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Jewish World Review Jan. 3, 2001 / 8 Teves, 5761

John Leo

John Leo
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The year's best quips on life, politics – and golf -- IT'S TIME AGAIN for this column's roundup of the year's best aphorisms, axioms, and proverblike one-liners. Meditating on the ups and downs of life, Diane Sawyer remarked: "One day you're the statue. One day you're the pigeon." Author Stefan Kanfer said, "When intellectuals have little to say they write about sport, when they have nothing to say they write about Muhammad Ali." Mark Katz, a comedy writer, said about comedians: "A good joke will last a week. And a bad joke will appear in their obituary." Screenwriter and author Josh Greenfeld said: "The secret of popular success is pulling the implications of your punches," and "Better than certainty is to have the courage of ambivalence–except I'm not sure about it."

"Stay clear of anyone . . . who refers to God more than once in an hour," said Roger Rosenblatt, who included a professional exemption for clergy. In his bright and wise book, Rules for Aging, Rosenblatt also wrote: "Nobody ever really wants a scandal cleared up. Uncleared up, a scandal is like radio–it allows the imagination to rove like a child in a flower field." Also: "Run when you hear any of the following in a sentence: humanity, the human condition, the human spirit," and "Just because the person who criticizes you is an idiot doesn't make him wrong."

Other pointed thoughts about idiocy come from Dr. E. L. Kersten of Despair Incorporated, a satirical Web site. Each year he puts out some deflating and clever maxims. Recent ones include: "There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots," "The secret of success is knowing whom to blame for your failure," and "Quitters never win, winners never quit, but those who never win and never quit are idiots."

"The longer the question, the easier it is to evade," said Jim Lehrer of the NewsHour, who asks short questions. Someone said: "If the Democrats wanted Gore to be president so bad they should have voted for impeachment." When Florida vote counters denied being intimidated by Republican demonstrators, Democratic lawyer and talking head Alan Dershowitz offered a semi-aphorism: "Intimidated people always say they are not intimidated; that's the nature of intimidation." In defense of the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to let TV cameras cover Bush v. Gore, Charles Krauthammer wrote: "In the television age, the way to avoid trivialization is to remain veiled."

Pistol-packing frogs. The campaign brought a new crop of Dan Rather's down-home folk sayings, some more mystifying than others. On election night Rather said: "This race is as hot and tight as a too-small bathing suit on a too-long ride home from the beach." Making the point that "what if" questions are not worth asking, Rather said: "If a frog had side pockets, he'd carry a handgun." (But Dan, would all amphibians with pockets have to be pistol-packing males?) Elaine Partnow, author of the forthcoming book The Quotable Woman, contributed the following aphorisms: "Misery loves celebrated company" (Maureen Dowd), "You learn more from 10 days of agony than from 10 years of content" (Sally Jessy RaphaŽl), and "A woman who strives to be like a man lacks ambition" (astronaut and physicist Mae Jemison).

"They call a movie 'art house' until they find out people like it, in which case it's mainstream," said playwright and screenwriter David Mamet. A retired Tory peer and columnist, Lord Norman Tebbit, wrote: "Racism is not widespread among most of British society, but it permeates every nook and cranny of the race relations industry." Anything in education that is labeled "a movement" should be avoided like the plague, Diane Ravitch wrote in Left Back, her history of American public schooling. Rob Rosenberger, an Iowa computer security specialist, said about Internet myths and legends: "Old hoaxes never die, they just get a new life cycle." "The welfare state cannot avoid becoming the judiciary state," Jacques Barzun wrote in his book From Dawn to Decadence.

British comedian and playwright Arthur Smith said: "If you want to be happy for a short time, get drunk; happy for a long time, fall in love; happy forever, take up gardening." "No one should grow old who isn't prepared to be ridiculous," said Sir John Mortimer, 77, creator of the BBC's Rumpole of the Bailey. He also said, "The real trouble with old age is that it lasts for such a short time." It has lasted an unusually long time for Sen. Strom Thurmond, who turned 98 last month (December) and offered this thought: "Life wouldn't be worth living if we didn't have pretty women."

Humorist Dave Barry explained how to distinguish between the two groups of fans at the Subway Series: "Yankee fans tend to be brash, cocky, arrogant, egotistical, loud, and overbearing, whereas Mets fans tend to be egotistical, overbearing, cocky, brash, arrogant, and loud." The top aphorisms about golf would include the sugary line from the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance: "Inside each and every one of us is one authentic swing." Also "Golf is like life in a lot of ways. . . . All the biggest wounds are self-inflicted."–Bill Clinton, in an interview in Golf Digest. This may be Clinton's only major admission to appear in a golf magazine. But then again, maybe it all depends on what we mean by the word golf.

JWR contributor John Leo's latest book is Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police. Send your comments by clicking here.


12/19/00: Supreme confusion
12/11/00: Racial rhetoric conveniently ignores election facts
12/05/00: Savage fantasy
11/27/00: Victims of the year get the recognition they deserve
11/20/00: It's a chad, chad, chad, chad world
11/13/00: The election rhetoric is running much too high
11/07/00: How yesterday's hero becomes tomorrow's heel
10/30/00: Would Bush's Supreme Court picks make a difference?
10/24/00: Yankees, go home!
10/17/00: Un-American activity?
10/10/00: A tempest in an ink pot
10/03/00: The Al Gore quiz
09/26/00: The sleeper effect
09/19/00: Baby-saving made easy
09/12/00: Line between reporting and editorializing continues to blur
09/05/00: In the key of F
08/29/00: Hollywood connection
08/22/00: Some friendly advice to the GOP
08/15/00: You can't make this up
08/08/00: The niceness strategy
08/01/00: When rules don't count
07/25/00: Anti-male bias increasingly pervades our culture
07/18/00: Banned in Boston
07/12/00: What Jacoby had to deal with!
07/11/00: Will boys be boys?
07/05/00: Partial-sense decision
06/27/00: Attitude toward death penalty gets in the way of facts
06/20/00: Double troubles
06/13/00: Fools paradise
06/06/00: Accidental conspirator
05/30/00: Faking the hate
05/23/00: Was it law or poetry?
05/16/00: Here, there and everywhere, people have gone bonkers
05/09/00: Tufts evangelicals are punished for acting on their beliefs
05/02/00: Elian's opera isn't over until nearly everyone sings
04/25/00: All the news that fits: The media serve up many stories from a standard script
04/19/00: Those darned readers: The gap between reporters and the general public is huge
04/05/00: Census sense and nonsense
03/29/00: Hollywood message films leave no room for other views
03/22/00: The Vatican confesses, but is it enough?
03/14/00: Watch what you say: The left can no longer be counted on to defend free speech
03/07/00: McCain's malleable messages
03/01/00: Bush's appearance at Bob Jones U. will dog him all the way
02/23/00: 'Multi-millionaire' show is new evidence we're insane

© 2000, John Leo