December 18, 2014

“Politics is not an exact science,” said Bismark. But is it an art?


On this date in 1863, the Prussian statesman Otto von Bismark made a famous remark about politics to members of the Prussian parliament.

“Politics is not an exact science,” he said, on December 18, 1863.

At the time, Bismark was serving as right hand man and Minister-President for Prussian King William I, who faced occasional challenges to his policies from Prussian legislators.

When legislators balked at the King’s proposal for more military spending in December 1863, Bismark told them: 

“An assembly of three hundred and fifty members cannot, nowadays, in the last resort, direct the policy of a great power...Politics is not an exact science...I am not afraid of democracy; if I were, I should give up the game. If the House refuses to vote supplies, we must take them where we can find them.”

The Prussian legislators were not convinced.

They refused to approve the King’s military funding proposal.

So, Bismark — a tough “statesman” known for his belief that state policy should be carried out “through blood and iron” when needed — had the King dissolve the Prussian parliament.

Problem solved.

In 1867, as Bismark was overseeing the unification of Prussia and other formerly separate German states into the German Empire, he uttered an oft-quoted variation on his earlier remark when he said: Politics is the art of the possible.”

Then, in 1884, in a speech to the German parliament as the Imperial Chancellor, Bismark made yet another famous comment about politics: Politics is not a science...but an art.”

Most of us would probably agree that politics is not a science, especially not an exact one.

But I doubt if many people would call what happens in the U.S. Congress or their state legislatures an art — unless they’re talking about the Surrealism genre.

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Related reading…

December 15, 2014

“Elvis has left the building.”


Even people who aren’t Elvis Presley fans know the line “Elvis has left the building.”

Credit for popularizing this famous quote goes to Al Dvorin, a Chicago bandleader and booking agent hired by Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker in 1957 to help organize Elvis concerts and serve as an announcer at the shows.

From the late 1950s until Presley’s death in 1977, Dvorin spoke these familiar words at the end of “The King’s” concerts, to let audiences know a show was definitely over and that Elvis would not be coming back for any more encores.

The most widely heard use of the line by Dvorin is on the live album Elvis as Recorded at Madison Square Garden, taped at a classic Presley concert at Madison Square Garden on June 10, 1972.

That album has been listened to by millions of people around the world. On the last track, titled “End Theme,” Al Dvorin is heard saying:

       “Elvis has left the building. Thank you and good night.”

Dvorin’s use of “Elvis has left the building” (sometimes preceded by “Ladies and Gentlemen…”) is so well known that many websites erroneously claim he coined the line.

In fact, although he did make it famous, he didn’t say it first.

It was actually coined as an off-the-cuff remark by Horace Lee Logan, the producer of Louisiana Hayride.

Louisiana Hayride was a pioneering country and early rockabilly music show broadcast on radio from 1948 to 1960 and on TV from 1955 to 1960 from Shreveport, Louisiana.

It helped launch the careers of many famous music artists, including Elvis Presley.

Elvis first appeared on the show in 1954, not long after his first single “That’s All Right, Mama” was released by Sun Records and before he was widely known.

Over the next two years, Presley had a string of hits and became a star.

When he returned for a final appearance on Louisiana Hayride on December 15, 1956, his young fans mobbed the auditorium in Shreveport where the show was held.

Elvis was the third of many performers scheduled to perform that day.

After he gave a final encore and exited the stage, many of the young people in the crowd continued screaming for him.

Some stood up and began leaving, either hoping to see Elvis outside or not seeming to understand that the Hayride show was not over.

At that point, according to various written sources, Hogan took the microphone and said: “Please, young people...Elvis has left the building. He has gotten in his car and driven away...Please take your seats.”

In an excerpt from an audio recording of the show, the words Hogan uses are slightly different (though it’s possible that the written sources and recording may both only include part of what he said that day).

What Hogan can be heard saying in the audio version is: “All right, uh, Elvis has left the building. I've told you absolutely straight up to this point, you know that, he has left the building. He left the stage and went out the back with the policemen and he is now gone from the building.”

Further confusing the issue is the fact that at least one version of the audio posted on YouTube credits these words to KWKH disc jockey Frank Page, who was the radio announcer for Louisiana Hayride.

Based on what I’ve read and other recordings of Page’s voice I’ve listened to, I believe the voice in the Louisiana Hayride audio is Horace Logan. (Some sites credit audio clips to Hogan that I think are actually the voice of Al Dvorin.)

What seems certain is that the phrase “Elvis has left the building” was first used at at the end of Presley’s appearance on Louisiana Hayride on December 15, 1956 and that it was later picked up and popularized by Al Dvorin — whose most famous use was recorded at the Elvis concert at Madison Square Garden on June 10, 1972.

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Further reading: some recommended and recent books about Elvis…

December 14, 2014

“An atheist is a man who has no invisible means of support.”


There’s a famous quotation about atheists associated with the date December 14 that is widely attributed to Bishop Fulton J. Sheen:

       “An atheist is a man who has no invisible means of support.”

The source that’s usually cited for this quote is the December 14, 1955 issue of LOOK magazine.

Sheen did use this line in an article in LOOK magazine and it’s one of his his best known quotes.

However, despite what many quotation reference books and websites say, that article was not in the December 14, 1955 issue of LOOK.

There was no December 14, 1955 issue of LOOK.

The LOOK magazine published in mid-December of 1955 was dated December 13, 1955. And, Sheen wasn’t featured in that issue.

He was featured on the cover of the December 14, 1954 issue of LOOK and in an article inside that issue titled “Religion’s Best Sellers.”

So, December 14, 1954 is the correct date for Sheen’s use of “An atheist is a man who has no invisible means of support” in LOOK.

It should also be noted that, contrary to what some people think, Sheen didn’t coin that famed saying.

In the book On Being a Real Person, published in 1943, American clergyman Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote:

       “An atheist, says John Buchan, is ‘a man who has no invisible means of support.’”

That’s apparently why many books and websites credit the line to John Buchan, the Scottish historian, Governor General of Canada and author of the book The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915).

However, Buchan didn’t coin the line either.

His use, in a speech recorded in a law journal in 1935, was a reference to something he’d heard.

Buchan said:

      “I have heard an atheist defined as a man who has no invisible means of support.”

Who created the definition that Buchan heard? Sorry, I don’t know. At this point, the real origin of the line is still a mystery.

I do know that, in his wickedly funny Devil’s Dictionary (1911), the great American writer, curmudgeon and atheist Ambrose Bierce defined the word prejudice as: “A vagrant opinion without visible means of support.”

Of course, from an atheist’s perspective “an opinion without visible means of support” might also seem like a reasonably good definition of religion.

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Related reading…

December 09, 2014

“Baseball been berry, berry good to me!” – the famous SNL catchphrase of Garrett Morris as Chico Escuela…


If you’re old enough to have been watching Saturday Night Live in the late Seventies you might have been watching Episode 5 of Season 4 when it first aired on November 11, 1978. (I am and I was.)

Buck Henry was the host. The Grateful Dead were the musical guests. And, there were several classic skits — including one at the end that introduced what would become a famous TV catchphrase.

The sketch takes place at a meeting of the St. Mickey’s Knights of Columbus.

After dealing with a few business items, the organization’s leader, played by SNL cast member John Belushi, announces that the club would have a special guest speaker that night.

Dan Aykroyd, playing the Knights’ treasurer, notes that the group had to go into debt to pay the speaker’s steep $900 fee.

Belushi then introduces this special guest: “the immortal” Chico Escuela, a former all-star baseball player for the Chicago Cubs who came to the US from the Dominican Republic.

After being introduced, Chico — portrayed by SNL cast member Garrett Morris — gets up, stands at the podium and says in a thick Hispanic accent:

“Thank you berry much. Baseball been berry, berry good to me. Thank you. God bless you. Gracias!”

Then he sits down.

Astonished by the brevity of this $900 “speech,” Belushi’s character asks: “Is that it Chico?”

Chico thinks about it a second, gets up again and adds: “Keep you eye...keep you eyes...on de ball.”

After which, he sits down again.

Belushi says sardonically: “Thank you, Chico. You’ve been an inspiration to all of us.”

Three weeks later, during the December 9, 1978 episode of SNL, Morris’s Chico made a second appearance and repeated his line “Baseball been berry, berry good to me!” several times — making this the night on which it gained official catchphrase status. 

In that episode (Season 4, Episode 8), the host was Monty Python star Eric idle. Kate Bush was the musical guest. Dan Aykroyd performed the insanely funny skit in which he plays a frantic Julia Child, who bleeds to death after cutting her finger. And, Don Novello showed up as Father Guido Sarducci.

Chico was in the
Weekend Update segment with Jane Curtin, who announced that he had been hired as the Weekend Update sports commentator.

After being introduced by Jane (this time as a former New York Mets ballplayer), Chico says:

“Thank you. Thank you, berry, berry much. Baseball been berry, berry good to me. Thank you, Hane.

[A photo of major league player Pete Rose, who had recently signed a four year, 3.2 million dollar deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, appears behind Chico.]

Pete-ee Rose...Baseball been berry, berry good to Pete Rose. Three-point-two-million-dollar para Pete Rose. Charlie Hustle, you bet. Thank you berry, berry much.

In foot-ball... I don’t know football. In Dominican Republic, football is — how you say, Hane? Um, Oh! Soccer! Your football... I don’t know.

In National Hockey League... I don’t know hockey.

In baseball… Baseball been berry, berry good to me! Thank you berry much. Thank you. Thank you berry much. Hane? Thank you, Hane.”

Hearing Chico’s fact-challenged report, Jane responds sarcastically: “Great job, Chico. I’m glad that we haven’t hired just another stupid ex-jock sportscaster.”

Morris went on to appear as Chico Escuela eight more times before leaving the Saturday Night Live cast in the summer of 1980.

Each time, he repeated “Baseball been berry, berry good to me!” (sometimes written as “Beisbol been bery, bery good to me!” and in various other ways). It remains one of the most famous of the many memorable catchphrases created by SNL.

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Related reading and viewing…

December 07, 2014

“Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”


On December 7, 1941 — which President Franklin D. Roosevelt would memorably name “a date which will live in infamy” on the following day — hundreds of Japanese warplanes made a deadly surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

When the crew of the heavy cruiser USS New Orleans rushed on deck they saw devastation all around them.

Not far away, a huge cloud of smoke was rising from the battleship USS Arizona and it was sinking.

Beyond the Arizona, the USS Oklahoma was rolling over. Sailors were jumping from its sides.

Another nearby battleship, the USS West Virginia, was badly damaged and sagging amidships.

The New Orleans was docked for repairs when the attack occurred. As usual during repairs, the ship’s electricity was temporarily coming through a power cable from the shore.

Soon after they came on deck, the crew began firing the cruiser’s guns at Japanese planes.

But when they needed more ammunition they discovered that the power cable to shore had been cut, making the electric ammunition hoist inoperable.

Undeterred, the men formed lines and began carrying the heavy shells to the guns by hand. As they did, ship chaplain Lieutenant Howell M. Forgy walked along the deck encouraging them, shouting “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”

The Japanese pilots eventually flew away after sinking nine U.S. ships and damaging 21 others. Their attack killed 2,350 Americans, including 1,177 sailors on the USS Arizona.

The next day, America officially entered World War II.

In the months that followed, word spread about the memorable line shouted by a chaplain during the Pearl Harbor attack.

In some stories about the quote, the chaplain was unnamed.

In others, including a widely-read article in the November 2, 1942 issue of LIFE magazine, he was identified as Captain W.A. Maguire — a senior Navy chaplain who outranked Forgy and was on a dock in Pearl Harbor that day.

According to the Life article, Maguire said he didn’t actually remember if he had shouted “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” But he didn’t deny it.

Stories about the incident inspired American songwriter Frank Loesser to write a patriotic song that used “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” as the title and chorus. (You can listen to the song and read the lyrics by clicking this link.)

Loesser’s song was published in 1942, recorded by several artists and quickly became popular. The version by Kay Kyser and his band reached #1 on the pop singles chart in January 1943.

The LIFE article and the popularity of the song led the crew of the USS New Orleans to urge Chaplain Forgy to come forward and set the record straight about the fact that it was he — not Maguire — who said the now famous words.

At first, Forgy demurred, but eventually his shipmates persuaded him.

The officers of the USS New Orleans arranged a meeting with the press and the real story of this famous World War II quotation was finally revealed.

Chaplain Forgy made it through the war, returned to a civilian ministry and died in Glendora, California, in January 1972.

His famous quote lives on.

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Related reading…

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