Sensible and Senseless Sayings
from the
Mindful and the Mindless

(Updated August 21, 2000)

A poem by the granddaughter of an Alzheimer's patient of Lisa Gwyther of the Duke Center for Aging. (The Washington Post "Health", March 29, 1994).

I have a grandmother who sends me birthday presents
and hugs me,
just because.
My other grandmother doesn't know it's my birthday,
so I hug her,
just because.

Jackie's signature line, from an OCD-L posting:

Face the sun, and the shadows will fall behind you.

From the death notice for John Rollin Watson III:

To those who care ...
"Spend some time with someone
sick, lonely or dying in my memory."

Frank Burge on the death of a long-time friend (Electronic Engineering Times, May 10, 1999):

The last time I saw Ray [Mullen] and Marilyn was a week before Ray's death at their home in Hollister. He was sitting at a table in their family room, attached to an oxygen tank to keep him alive. Emphysema had taken its toll. After a several-hour visit, it was time to leave. Since I was standing and he was sitting at the table, giving him the customary hug would have required getting down in a crouch. So I took the easy way out, shook his hand, said goodbye and began to leave. After taking a few steps I walked back to Ray's side, crouched down and gave him a hug. He held on. That was the last hug I'll ever get from my buddy Ray.

George Eliot: Middlemarch, Silas Marner, The Mill on the Floss, Daniel Deronda, Adam Bede, ...

Am I the only one who gets tired of political pundits saying, as they frequently do, that "the American people are too smart for that" with regard to some attempted sleight-of-hand by a politician? Herewith a counter-example taken from man-in-the-street interviews after the (Republican) Congress failed to pass a term-limits bill. (The Washington Post, March 31, 1995)

[A term limit supporter], 44, of Garden Grove, Calif., a beer keg salesman, said that with the measure's defeat, "Congress has got the idea that what they did will keep them in longer. When their constituents find out, to me, those guys will be out quicker than anything."

Jean Kohner commenting on hunting "humanely" with a bow and arrow. (The Washington Post "Free for All", October 14, 1995)

No creature should ever have to suffer this type of fate for someone else's pleasure.

Robert Kuttner on government regulation. (The Washington Post op-ed page, December 12, 1995)

[In medical care, for example,] the consumer may have no practical alternative. Caveat emptor is pretty thin armor. An elderly patient in a nursing home with a feeding tube is not exactly a sovereign consumer.

Michael Kinsley on Microsoft colleagues. (The New Republic's "Washington Diarist" column, September 2, 1996)

They're all younger than me and smarter than me: that I can deal with. But they're all nicer than me, too: now that's hard to take.

Joyce Tarpley's methods for keeping a cool temper on the highway. (The Washington Post Magazine "20071" Letters, September 29, 1996)

It helps, I find, to frequently remind myself of two predictably wry observations, the first from comedian George Carlin: "Why is it that anybody who drives slower than you is a moron, but anybody who drives faster than you is a maniac?" The second, and most telling, comes from Bill Cosby: "You can't get into heaven if you died while you were doing something stupid."

William W. Goetz responding to Richard Weissbourd's comments about self-esteem in "The Feel-Good Trap". (The New Republic "Correspondence", September 30, 1996)

I have been a classroom teacher for almost forty years and visit schools in four counties yearly on a professional basis. I have never heard self-esteem preached as a "movement" (my heavens!) or practiced as an omnipresent exercise in "praising" and a "metasolution" (wow!) for every problem in the school. Does he really think teachers are so naive as to view self-esteem as a "short cut" aimed at replacing relationships with parents or so obtuse they cannot distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate praise? Does he think that such "critical faculties" as "persistence" and "the capacity to handle shame and disappointment" are unrelated to self-esteem or self concept? Urban teachers cite with anguish the same problems that Weissbourd recognizes, and I have seen them instintively and warmly use self-esteem approaches as the only means available. Teachers in affluent suburban schools use it much more selectively for obvious reasons.

Annie Groer and Ann Gerhart on Senator-elect Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who lost an arm and both legs in the Vietnam War. (The Washington Post "The Reliable Source", November 15, 1996)

During [the 1996] campaign, the 54-year-old sometimes recounted a "true incident of an eyeball-to-eyeball talk" with a voter 26 years ago. The man finally said he'd back Cleland "because you've got only one hand to put in the till, and if you put it in there, you can't run very far with it".

Amy E. Schwartz on Dr. Paul Ellwood, "who is credited with laying the intellectual basis for managed care" and who began "admitting children with learning disabilities for diagnostic stays that would be paid for by insurance." Schwartz quotes Ellwood from a New York Times Magazine article (by Jason DeParle): "I had done this not because it was best for the kids, but because of the perverse incentives in that system." (The Washington Post op-ed page, March 17, 1997)

Perverse incentives? As opposed to, say a perverse response to existing options? [Regardless of your views, one can't help but] be spooked by this image of a man who could decide - for whatever financial "incentive" - to fill his clinic ward with children he knows don't need to be there. If the right amount of money will induce a person to hospitalize kids who should be home, how much money is the right amount to keep him from doing so?

James S. Turner's response to some of James K. Glassman's usual nonsense. (The Washington Post "Letters to the Editor", July 22, 1997)

Unfortunately space did not allow James K. Glassman to report Adam Smith's complete 1783 quote on consumption ["Why We Trade", op-ed, July 1]. Mr. Glassman quoted Smith saying, "Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production." Smith continued "and the interest of the producers ought to be attended to, only in so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer."
Max Lerner's 1938 forward to The Wealth of Nations commented on "the curious paradox of Smith's position in history; to have fashioned his system of thought in order to blast away the institutional obstructions from the past, and bring a greater degree of economic freedom and therefore a greater total wealth for all the people in a nation; and yet to have his doctrine result in the glorification of irresponsibility. ... A reading of Adam Smith's work and a study of its place in the history of ideas should be one of the best solvents for smugness and intellectual absolutism."

Stephen Jay Gould was asked in an interview (by Charlie Rose?) about his stomach cancer: "Am I a better person for having suffered through and survived stomach cancer? No, I was a great person beforehand. Do I have a fuller appreciation of life? No, I appreciated it just fine before, thank you very much." (Not his actual words, but you get his drift.) In somewhat the same vein is this excerpt from a piece by Andre Dubus, titled "Crip Sheet: Why the Able-Bodied Still Don't Get It". (Utne Reader, Sept-Oct 1997; originally published in Epoch, 1997 Series, Vol. 46, No. 1)

I sing of those who cannot. To view human suffering as an abstraction, as a statement about how plucky we all are, is to blow air through brass while the boys and girls march in parade off to war. Seeing the flesh as only a challenge to the spirit is as false as seeing the spirit as only a challenge to the flesh. On the planet are people with whole and strong bodies, whose wounded spirits need the constant help that the quadriplegic needs for his body. What we need is not the sound of horns rising to the sky but the steady beat of the bass drum. When you march to a bass drum, your left foot touches the earth with each beat, and you can feel the drum in your body: boom and boom and boom and pity people pity people pity people.

John Thompson quoted on violence in the National Basketball Association. (The Washington Post "Sports", date unknown)

Thompson thinks he knows one of the causes among many. Teachers and coaches have been systematically disarmed. He's watched it, appalled, and now thinks we're enjoying the poison fruits of decades of increasing permissiveness.
"To teach anything, you must have order. To have order, you must have discipline. That means rules that are enforced. But we have torn down any form of accountability for our children," Thompson said. "These days, you almost have to go to court to get in a child's face. And some of these kids need somebody in their face. Adults feel they have to apologize for being authority figures. People say the teachers are not dedicated. That's not true. They're afraid. Their hands are tied. They feel like they need an attorney.
"If I was growing up today, I'd probably be suing the nuns who hit me with those rulers."
When Thompson sees the NBA's recent violent incidents, he has no doubt about one cause. "It's not just athletes. It's about more than that," he said. "We've allowed children to grow up with no respect. For themselves or anybody else. You know where we are now? We've got kids on the streets with no respect even for life. My life. Their life. They'll kill you. Or be killed."
"In that moment of anger, they don't care."
It's been a long road to get here. But we've arrived.

Zing! Regarding a proposal by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) to add Ronald Reagan to Mount Rushmore at the taxpayers' expense, Denis R. Borum ably refutes the idea and concludes by suggesting that Mr. Salmon instead find an abandoned strip mine on which to chisel out his desired rock image - at no cost to the taxpayers. (The Washington Post "Letters to the Editor", March 5, 1999)

Perhaps in the spirit of Reaganomics, Mr. Salmon could put it on his credit card.

Kethan Hubbard at the Youth Poetry Slam League's benefit (May 15, 1999), The Washington Post, May 17, 1999:

Profanity is a feeble mind
trying to express itself forcefully.
If you have a feeble mind
and you keep quiet,
No one will know the level of your ignorance.

Why I am an Anglophile was perfectly captured by John Updike in a paragraph from "A Madman", a short story in his collection, The Music School (the emphasis in the quote is mine):

England itself seemed slightly insane to us. The meadows skimming past the windows of the Southampton-London train seemed green deliriously, seemed so obsessively steeped in color that my eyes, still attuned to the exhausted verdure and September rust of American fields, doubted the ability of this landscape to perform useful work. England appeared to exist purely as a context of literature. I had studied this literature for four years, and had been sent here to continue this study. Yet my brain, excited and numbed by travel, could produce only one allusion; "a' babbled of green fields," that inconsequential Shakespearean snippet rendered memorable by a classic typographical emendation, kept running through my mind, "a' babbled, a' babbled," as the dactylic scansion of the train wheels drew us and our six mute, swaying compartment-mates northward into London. The city overwhelmed our expectations. The Kiplingesque grandeur of Waterloo Station, the Eliotic despondency of the brick row in Chelsea where we spent the night in the flat of a vague friend, the Dickensian nightmare of fog and sweating pavement and besmirched cornices that surrounded us when we awoke - all this seemed too authentic to be real, too corroborative of literature to be solid. The taxi we took to Paddington Station had a high roof and an open side, which gave it to our eyes the shocked, cockeyed expression of a character actor in an Agatha Christie melodrama. We wheeled past mansions by Galsworthy and parks by A. A. Milne; we glimpsed a cobbled eighteenth-century alley, complete with hanging tavern boards, where Dr. Johnson might have reeled and gasped the night he laughed so hard - the incident in Boswell so beautifully amplified in the essay by Beerbohm. And underneath all, underneath Heaven knew how many medieval plagues, pageants, and conflagrations, old Londinium itself like a buried Titan lay smoldering in an abyss and tangle of time appalling to eyes accustomed to view the land as a surface innocent of history. We were relieved to board the train and feel it tug us westward.

When I worked in the Serials Department, I came upon this quote from an unidentified journal in Pursuit, V. 3, No. 1, January 1970.

A change elicited by an affect or effect or by an affectant in the affectee is a passive or active response affect or response effect. If it counters the affect or effect of the affectant which elicits it, it is an active counteraffect or countereffect. If it is an active counteraffect or effect, it is a counter-active affect -- i.e., a reaction in the strict sense of the term used by pathologists.

Steve Goodman's "I Ain't Heard You Play No Blues" (© 1973).

My baby came to me this morning
and she said, "I'm kind of confused."
She said, "If me and B. B. King was both drownin',
which one would you choose?"
I said, "Whoa, baby!"
I said, "Whoa, baby!"
I said, "Whoa-oa, baby!
Baby, I ain't never heard you play no blues."

And don't forget "Chicken Cordon Blues"!

The signature line in a 3/21/94 posting to misc.consumers. What a great sense of humor!

Filip "I'll buy a vowel" Gieszczykiewicz

W. Edwards in a 9/08/96 posting to misc.consumers, responding to a query about radar detectors.

Can't help you with what to buy. Just try and have a good explanation to your children about the moral values you are teaching them. And, of course, you can not punish them for disobeying you if they take steps not to be caught. You will really have fun when they are teenagers.

Phil Miller in a 7/23/96 posting to under the subject, "Re: Olympics bigger than Jesus".

Thus as of last count we have:
Gold Medal: McDonalds
Silver Medal: The Olympics
Bronze Medal: The Beatles
Crown of Thorns: Jesus

Gregory Pease in an 11/30/95 posting to

By my definition, the very bestest of all cameras is the one you have with you when the opportunity for a great photo presents itself!

Bradley Tice in a 10/23/95 posting to misc.consumers.

If I was God some lawyer would still argue with my version of the facts and try to taint my character on cross examination.

Of course, then he'd be toast.

A long-time favorite of mine from comp.arch is Paul W. DeMone's signature line:

The 801 experiment SPARCed an ARMs race of EPIC proportions to put more PRECISION and POWER into architectures with MIPSed results but ALPHA's well that ends well.

Matthew Vanecek's signature line from an 8/20/2000 Slashdot posting:

For 93 million miles, there is nothing between the sun and my shadow except me. I'm always getting in the way of something ...

These quotes speak for themselves:

"[He] couldn't empty a boot full of water if the instructions were on the heel!" (Fatso, in one of Admiral Daniel Gallery, D.D.L.M.'s Fatso books, quoted from my 25-year old memories.)
"Al couldn't find land if he was skydiving!" (Marcie, in an episode of Married with Children in which Al has appointed himself captain of a liferaft out in the middle of the ocean.)

Bumper stickers I've seen and liked:

I'm fat, but you're ugly and I can diet.
Human nature needs a more scenic route.
Soular-Powered by the Son
Courtesy & Safety are Free - Use Them Generously (On a Smithfield Trailer)

License plates I've seen and liked:

SWMBO (You've got to be a Rumpole fan!)

Alex Measday /