as ever, though we have lost the Victorians readiness to acknowledge this fact.

Why I am an Anglophile was perfectly captured by John Updike in a paragraph from "A Madman", a short story in his collection, The Music School (the emphasis in the quote is mine):

England itself seemed slightly insane to us. The meadows skimming past the windows of the Southampton-London train seemed green deliriously, seemed so obsessively steeped in color that my eyes, still attuned to the exhausted verdure and September rust of American fields, doubted the ability of this landscape to perform useful work. England appeared to exist purely as a context of literature. I had studied this literature for four years, and had been sent here to continue this study. Yet my brain, excited and numbed by travel, could produce only one allusion; "a' babbled of green fields," that inconsequential Shakespearean snippet rendered memorable by a classic typographical emendation, kept running through my mind, "a' babbled, a' babbled," as the dactylic scansion of the train wheels drew us and our six mute, swaying compartment-mates northward into London. The city overwhelmed our expectations. The Kiplingesque grandeur of Waterloo Station, the Eliotic despondency of the brick row in Chelsea where we spent the night in the flat of a vague friend, the Dickensian nightmare of fog and sweating pavement and besmirched cornices that surrounded us when we awoke — all this seemed too authentic to be real, too corroborative of literature to be solid. The taxi we took to Paddington Station had a high roof and an open side, which gave it to our eyes the shocked, cockeyed expression of a character actor in an Agatha Christie melodrama. We wheeled past mansions by Galsworthy and parks by A. A. Milne; we glimpsed a cobbled eighteenth-century alley, complete with hanging tavern boards, where Dr. Johnson might have reeled and gasped the night he laughed so hard — the incident in Boswell so beautifully amplified in the essay by Beerbohm. And underneath all, underneath Heaven knew how many medieval plagues, pageants, and conflagrations, old Londinium itself like a buried Titan lay smoldering in an abyss and tangle of time appalling to eyes accustomed to view the land as a surface innocent of history. We were relieved to board the train and feel it tug us westward.

Following along in a literary vein, here's a George Eliot-like passage from The Battle of Life (Chapter 3) by Charles Dickens, concerning the character, Clemency:

So easy it is, in any degree of life (as the world very often finds it), to take those cheerful natures that never assert their merit, at their own modest valuation; and to conceive a flippant liking of people for their outward oddities and eccentricities, whose innate worth, if we would look so far, might make us blush in the comparison!

And from G. K. Chesterton's seriocomic The Ball and The Cross (Chapter 6):

Though their pace was steady it was vigorous; their faces were heated and their eyes fixed and bright ...

"Are you all right?" said Turnbull, with civility. "Can you keep this up?"

"Quite easily, thank you," replied MacIan. "I run very well."

"Is that a qualification in a family of warriors?" asked Turnbull.

"Undoubtedly. Rapid movement is essential," answered MacIan, who never saw a joke in his life.

When I worked in the Serials Department, I came upon this quote from an unidentified journal in Pursuit, V. 3, No. 1, January 1970.

A change elicited by an affect or effect or by an affectant in the affectee is a passive or active response affect or response effect. If it counters the affect or effect of the affectant which elicits it, it is an active counteraffect or countereffect. If it is an active counteraffect or effect, it is a counter-active affect — i.e., a reaction in the strict sense of the term used by pathologists.
Update: I found the Pursuit issue (PDF) online; the PDF is a collection of issues, so go to page 78 (out of 266) to see the quote. Further research uncovered the original source of the quote, "The Etiology of Crown-Gall", by Richard M. Klein, and George K. K. Link in The Quarterly Journal of Biology, Vol. 30, No. 3, September 1955. The quote appears at the end of the first page, fortunately, because you have to pay to see the full paper! In fairness to the authors, the preceding paragraph does lay the groundwork — perhaps not successfully! — for the quote.

Duane Allman introducing "Done Somebody Wrong" (YouTube) at the Fillmore East:

Alright, we got a new song for you, an old Elmore James song we'd like to play. This is an old true story — this is called "I Must Have Did Somebody Wrong" ... I wonder who?

You have to listen to it to appreciate Duane's inflections and you have to listen to it very closely (and turned up loud) to hear the "I wonder who?" (I think you can hear it better on the actual album than you can on the YouTube video.) For decades, I thought that Duane's precise articulation of the title, "I Must Have Did Somebody Wrong", and the incorrect word ("Did") were just Duane being funny. However, I recently noticed that Gregg sings, "I must have did somebody wrong." Elmore James, in his original recording, follows the title and sings, "I must have done somebody wrong." (Nope, not quite! Elmore James sings "done" in the first verse, but "did" in the third verse!)

Steve Goodman's "I Ain't Heard You Play No Blues" (©1973).

My baby came to me this morning
and she said, "I'm kind of confused."
She said, "If me and B. B. King was both drownin',
which one would you choose?"
I said, "Whoa, baby!"
I said, "Whoa, baby!"
I said, "Whoa-oa, baby!
Baby, I ain't never heard you play no blues."

And don't forget "Chicken Cordon Blues"!

[Jeff Healey]

Jeff Healey's reminder to count your blessings ("Hell To Pay" by Jeff Healey, Joe Rockman, and Tom Stephen, from their Hell to Pay album):

Well, when you think you got problems you don't really need,
they're maybe not as bad as they seem.
'Cause in a world full of misery, with hatred and greed,
your problems are another man's dream.

Now when your own little world seems to be in a state
and you think you may be losin' your mind,
Just remember the people who only can wait
for happiness they never will find.

And you know, problems come and problems go.
This is something you should know:
There's people in the world today
who don't have nothin' but hell to pay.

Now when your life of success has got you livin' in doubt
and you're feeling like there's nowhere to turn,
Just remember the world that you don't know about
and all the lessons that you can learn

'Cause you know, problems come and problems go.
This is something you should know:
There's people in the world today
who don't have nothin' but hell to pay.
Some people today
Got hell to pay.
That's what they got ...
And tomorrow
or yesterday,
They got hell to pay.
All right ...

'Cause you know, problems come and problems go.
This is something you should know:
There's people in the world today
who don't have nothin' but hell to pay.

Well, when you think you got problems you don't really need,
they're maybe not as bad as they seem.
'Cause in a world full of misery, from hatred and greed,
your problems are another man's dream.

And you know, problems come and problems go.
This is something you should know:
There's people in the world today
who don't have nothin' but hell to pay.

(With some help from Lyrics Buddy.)

From Unvirtuous Abbey's "Unicorn Theology and Unplugging Your Head":

"Some of the more recent prayers that generated lots of comments are:
For those who deny global warming yet think that human morality affects plate tectonics, we pray to the Lord.

Lord, you who told Lazarus to 'Come out!', we pray for religious leaders who tell people it's wrong to do that. Amen.

For those who claim to be holy but burn others' holy books, Lord have mercy.

For those who say 'Everything happens for a reason' because, honest to God, that's a really dumb thing to say. Amen.

For those who insist on the literal inerrancy of something they've never really read, Lord hear our prayer.

(Regarding the fourth prayer above about "Everything happens for a reason", see Mark Sandlin's, "10 Things You Can't SAY While Following Jesus".)

The signature line in a March 21, 1994 posting to misc.consumers. What a great sense of humor! (Also see Christian Weisgerber's August 4, 2016 comment about the "consonant panic" English and German speakers experience when confronted with Polish names.)

Filip "I'll buy a vowel" Gieszczykiewicz

W. Edwards in a September 8, 1996 posting to misc.consumers, responding to a query about radar detectors.

Can't help you with what to buy. Just try and have a good explanation to your children about the moral values you are teaching them. And, of course, you can not punish them for disobeying you if they take steps not to be caught. You will really have fun when they are teenagers.

Phil Miller in a July 23, 1996 posting to rec.music.beatles under the subject, "Re: Olympics bigger than Jesus".

Thus as of last count we have:
Gold Medal: McDonalds
Silver Medal: The Olympics
Bronze Medal: The Beatles
Crown of Thorns: Jesus

Gregory Pease in a November 30, 1995 posting to rec.photo.misc.

By my definition, the very bestest of all cameras is the one you have with you when the opportunity for a great photo presents itself!

Bradley Tice in an October 23, 1995 posting to misc.consumers.

If I was God some lawyer would still argue with my version of the facts and try to taint my character on cross examination.

Of course, then he'd be toast.

A long-time favorite of mine from comp.arch is Paul W. DeMone's signature line:

The 801 experiment SPARCed an ARMs race of EPIC proportions to put more PRECISION and POWER into architectures with MIPSed results but ALPHA's well that ends well.

Matthew Vanecek's signature line from an August 20, 2000 Slashdot posting:

For 93 million miles, there is nothing between the sun and my shadow except me. I'm always getting in the way of something ...

Virgil Dupras's Hardcoded Software's (Wayback Machine) take on browser requirements (disclaimer: I used the original Opera for well over 10 years and I love The White Stripes):

This site is best viewed with Opera while listening to The White Stripes

These quotes speak for themselves:

"[He] couldn't empty a boot full of water if the instructions were on the heel!" (Fatso, in one of Rear Admiral Daniel V. Gallery, DDLM's Fatso books, quoted from my 25-year old memories. Gallery is famous for his naval task force's capture of the U-505; further history and pictures.)
"Al couldn't find land if he was skydiving!" (Marcie, in an episode of Married with Children in which Al has appointed himself captain of a liferaft out in the middle of the ocean.)

Bumper stickers I've seen and liked:

I'm fat, but you're ugly and I can diet.
Human nature needs a more scenic route.
Soular-Powered by the Son
Allah Gives and Forgives.
Man Gets and Forgets.
[Bumper sticker]
Jesus is coming (look busy)
(my other car is a cdr)     (You've got to be a Lisp or Scheme programmer: (follow-link Wikipedia))

Bumper stickers I've seen and disliked:

Don't Let This Car Fool You
My Real Treasure Is In Heaven     (Good luck threading that needle, buddy!)


Courtesy & Safety are Free — Use Them Generously     (On a Smithfield Trailer)
KANE is able
www.kaneisable.com     (Thanks to Nicole Balenger)

License plates I've seen and liked:

SWMBO     (You've got to be a Rumpole fan!)

Alex Measday  /  E-mail