September 21, 2016

James Watt’s infamous quip about “a woman, two Jews, and a cripple”

Nowadays, when politicians and high-profile government bureaucrats make obviously offensive remarks, they often seem do it on purpose, to generate press attention and appeal to hard-core voters on the far right or far left of the political spectrum.

The more traditional style of offensive and stupid quotes by politicians and bureaucrats are the type that aren’t actually intended to get media attention, but do.

A classic example of the latter occurred on September 21, 1983.

That day, James G. Watt, who had been appointed as U.S. Secretary of the Interior by President Ronald Reagan, was giving a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

At one point, he explained the diversity of the members of the “U.S. Commission on Fair Market Value Policy for Federal Coal Leasing” with this dunderheaded description:

“We have every kind of mix you can have. I have a black, I have a woman, two Jews and a cripple.”

Even for that less politically-correct era, it was a stupendously idiotic remark to make in a public speech with reporters present and it created a huge flap.

Of course, that was just one of many controversies Watt managed to create.

Before Reagan appointed him Secretary of the Interior in 1981, Watt was a lawyer who specialized in representing people and groups who opposed environmental laws and regulations — particularly the laws and regulations designed to protect natural areas from environmentally-damaging development.

Thus, his appointment as the head of an agency that’s supposed to protect America’s parks and wilderness areas was highly controversial in itself.

Once in office, the policies he pursued were, as feared, slanted in favor of opening parks and wildlands to more development, rather than toward preserving them. Understandably, this outraged environmentalists.

But they weren’t the only people Watt managed to annoy and insult.

For example, in January of 1983 Watt said: “If you want an example of the failures of socialism, don’t go to Russia, come to America and go to the Indian reservations.”

Later that year, he angered rock ‘n’ roll music fans by prohibiting The Beach Boys from playing their annual Fourth of July concert at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Watt explained that he banned the Beach Boys because rock concerts attracted “an undesirable element.”

Then came the uproar over Watt’s September 21 remark about “a woman, two Jews, and a cripple.”

That last verbal straw finally led President Reagan to force Watt to resign.

Since then, Watt has continued to annoy various people and groups, but not quite as famously.

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to SEPTEMBER 21:

“The Star Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key's patriotic poem, later put to music and enshrined as America's National Anthem, was first published in The Baltimore American on September 21, 1814. 

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” the famous line in an editorial by American newspaper editor Francis P. Church, was published in the New York Sun on September 21, 1897.

“It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” President Bill Clinton made this statement in videotaped testimony provided to a grand jury in August 1998, when asked if there is any sex involved in his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. The tape was not released publicly until September 21, 1998. When it was, his “meaning of the word ‘is’” line immediately became infamous.

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Related reading:

September 17, 2016

“Don’t tase me, bro!”

Don't Tase Me Bro
The Internet created a new way for quotations to become famous, including many that would probably might not be well known otherwise. (It also created a new way for misquotes to spread, a major pet peeve of people like me who want to know whether a quotation is real or not.)

Depending on how much you “surf the ‘Net” and how long you’ve been surfing, you may or may not know quotes like “All your base are belong to us” and “I Can Has Cheezburger?”

Nowadays, quotes like those that spread virally via social media are often called memes.

Some quote memes are popularized by graphic images with text that get posted on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Some are spread by videos, through sites like YouTube.

These online media outlets provide a lightning-fast way for memes to spread around the world and become famous literally overnight.

One example is a quote that had its initial “fifteen minutes of fame” in 2007 and eventually became a long-lasting meme.

On September 17, 2007, US Senator John Kerry gave an address to students at the University of Florida in Gainesville. After delivering his prepared remarks, Kerry took questions from the audience.

As the Q&A period was ending, 21-year-old student Andrew Meyer grabbed a microphone, started insulting Kerry, ranting about political conspiracy theories, and talking about how President Bill Clinton was impeached for getting “a blowjob” (from Monica Lewinsky).

The University police decided Meyer was going a bit over the top and started to forcibly remove him from the auditorium. He resisted.

The cops warned him to go quietly or get zapped with a taser gun. Meyer kept resisting, while yelling “Don’t tase me, bro.”

The police tased him anyway, arrested him and removed him from the building.

Someone shot a video of the hubbub. Shortly thereafter, it was posted it on YouTube.

TheAndrewMeyer.com websiteThen it was reposted on multiple YouTube pages and other sites.

Within 24 hours, the incident and Meyers’ phrase “Don’t tase me, bro!” were known to millions of Internet users. (For the few readers who may not know, the slang word bro is shorthand for brother.)

Soon after the video and phrase went viral online, mainstream news outlets picked it up and made it even more famous.

Indeed, quote maven Fred Shapiro, author of the great Yale Book of Quotations picked “Don’t tase me, bro” as the most memorable quote of 2007 in his annual list of famous quotes of the year.

The word tase was also listed as 2007’s word of the year by the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary.

Meyers’ quote has since been featured on t-shirts and other accessories and has been used and recycled in countless ways in videos, social media posts, songs, books and other media.

This has given Meyer enough of a “celebrity” status and fan base to become a professional blogger, political commentator and activist.

On his website, TheAndrewMeyer.com (a URL that makes it clear he is The Andrew Meyer, as opposed to any others), the “About” page says:

Andrew Meyer writes and speaks about politics, music, sports, spiritual wisdom and more, and is internationally known for questioning U.S. Presidential candidate John Kerry and coining the phrase "Don't Tase Me Bro!"

He also sells ads to willing sponsors of his website.

One of the more prominent ads featured there as I was writing this post was an ad for a company selling “Food That Fights Dementia.”

I suspect some targets of Meyer’s political attacks might find that ironic.

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Related reading: books about Internet memes…

September 03, 2016

The (Pit) Bull Heard ‘Round the World…

Sarah Palin at Republican Convention 2008
Every four years, the American presidential election campaign generates a new batch of oft-cited political quotes.

On September 3, 2008, former Alaska Governor and Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin uttered a line that was soon both famous and infamous.

That night at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, Palin gave a much-anticipated speech.

During it, the self-described “hockey mom” uttered these immortal words:

       “You know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.”

The quip was widely repeated in news coverage and is now found in many books and on websites that collect famous quotations.

Interestingly, Palin didn’t create the “women + dog + lipstick” joke formula.

An earlier example appears in the 2005 book What Every Man Wants In A Woman / What Every Woman Wants In A Man, written by Texas televangelist Pastor John Hagee.

In that enlightening guide to male/female relations, Hagee wrote:

“Do you know the difference between a woman with PMS and a snarling Doberman pinscher? The answer is lipstick.”

I’m sure female readers of Hagee’s work enjoyed that knee slapper. (Amazingly, he followed it with an even worse one: “Do you know the difference between a terrorist and a woman with PMS? You can negotiate with a terrorist.”)

Of course, Palin’s version of the woman/canine analogy became the most famous.

Piggy w lipstick-8x6After she said it, it was quoted, analyzed, praised and mocked for weeks in the news and around water coolers.

Even Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama couldn’t resist making a wisecrack that seemed to make a sly reference to it.

On September 10, 2008, while commenting on some of the policy “changes” proposed by Republican Presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, Obama used a version of an old joke about putting lipstick on pigs:

“That's not change,” he said of McCain’s proposals. “That's just calling the same thing something different. But you know, you can put lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig.”

Well, holy moly! That got the Republicans as mad as honked-off horny toads! So, they responded by calling Obama, among other things, a sexist pig.

Naturally, that made the Democrats as mad as a bull seeing red, so they responded by saying...

Nevermind. We had to listen to porcine puns and canine quips by politicians, headline writers and the TV pundits for weeks. It drove us all crazy. (Me anyway.) 

I’m giving the animal rights group PETA the last word on the great animal + lipstick analogy debate of 2008.

PETA posted an anti-animal testing Google Adsense ad that came up on some websites if you searched the phrase “lipstick on a pig.”

The ad said:

“Lipstick on a pig? Pigs shouldn’t have lipstick unless they’ve been kissed. Help Pigs now!”

And, may the gods help us voters live through the latest rancorous, insult-filled presidential campaign.

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Related reading and viewing…

August 22, 2016

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Like virtually all African Americans who grew up in Mississippi during the first half of the 20th century, Fannie Lou Hamer endured many injustices in her life.

Some went beyond the typical day-to-day discrimination of the Southern “Jim Crow” social system.

In 1961, Hamer was sterilized without her consent or knowledge by a white doctor, as a part of an officially sanctioned plan to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state.

When she tried to register to vote, the white farmer she worked for fired and evicted her.

In 1962, Hamer become an active volunteer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the leading civil rights groups of the era.

In 1963, during a trip to register black voters in Winona, Mississippi, Hamer and four other SNCC volunteers were savagely beaten and arrested by the police. She later recalled that, from her cell, she could hear the sound of continued beatings and a policeman yelling: “Can you say, ‘yes, sir,’ nigger?”

It took Hamer more than a month to recover and she was left partially disabled for the rest of her life.

Undeterred, she went on to help organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

In 1964, the MFDP officially asked the the National Democratic Party to seat their chosen delegates at the party’s upcoming National Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

This created a dilemma for the Democrats. At the time, the official Democratic Party delegation from Mississippi was all white. Those members demanded that the Credentials Committee reject the MFDP’s request. They warned that Southern Democrats would abandon President Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election if any black delegates were seated.

The Credentials Committee members were concerned about a white voter backlash in the South. But they were also concerned about appearing to be opposed to the civil rights movement. So, they invited Hamer and her group to make a presentation to them during the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City.

Hamer appeared before the committee on August 22, 1964.

She gave an amazingly moving account of the harassment and violence she and other blacks had been subjected to while trying to gain the right to vote in Mississippi.

President Johnson quickly tried to divert attention from Hamer’s appearance and the delegate seating issue by holding an impromptu press conference focusing on other issues. But, to his dismay, Hamer’s speech received widespread coverage in the national press.

Johnson then sent Senator Hubert Humphrey and other Democratic leaders to meet with Hamer and her colleagues. He offered to give the MFDP two non-voting seats at the convention. They refused to accept this crumb or any other token “compromises” the Democrats offered.

When asked why she persisted, Fannie Lou gave an answer she’d used before when asked why she persevered in her civil rights efforts.

“All my life I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.’”

The last part of Hamer’s response — “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” — became a famous quote forever associated with her.

After failing to get Hamer and the MFDP to accept a compromise, Johnson and the Democrats decided they feared a white Southern backlash in 1964 more than rejection by the black Americans who were able to vote. They refused to seat any MFDP members as voting delegates.

But the public attention generated by the issue and by Hamer’s speech added to the momentum for change.

A year later, the Democratically-controlled Congress passed — and President Johnson signed into law — the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited states from denying voting rights “on account of race.”

For its 1968 national convention, the National Democratic Party adopted a policy requiring African Americans to be fairly represented in state delegations.

One of the voting delegates seated at that 1968 convention was Fannie Lou Hamer.

I wonder what she’d say about the recent sad series of events in Ferguson, Missouri.

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Related reading and viewing:


August 07, 2016

“Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream...”

On August 8, 1966, Capitol Records released the Beatles album Revolver in the United States. (In the UK, the LP was released by Parlophone on August 5.)

Revolver became an immediate chart-topper and is now widely considered to be one of the greatest albums in music history.

It includes several especially famous and popular Beatle songs, like “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yellow Submarine,” and “Here, There and Everywhere.”

Moreover, as a whole, Revolver was a watershed album for the Beatles and popular music — lyrically, musically and even technologically. (Some songs include recording effects never or rarely heard before on a mainstream pop album, like automatic double tracking, tape looping and flanging.)

Rock music historian and critic Richie Unterberger called it “one of the very first psychedelic LPs.”

One of the trippiest songs on the album is “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Written primarily by John Lennon, it is clearly an ode to the hallucinogenic drug LSD. (In 1972, Lennon openly referred to it as “my first psychedelic song.”)

Unlike some other songs on Revolver, few people can recall many of the lyrics from “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

If you look for them on the Internet or in books, you’ll find several variations. Almost none have all the lyrics right.

But the famous first line — “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream” — is well known, cited by thousands of websites and books and usually quoted correctly.

A year or more before they recorded Revolver, John and the other Beatles — Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — began experimenting with “acid,” like many other musicians who were on the cutting edge of rock music and pop culture in the mid-1960s.

As recounted in many books about the Beatles and psychedelic drugs, John got the opening words of the song from a guide for users of hallucinogens that was co-authored by the Acid King himself, Timothy Leary, with his fellow psychoactive drug pioneers Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert (a.k.a. Ram Dass).

Titled The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it was published in 1964, a couple of years before Leary began using his catchphrase “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

In the introduction of the “manual,” Leary, Metzner and Alpert gave this advice to newbie LSD trippers who might feel a bit anxious when they saw the walls melting or felt like they were dying:

       “Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, float downstream.”

They adapted that recommendation from a line in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, an 8th century Buddhist text originally said to be a guide for people who actually were in the process of dying, prior to reincarnation.

That venerable book says that one stage in the process involves scary hallucinations, or “hell-visions.”

According to the translation in The Psychedelic Experience, the Book of the Dead helpfully explains:

       “The teaching concerning the hell-visions is the same as before; recognize them to be your own thought-forms, relax, float downstream.”

I can’t vouch for the translation or for how well this advice may work during the process of dying.

However, not long after the album Revolver was released, back in my Hippie days, I did do my own experimenting with LSD. And, in that context, I can say that the suggestion to relax and float downstream was pretty good advice.

In addition, having listened to “Tomorrow Never Knows” a thousand times or so, I can say that I’m pretty sure the correct lyrics are as follows (although, given the distortion effect used on Lennon’s voice, I can understand why there are several versions floating around):    

      “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream,
       It is not dying, it is not dying.
       Lay down all thought, surrender to the void,
       It is shining, it is shining.
       That you may see the meaning of within,
       It is being, it is being.
       That love is all and love is everyone,
       It is knowing, it is knowing.
       That ignorance and hate may mourn the dead,
       It is believing, it is believing.
       But listen to the color of your dream,
       It is not living, it is not living.

       Or play the game ‘Existence’ to the end,
       Of the beginning, of the beginning.”

By the way, the title of the song has nothing to do with drugs or death or Tibetan Buddhism. Like “A Hard Day’s Night” it’s another Beatles song title that started out as a Ringo Starr malapropism.

During a 1964 interview, Ringo answered a question by saying “Tomorrow never knows.”

Lennon remembered the quip and later explained that he used it as the song’s title “to sort of take the edge off the heavy philosophical lyrics.”

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Related listening and reading…

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