November 17, 2020

“I am not a crook!”

In retrospect, it’s ironic that one of the slogans used by Richard M. Nixon during his first presidential campaign in 1968 was: “The ‘I’ in Nixon stands for integrity.”

Today, the more remembered “slogan” is the one used against Nixon during the 1972 presidential election, a quip attributed to comedian Mort Sahl: “Would you buy a used car from this man?”

Of course, Nixon managed to beat Democrat George McGovern in the November 1972 election by a landslide.

But the pesky scandal that came to be called “Watergate,” which started with the bungled break-in at the Democratic National headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. on June 17, 1972, got steadily worse after Nixon was reelected.

By the summer of ‘73, a Congressional Committee and Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox were conducting official investigations to find out if Nixon was involved and determine whether he had tried to cover up his involvement.

Naturally, Nixon denied it for as long as he could.

On November 17, 1973, during a televised press conference, Nixon tried to make it seem like he welcomed the Watergate investigations and uttered one of his most famous quotes: “I am not a crook.” (Sometimes given as “I’m not a crook.)

“I made my mistakes,” Nixon said, “but in all my years of public life, I have never profited, never profited from public service. I’ve earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I can say that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination because people have got to know whether or not their President’s a crook. Well, I am not a crook.”

Most observers found the welcoming part especially hard to believe. Just a few weeks earlier, Nixon had fired Archibald Cox and abolished the Office of the Special Prosecutor, in the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.”

But the Congressional Watergate investigation continued and the dominoes kept falling for Nixon. It became clear that covert operatives working for him had conducted the Watergate break-in and that he and his administration had tried to cover it up. Eventually, to avoid impeachment, Nixon become the first U.S. president to resign, on August 9, 1974.

Shortly after Nixon announced his resignation, his Vice President, Gerald Ford, was sworn in as president. Ford’s brief acceptance speech that day included another famous political quotation: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

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October 07, 2020

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…”


Three years after
Jack Kerouac coined the term “The Beat Generation” a group of Beat poets gathered at the Six Gallery on Fillmore Street in San Francisco for a poetry reading.

The date was October 7, 1955 and Kerouac was there.

So were local Beat celebrities Gary Snyder, Phil Lamantia, Michael McClure and a then virtually unknown poet named Allen Ginsberg.

In his novel, The Dharma Bums (published in 1958), Kerouac called it “the birth of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance.” He then described this memorable scene:

“Everyone was there. It was a mad night. And I was the one who got things jumping by going around collecting dimes and quarters from the rather stiff audience standing around in the gallery and coming back with three huge gallon jugs of California Burgundy and getting them all piffed so that by eleven o'clock when Alvah Goldbook was reading his, wailing his poem ‘Wail’ drunk with arms outspread everybody was yelling ‘Go! Go! Go!’ (like a jam session).”

“Alvah Goldbook” was Kerouac’s humorous alias for the Ginsberg and “Wail” was the fictitious name he gave to Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” — which Ginsberg first read in public that October night.

“Howl” was a stylistically wild, groundbreaking poem that quickly became both famous and infamous.

The beginning of the long run-on sentence that makes up the first part of the poem is the most quoted bit:

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
       starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
       looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
       to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking
       in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating
       across the tops of cities contemplating jazz..."

“Howl” was instantly revered by the Beat crowd and eventually gained worldwide fame. But it had a rocky start in printed form.

In the poem, Ginsberg writes graphically about heterosexual and homosexual sex and about the use of illegal drugs — forbidden subjects in the uptight society of the 1950s.

When “Howl” was printed by a British book publisher in 1955, copies were seized as “pornography” by Customs officials.

In 1956, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco and a popular beat poet in his own right, published “Howl” in the U.S., in a small collection of Ginsberg’s poems titled Howl and Other Poems.

Copies of the book were soon seized by the San Francisco police and Ferlinghetti was arrested for publishing and selling an “obscene and indecent” book.

At the trial, Ferlinghetti was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

During the course of the trial, Judge Clayton W. Horn listened to nine literary experts testify about the book’s literary merits. In October 1957, he issued a carefully thought out ruling in favor of the defense.

Horn concluded that Howl and Other Poems met the current legal test of having redeeming social importance and was not “obscene.”

Thus, Ferlinghetti was found not guilty — and “Howl” and Ginsberg moved on to wider and everlasting fame.

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to October 7:

• Former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz’s infamous comment about blacks wanting “good sex, ‘loose shoes’ and ‘a warm place’ when they use the toilet” was published in the October 7, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

“Here is America struck by God Almighty in one of its vital organs, so that its greatest buildings are destroyed. Grace and gratitude to God.” - You may not remember those words, but if you were watching the news in 2001 you remember when Osama Bin Laden delivered them. They were the opening words in the videotaped statement he released on October 7, 2001, gloating about Al-Quaeda’s September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia.

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September 15, 2020

“Life is like a box of chocolates” – the misquote that launched a thousand variations…

Here’s another “Guest Post” from my QuoteCounterquote.com blog


THE FAMOUS MOVIE QUOTE:

“My mama always said, life was like a box a chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
       Forrest Gump (actor Tom Hanks)
      
In the 1994 film Forrest Gump
       These lines are usually misquoted as “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”  And, both versions are different than what Forrest says in
the 1986 novel by Winston Groom that the film is based on. What Forrest says in the opening line of the novel is: Let me say this: bein a idiot is no box of chocolates.” He goes on to explain: “People laugh, lose patience, treat you shabby. Now they says folks sposed to be kind to the afflicted, but let me tell you — it ain’t always that way. Even so, I got no complaints, cause I reckon I done live a pretty interestin life, so to speak.”

                         
THE 2020 PANDEMIC/POLITICAL CLUSTER$&*%/WILDFIRES VERSION:

“LIFE IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES...BUT 2020 IS NOTHING BUT NUTS.”    
       A sign on a 2020 Halloween installation in Medina, Ohio, which features a life-size doll version of Forrest Gump on a park bench. A photo of the installation was included in an article on the Cleveland.com website posted in September 2020.


LEONARD NIMOY’S POIGNANT LAST TWEET:

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”   
       Leonard Nimoy
       American actor and author, especially known for his portrayal of the Vulcan character Spock in the Star Trek TV series and movies
       Nimoy posted these moving words on his popular Twitter feed the night of February 22, 2015. It was his last tweet. Early that morning he was rushed to the hospital. A few days later he died, at age 83, from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The letters “LLAP” at the end of the tweet were his shorthand initials for “Live long and prosper,” the popular catchphrase he used in many Star Trek episodes and films. Nimoy first spoke the line in the “Amok Time” episode of the original Star Trek series, aired on September 15, 1967, as Episode 1 of Season 2.


BILL MAHER’S COUNTERQUOTE:

“Life is not like a box of chocolates. A box of chocolates is all good. I mean, it would be like a box of chocolates if there was a occasional turd.”  
       Bill Maher 
       American comedian and talk show host 
       A comment Maher made on an episode of his first major TV show
Politically Incorrect. (I watched that ep and wrote down the quip, but I forgot to note the date. The show originally aired from 1997 to 2002.)


THE WEREWOLF SUPERMODEL COUNTERQUOTE:

“Forrest Gump’s mother had a lot of catchy sayings. I never really understood any of them. Life is not like a box of chocolates. Life is more like a wad of gum stuck to the bottom of your favorite pair of shoes. The more you try to clean up the mess, the stickier it becomes.”  
      
Ronda Thompson (1955-2007) 
      
American novelist
       In her novel Confessions of a Werewolf Supermodel (2007)


THE CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN’S RANT:

“Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable, because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So you’re stuck with this undefinable whipped mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there’s nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while there’s a peanut butter cup, or an English Toffee. But they’re gone too fast. The taste is fleeting. So you end up with nothing but broken bits filled with hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts. If you’re desperate enough to eat those, all you’ve got left is a — is an empty box, filled with useless brown paper wrappers.”
       The “Cigarette Smoking Man”
       The X-Files character played by actor William B. Davis
      
In a 1996 episode of the The X-Files TV series

 
TOM LEHRER’S VARIATION:

Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it depends on what you put into it.”  
       Tom Lehrer
      
American songwriter and satirist 
       Part of his spoken introduction to the song “We Will All Go Together When We Go,” on the album An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer (1953). The lyrics of the song include the line:
Life is like a sewer / And I'm trying to wade through her.”


NEHRU’S VARIATION:

“Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism. The way you play it is free will.”
      
Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964)
       Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964
       This popular quote appears to have first been attributed to Nehru by Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, in a 1967 issue of that venerable periodical.

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September 07, 2020

Hope I die before I get old… then I can sleep when I’m dead…

  

The date September 7 has an ironic link to two famous rock music quotes associated with the deaths of two of rock’s most legendary bad boys.

On September 7, 1978, Keith Moon — the great, drum-kit-destroying drummer for the British band the Who — died of a drug overdose at age 31.

One of the Who’s first big hits, released in 1965, was “My Generation.”

That song includes a line that is well known and often cited by rock fans: “Hope I die before I get old.”

It’s in the first verse, which is repeated at the end of the song:

       “People try to put us d-down
       Just because we g-g-get around
       Things they do look awful c-c-cold
       Hope I die before I get old.”

As rock fans also know, Keith Moon was renowned for his self-destructive, drug-and-alcohol amped lifestyle.

Naturally, the famed “Hope I die...” line showed up in obituaries written for him in 1978 and in many articles and books later written about Moon and the Who.

In an odd coincidence, on September 7, 2003, exactly 25 years after Keith Moon passed away, American rock musician Warren Zevon died of cancer at age 56.

Like Moon, Zevon was legendary for his substance abuse and other excesses.

One of the best known songs from Zevon’s self-titled 1976 album is “I'll Sleep When I'm Dead.”

The lyrics were written in Zevon’s darkly humorous trademark style:

       “I’m drinking heartbreak motor oil and Bombay gin
       I'll sleep when I'm dead
       Straight from the bottle, twisted again
       I’ll sleep when I'm dead.”

Inevitably, the line “I’ll sleep when I'm dead” was cited in many obits, articles and blog posts shortly after Zevon shuffled off his mortal coil.

It was also used as the title of a book about him, compiled by his former wife, Crystal, and published in 2007.

The book’s full title is: I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon.

Talk show host David Letterman was a longtime fan and friend of Warren Zevon and had him as a guest on The Late Show many times.

On October 30, 2002, Warren made his last appearance on Letterman’s show.

At that point, it was public knowledge that Zevon’s cancer was likely to be terminal in the near future.

His fan and friend Letterman asked Warren during the show if facing death had given him any new insights about life.

Zevon’s reply included three words that became another famous quote: “Enjoy every sandwich."

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August 30, 2020

The origins of the Cold War term “hot line” and the mythical “red phones”…



Many books and websites note that the famed “hot line” communication link between the Pentagon and the Kremlin was established on August 30, 1963.

Press reports about this new tool, intended to provide a possible way to avoid a nuclear war between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), soon cemented the term hot line into our language.

It also added a new plot device and the image of the red phones into movies and TV shows.

Two of my favorite examples were in movies released not long after the new link was established: Fail-Safe (1964) and Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

The term hot line (sometimes given as the single word hotline) had actually been used previously in other contexts, but not in the sense of the international hot line established in 1963.

That use is generally credited to Jess Gorkin (1936-1985).

Gorkin was the respected and influential editor of Parade Magazine, the widely-circulated Sunday newspaper insert. 

In the March 20, 1960 issue of Parade, Gorkin published an open letter to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Soviet Union’s Premier Nikita Khrushchev, titled “RE: ACCIDENTAL WAR.”

In it, he urged them to consider: “the establishment of a direct telephone line between you...to prevent the possibility of an accidental war.”

He ended his letter with the rhetorical question: “Must a world be lost for want of a telephone call?”

Gorkin didn’t use the term hot line in that open letter, but he did use it in a subsequent series editorials in Parade in 1960, promoting the idea to presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

According to language maven William Safire’s great Political Dictionary, Gorkin’s editorial in the October 30, 1960 issue of Parade mentioned an internal “hot line” that the US Strategic Air Command (SAC) maintained for emergency communications.

Gorkin suggested that SAC’s “red telephone” system was a model for the communication link he believed the US and USSR should establish.

After Kennedy was elected President, Gorkin ran more editorials pushing the hot line idea.

And, after the US and USSR came to the brink of nuclear Armageddon in October 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy and Khrushchev decided it was indeed a pretty good idea.

On April 23, 1963, Kennedy sent a personal letter of thanks to Gorkin for promoting the concept, calling it “an excellent example of the most constructive aspects of our free press.” 

Gorkin proudly published the letter in Parade.

On June 20, 1963, in Geneva, President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev signed an agreement to create the crisis communication system Gorkin had suggested. The Washington-Kremlin hot line officially went live on August 30, 1963.

However, despite what we’ve seen in movies and TV shows, there never were red phones in the offices of the President of the United States and the Premier of Russia.

The hot line was actually a secure teletype connection between the offices of the Pentagon and the Kremlin. No phones, red or otherwise, were involved.

Sorry, movie fans.

As I was researching this post, I noticed there’s a fairly recent book titled Hotline that gives the term a whole new meaning. It’s a racy novel described with this memorable blurb: “A sex worker and a trust fund brat…It’s like Romeo and Juliet, but with less stabbing and slightly fewer dick jokes.” I haven’t read it, but if you do, let me know how it is.

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