December 31, 2009

The Top Quotes of the Year in 2009

Below, in chronological order, are my picks for the top quotations of 2009 — the quotes that seemed to get the most attention during the past year in the news and elsewhere.

There were more than would fit into a top 10 list. So, I’ll call them The Top 10 Quotes of 2009 – Plus a Few.

“I hope he fails.”
Rush Limbaugh

Conservative talk show host
Comment about newly-elected President Barack Obama, on his radio show, January 16, 2009.

“I do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman.”
Carrie Prejean
Miss USA beauty pageant contestant and winner (later fired)
Answer when asked by pageant judge Perez Hilton whether she believed in gay marriage, during the Miss USA contest, April 19, 2009.

“My hope is, is that as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what’s called ‘a teachable moment.’”

President Barack Obama

Comment to the press on July 24, 2009 about the uproar over his remark two days earlier that “The Cambridge police acted stupidly” when they arrested Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. President Obama’s use helped popularize the already existing term “teachable moment.”

“Obama...has a deep-seated hatred for white people...This guy is, I believe, a racist.”

Glenn Beck
Conservative talk show host
Commenting on President Obama’s comments about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, in a discussion on the FOX News Network, July 28, 2009.

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel.’”
Sarah Palin
Former Alaska Governor
Post on her Facebook site on August 7, 2009, which first brought attention to the term “death panels.” She then gave it even more exposure in an op-ed she wrote that was published in the Wall Street Journal on September 8, 2008.

“We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma.”
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley
Adding a new catchphrase to the rhetoric used to attack the Democrats’ health care plan, at a town meeting in his home state of Iowa on August 12, 2009.  Four days later, President Obama publicly scoffed at claims that he or the Democrats wanted to “pull the plug on grandma” or create “death panels.”

“You lie!”
Republican Congressman Joe Wilson

The instantly infamous words yelled by the South Carolina Congressman as President Barack Obama was addressing Congress on the health care plan, on September 9, 2009.

“I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.”
Musician Kanye West

His rude rant after grabbing the microphone from award winner Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards on September 13, 2009 (creating the much-parodied meme “I’mma let you finish”).

“I know it wasn’t ‘rape’ rape. I think it was something else, but I don’t believe it was ‘rape’ rape.”
Actress Whoopi Goldberg
Defending director Roman Polanski on ABC-TV’s show The View, on September 28, 2009, by attempting to portray his admitted rape of a thirteen year old girl in 1977 as, er, something else.

“If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly.”
Democratic Congressman Alan Mark Grayson

Remark by the Florida Congressman on the floor of the House on September 29, 2009, making “die quickly” the controversial Democratic counterpoint to “death panels,” “pull the plug on grandma” and “You lie!”

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
British “Supermodel” Kate Moss
Her answer when asked if she had a motto, in an interview published by the “fashion Bible” Women’s Wear Daily on November 13, 2009, prompting righteous outrage from anti-anorexia groups.

“We have a social purpose...[I’m] doing God’s work.”
Lloyd Blankfein
Chairman and CEO of the investment firm Goldman Sachs
Defending himself and the financial industry, despite their role in creating the current financial crisis, in an interview published by The Sunday Times on November 8, 2009.

“The system worked.”
Janet Napolitano

Secretary of Homeland Security
Her comment in a CNN interview on December 27, 2009 about the Nigerian terrorist who managed to board a plane with explosives, but failed in his attempt to blow up a planeload of Americans on Christmas Day. Napolitano’s absurd assessment was quickly repudiated by President Barack Obama.


December 28, 2009

“Wise Latina” and “Too big to fail” – two top quotes of 2009 that were actually uttered years ago

Every year, a number of “quotes of the year” lists are published.

My favorite is the annual list issued by Fred R. Shapiro, editor of the excellent Yale Book of Quotations.

But my own picks for the top quotes of 2009 include some that are not on Fred’s list.

Two of them share an unusual characteristic. They were both made famous in 2009, but they are not new quotes.

In late May of 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor, a judge of Hispanic descent, to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

Republicans and conservative talk show hosts raised various objections and issues, hoping to prevent her confirmation by the Senate. The thing they dug up that seemed to get the most media attention was a comment Sotomayor had made eight years previously.

In a speech at the Berkeley School of Law on October 26, 2001, Sotomayor noted that gender and cultural background affect any judge’s view. However, she added:

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Only a handful of people had ever heard of the quote until it was used in the debate over her nomination in 2009.

When conservatives claimed the quote showed Sotomayor was a reverse racist, it created a media firestorm.

Sotomayor was confirmed anyway. But the hubbub over her “wise Latina” remark made it one of the most notable quotations of 2009 — even though she’d said it years before.

The second notable quote that had a delayed rise to fame in 2009 is the phrase “too big to fail.”

It gained wide use during the past year to defend and deride the recent government bailouts of some of the country’s largest financial firms. But it was actually coined 25 years ago, during another government bailout.

In 1984, Continental Illinois — the seventh largest bank in the country at the time — faced insolvency due to overly aggressive lending policies.

The bank’s lobbyists and federal financial regulators warned that, if Continental were allowed to “fail,” it would threaten dozens of other banks and the entire economy.

Therefore, they argued, Continental should be bailed out with taxpayers’ money.

And, it was. Continental ultimately received $4.5 billion from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

On September 19, 1984, during Congressional hearings on the bailout, Congressman Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn) observed wryly:

“Let us not bandy words. We have a new kind of bank. It is called too big to fail. TBTF, and it is a wonderful bank.”

Continental Illinois survived thanks to the government’s largesse. In 1994, it was acquired by Bank of America.

McKinney’s “too big to fail” also survived. But, but until, recently it was an obscure phrase known primarily to financial insiders.

In the most recent bank crisis, financial institutions received $700 billion from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), because they were deemed “too big too fail.” One of them was Bank of America.

The TARP funds first began to be disbursed by the Bush administration late in 2008. This year, as the Obama administration continued and expanded the bailout, the widespread use of “too big to fail” made it (in my opinion) one of the top quotes of 2009.


December 21, 2009

Yes, Ivory Soap is “99 44/100% pure.” And, yes – Marilyn really was an Ivory Snow Mom.

One of the most famous and long-lasting advertising slogans in history is the Ivory Soap slogan “99 44/100% Pure.”

As recorded in the U.S. Trademark Database, it was first used in commerce on December 21, 1882.

Ivory Soap was created by Proctor & Gamble in 1878. Previously, P&G sold a hard, dense yellow soap made from tallow.

Then, a new soap formula devised by James Gamble resulted in a white soap with some special characteristics. Bars made from it floated, instead of sinking like other soaps, and made an especially nice, creamy lather.

The famed slogan was inspired by lab tests. The tests were conducted to compare the new white soap to castile soaps, which were considered the standard of excellence at that time.

“One chemist's analysis was in table form with the ingredients listed by percentage. Harley Procter totaled the ingredients which did not fall into the category of pure soap — they equaled 56/100%. He subtracted from 100, and wrote the slogan ‘99-44/100% Pure: It Floats.’”

The Ivory Soap sold today is essentially the same soap created over a century ago.

But, since then, one additional “impurity” was added to the 56/100th of a percent.

Around 1970, a young, unknown actress posed as a mother holding a baby in a photo used on boxes of Ivory Snow laundry detergent.

Then, in 1972, the actress became world-famous as the star of the groundbreaking art house porn movie, Behind the Green Door.

Yes, the late, great Marilyn Chambers was indeed an Ivory Snow girl, or more precisely an Ivory Snow Mom.

Contrary to some stories, though Marilyn was a babe, she never was an Ivory Snow baby.

And, contrary to other stories, the baby Marilyn was holding in her Ivory Snow photo is not Brooke Shields — though Brooke did appear in some Ivory ads as an infant.

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December 05, 2009

Did Alan Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance” refer to the economy or his sex life?

Is it just me, or do profound statements by economic pundits seem a lot like predictions made by the Delphic Oracle or Nostradamus?

Their statements are murky enough to be interpreted in different ways and — eventually — something will happen that at least appears to confirm some part of what they said.

For example, on December 5, 1996, the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, Alan Greenspan, uttered the profound phrase “irrational exuberance.”

He was discussing potential issues facing our economy, or our monetary policy, or the stock market, or all three.

Or something like that.

Here, from the speech he gave that day at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., is the first part of the paragraph in which Greenspan’s famous two-word quote appears:

“Clearly, sustained low inflation implies less uncertainty about the future, and lower risk premiums imply higher prices of stocks and other earning assets. We can see that in the inverse relationship exhibited by price/earnings ratios and the rate of inflation in the past. But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade?”

OK, I believe Greenspan’s oracular mumbo-jumbo must mean something to economic experts and bankers. (You now, the guys that helped create the economic mess were in today — and made money doing it twice: first when they created the mess and then when taxpayers bailed them out.)

But if Greenspan is so damn smart and prescient, why didn’t he do something to prevent the Dot-com bust, and the mortgage and banking crisis, and the other economic messes that happened or began to develop while he was Chairman of the Fed, from 1987 to 2006?

And, speaking of irrational exuberance, the year after Greenspan coined that term, at the age of 71, he married TV journalist Andrea Mitchell — who is 20 years younger than him.

I predict that future scrutiny of the inverse relationship exhibited by the Greenspan/Mitchell age ratio could someday give new asset values to Greenspan’s famed term.


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