December 30, 2014

Should auld acquaintance (or old lyrics) be forgot…


Contrary to what you sometimes hear, Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns (1759-1796) didn’t create the song “Auld Lang Syne.”

And, Canadian bandleader Guy Lombardo didn’t start the tradition of singing the song at New Year’s Eve parties.

However, Burns did flesh out and popularize the lyrics of the song as we know it today (or, at least, kind of know it) in a poem he wrote in 1788.

And, Lombardo did popularize the tradition of playing and singing “Auld Lang Syne” (or, at least, trying to sing it) after counting down the final seconds to midnight on New Year’s Eve.

As explained by The Burns Encyclopedia, Burns based his poem on a traditional Scottish air (i.e., song) that he loved.

He kept some existing phrases, including “Auld lang syne” and “Should auld acquaintance be forgot,” then adapted and added to them, creating the lyrics of the version of the song that became famous worldwide.

Of course, since many of those words are in an old Scots dialect, few people can either remember or understand most of them.

The literal English translation of the phrase “Auld lang syne” is “old long since,” which means something like “old days long gone by” or, more simply put, “old days” or “old times.”

The basic gist of the famous first verse and chorus is that one should remember and think kindly about old times and old friends — and toast them with a drink.

In Scotland, the tradition of singing the song on various sentimental, ceremonial and holiday occasions dates back to before Burns’ time.

By the late 1800s, after Burns’ poem made the song familiar in other parts of the world, it was common for people in many English-speaking countries to sing “Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s Eve.

Mentions of this custom appear in old newsclips that date back to long before Guy Lombardo became associated with it. But he and his band did help cement the tradition into American culture.

According to most sources, Lombardo and The Royal Canadians first played “Auld Lang Syne” after the countdown to midnight on December 31, 1929 at the Hotel Roosevelt Grill in New York City. (Technically, it was January 1, 1930.)

They continued to perform the song on New Year’s programs that were broadcast live from New York, first on radio and then on television, until 1976 (the year before Lombardo died).

If you’d like to try to sing along when the song is played this New Year’s and need some help, the lyrics that come from Robert Burns’ poem are below.

The Wikipedia entry about “Auld Lang Syne” has a phonetic pronunciation guide for the Scots words in case you’re interested. Even if you’re sober, you’ll probably sound drunk when you try to pronounce them.

Cheers and Happy New Year from ThisDayinQuotes.com!

“Auld Lang Syne”

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

CHORUS: For auld lang syne, my dear
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

[CHORUS]

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.

[CHORUS]

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.

[CHORUS]

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie's a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

[CHORUS]

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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 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 01, 2014

The “shocking” quote by Dr. Joycelyn Elders that got her fired by Pres. Bill Clinton…


Dr. Joycelyn Elders endured a lot on her rise to becoming the first African American to be appointed Surgeon General of the United States.

She was born in 1933, the daughter of a poor sharecropper in a segregated community in rural Arkansas.

As a child, she had to balance working in the cotton fields with attending an all-black elementary school 13 miles away. But she studied hard, made it through high school, and earned a scholarship to Philander Smith College, an all-black college in Little Rock.

After graduating, Elders served for several years in the United States Army’s Women’s Medical Specialist Corps. In 1956, she entered the Arkansas Medical School on the G.I. Bill, where she was the only black student and was required to eat in a separate dining room with the cleaning staff.

Elders persevered, obtained her M.D. degree in 1960, then a Masters in biochemistry in 1967. She became a respected professor, an expert in pediatric endocrinology and a pioneering researcher in childhood growth problems and juvenile diabetes.

In 1987, Dr. Elders became the Director of the Arkansas Department of Health, where her efforts led to major increases in early childhood screenings and immunizations.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed her as the US Surgeon General. Like many Surgeon Generals before her, Dr. Elders was outspoken on the need to address current health-related issues, such as the growing AIDS epidemic.

On December 1, 1994, she was a featured speaker at the United Nations-sponsored World AIDS Day conference in New York City.

In a Q&A session after her formal remarks, a conference participant asked her if it might be possible to reduce the spread of AIDS through “more explicit discussion...of masturbation,” as an alternative to heterosexual or homosexual sex.

Dr. Elders answered:

“I think that is something that is a part of human sexuality and it’s a part of something that perhaps should be taught.”

Her remark generated a firestorm of criticism by Christian groups, Clinton’s Republican critics and even some Democrats.

Elders was already controversial for speaking out in support of sex education, birth control and legalization of marijuana.

And, by God, how could anyone not be shocked and offended by someone who suggested publicly that masturbation exists and that maybe people should get some factual information about it to counter all the myths and misinformation they hear when they’re growing up?  

It was almost as shocking as if she’d said something crazy like: it might be OK for Presidents to have secret sexual affairs with young White House interns.

President Clinton, who would soon be having a secret sexual affair with a young White House intern, decided that Dr. Elders’ remark about masturbation was causing too much media frenzy.

So, Clinton fired her. Technically speaking, he demanded her resignation. Of course, White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta told the press she would have been fired if she had not resigned.

Panetta explained somberly: “There have been too many areas where the President does not agree with her views. This is just one too many.”

A few years later, Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky created a much bigger media frenzy and almost caused Clinton to get fired as president by means of impeachment.

In light of all that, his decision to axe Dr. Elders over a fairly mild and now forgotten quote seems like an even lower blow than it did at the time. (So to speak.)

On the positive side, Elders went on to have a successful post-Clinton career as a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and a popular speaker on the lecture circuit, speaking against teen pregnancy and in favor of birth control.

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November 30, 2014

The odd links between “Louie Louie” and Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe At Any Speed”...


It’s truly odd, but true: the renowned rock song “Louie Louie” and the history-making book about car safety by Ralph Nader, titled Unsafe At Any Speed, are connected by both a quote and by a date.

“Louie Louie” was written in 1955 by the pioneering American R&B singer and songwriter Richard Berry (1935-1997).

In a nod to the popularity Calypso music was enjoying in the mid-1950s, Berry gave “Louie Louie” a Caribbean flavor by writing the lyrics in an island-style patois.

It’s basically a love song.

A Jamaican sailor explains to some guy named Louie that he misses his girlfriend. He can’t wait to sail home, take his “fine little girl” in his arms and tell her “I never leave again.” In the chorus he says dolefully: “Louie Louie, me gotta go.” (As in, go home.)

Berry recorded “Louie Louie” with his group the Pharaohs in 1957. Their version was a modest regional hit in the Northwest, where it became a popular party song covered by many local rock bands.

One of those bands was a group of white kids from Portland, Oregon who called themselves The Kingsmen. They made a raucous, poorly-recorded version of the song in 1963.

It was released in May and entered Billboard’s Top 40 singles chart on November 30, 1963.

The fuzziness of the recording and the garbled attempt at Jamaican patois by The Kingsmen’s lead singer, Jack Ely, made the lyrics notoriously hard to understand. Nonetheless, their catchy cover version was a huge hit, selling over a million copies.

By 1964, “Louie Louie” was being gleefully sung by teenagers nationwide, often using salacious Mondegreen variations of the words.

The actual lyrics as written by Berry and slightly altered by Ely are not overtly sexual. But many “dirty” versions were made up and spread.

For example, in the original lyrics the second verse starts with: “Three nights and days we sailed the sea. / Me think of girl constantly.”

In raunchified versions, those words were turned into things like: “Each night at ten, I lay her again / I f--k my girl all kinds of ways.”

It was soon rumored that the hard-to-understand lyrics on The Kingsmen record were themselves obscene. This caused much moral harrumphing by parents, the press, politicians and bureaucrats.

Indiana Governor Matthew Welsh declared the record to be “pornographic” and banned it from the state’s airwaves. (And he was a liberal Democrat!) Some radio stations in other states also banned it.

The FCC and FBI conducted official investigations — at taxpayers’ expense — to try to decipher the muffled words on The Kingsmen’s hit single to determine if it should be banned nationwide.

Federal investigators grilled Richard Berry and Jack Ely and listened intently to the Kingsmen record played forward and backward at various speeds, including 33 rpm, 45 rpm and 78 rpm.

In February 1964, one exasperated FCC official uttered what became a legendary rock history quote when he reported:

       “We found the record to be unintelligible at any speed.”

Around that same time in 1964, lawyer Ralph Nader was working as an advisor to a U.S. Senate subcommittee that was investigating car safety (or, more accurately. the general lack of safety features in cars built at the time).

Armed with the knowledge he gained from that work, Nader wrote a shocking book on the subject. He titled it Unsafe at Any Speed.

It became a bestseller, gave Nader his initial fame as an industry gadfly and led to many improvements in car safety we now take for granted, such as seat belts and anti-lock brakes.

The similarity between Nader’s book title and the FCC official’s quote about “Louie Louie” suggests that Ralph was either aware of the FCC quote — or blissfully unaware that his title was an ironic echo of “unintelligible at any speed.”

What makes the connection even odder is the fact that Unsafe At Any Sped was published on November 30, 1965, exactly two years to the day after The Kingsmen’s recording of “Louie Louie” entered the Billboard Top 40.

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