Jewish World Review Jan. 3, 2005 / 22 Teves 5765

Paul Greenberg

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Where I went wrong | There's nothing like starting the new year with a clear conscience, so before 2005 is upon us, I need to locate that manila folder - I'm sure it's here somewhere - with the letters and e-mails and telephoned comments from all the Alert Readers who straightened me out over the past 12 months.

Every year I resolve to meet the standard set by my favorite list of corrections. It appears in that immortal work of art "A Fish Called Wanda - a splendid example of the Late Monty Python period of English comedy.

And every year I fail. Because, when it comes to breath and brevity, it's impossible to beat the roll call of inaccuracies Jamie Lee Curtis rattles off in that film. It happens when she finally decides to straighten out the assorted intellectual pretensions of her character's insufferable boyfriend, Otto, played in high style by Kevin Kline. Her snappy delivery reminded me of some editors/professors I had as a journalism student at the University of Missouri:

"Aristotle was not Belgian. The central teaching of Buddhism is not 'Every man for himself.' The London Underground is not a political movement. These are mistakes, Otto. I looked them up."

Yep, and the Boxer Rebellion does not refer to a famous riot in an underwear factory.

I've tried to put this off as long as I could, but Patient Reader has waited long enough. Here's that folder and, uh-oh, it looks pretty full.

Let's begin with this one, it's such a pleasure. My thanks go to Cal Ledbetter, former Arkansas state legislator, retired professor of political science, and keeper of the institutional memory of this state's politics.

After a call from him last February, I thought much better of the Arkansas voter. Here's why:

In a memorial tribute to the late Tom McRae, I'd mentioned that I couldn't remember Tom's ever actually winning an election despite all the good causes he'd tried to advance. I knew him as a reformer, a small-is-beautiful economist, an all-around good guy, and one of the innumerable candidates Bill Clinton rolled over on his way to the top of the greasy pole. But did he ever win an election?

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Yes! Cal Ledbetter reminded me that Tom was a delegate to the state's ill-fated constitutional convention of '79-'80 - an elected position. So was Professor Ledbetter - who adds that Tom was one of the best delegates there. In the top 10, or maybe five, he would say. I'm not surprised.

Thank you, sir, I needed that.

Here are some other things I need to confess:

  • Richard Nixon scored his landslide triumph in 1972 over George McGovern, of course. In a slip of the mind worthy of Otto, I had him running against Hubert Humphrey, whom he narrowly defeated in 1968.

  • The foresighted Army general who warned this administration that it would take hundreds of thousands of American troops to pacify post-war Iraq, and who wasn't listened to, was Eric Shinseki, not John Shalikashvili. Close but no cigar, Otto.

  • The kids in the Weekly Reader Poll have picked the winner in 12 out of the 13 elections since 1956, but I was wrong about the one election they failed to predict. They guessed that George H. W. Bush, W.'s father, would win re-election over Bill Clinton in 1992. They guessed wrong. As for me, to quote one of my many favorite lines from Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca," "I was misinformed."

  • I also need to brush up on my Hippocrates. In a column last March about the court ruling out of Massachusetts that set off the furor over Gay Marriage, I wrote: "The first rule in these matters should be the same one Hippocrates proposed in his famous oath for physicians - do no harm."

Columnist, heal thyself. A correspondent - Bill Hartko of New Brunswick, N.J. - informed me that the phrase Do No Harm doesn't come from the Hippocratic Oath but from another work of Hippocrates, "The Epidemics."

My correspondent also noted that the famous physician didn't advocate a purely passive attitude toward disease, for the entire sentence reads: "As to diseases, make a habit of two things - to help, or at least do no harm."

There. That was the last item in the folder. Whew. How blessedly bare it looks now, though surely it won't be for long. But I can sleep better tonight. Confession is good for the soul.

Here's wishing you, Gentle Reader, a happy new year and, when you look back on 2005, may your own folder of errors be empty.

Or at least entertaining.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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