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Aphorisms: the best of the least
People no longer bother much to create new aphorisms, adages and memorable sayings. But when they do, this column boldly moves to collect them. "An aphorism is a one-line novel," said Ukrainian author and aphorism fanatic Leonid Sukhorukov. Here are some more recent extra-short novels:
"The plural of anecdote is not data," said Frank Kotsonis. "A journey of a thousand miles starts with an airline ticket. Unless you're crazy," observed aphorist Chad Carter. "We campaign in poetry; we govern in prose," said President Jed Bartlet of TV's "West Wing." "Where there's Saddam, there's Gomorrah," said author and blogger Stefan Kanfer of Stefan Kanfer's Gadflights.
"Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire," said Chief Justice John Roberts, talking about the properly modest role of judges. Ann Coulter, typically sharper than your average aphorist, said: "When conservative judges strike down laws, it's because of what's in the Constitution. When liberal judges strike down laws, it's because of what's in The New York Times."
"Every liberal thinks he's intellectually superior to conservatives; every conservative I know wants to think of himself as morally superior," said former Clinton administration official Paul Begala. "Whichever side denounces the other for politicizing the issue is losing the argument," said Rep. Barney Frank.
Columnist and author David Brooks wrote: "If the true thing is obvious and boring, the liberal person will go off and say something original, even if it is completely idiotic. This is how deconstructionism got started." (Conservatives, when they stumble on a new idea, tend to keep saying it over and over, he said at length too excessive for an aphorism.)
Blogger Megan McArdle, who writes under the name "Jane Galt" at Asymmetrical Information, offered "Jane's Law: The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane."
In the Hawks vs. Doves sweepstakes, Charles Moore wrote in the Daily Telegraph of London: "Remember that the hawk is a bird that can see things from a long way off." A less serious reflection on hawkishness came from thriller-writer Joseph Finder: "Hawks may soar, but chipmunks don't get sucked into jet engines."
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il issued a sort of aphorism this month: "The destiny of a nation is a destiny of an individual, and the latter's life is guaranteed by the former's life." This needs work. Try this version, KJI: "Live for the state and the state will live for you."
Author Tammy Bruce, writing about the cult of victimology, wrote: "When your victimhood is your empowerment, recovery is the enemy." "Heroes don't have to be public figures; they can be right in your family," said Billy Crystal, referring to his mother and father. Crediting his mother, law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy wrote: "Other people's children always grow up more quickly."
"Any law named after a person is bad law," wrote law professor and blogger Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit. "The right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended," said Andrew Sullivan. "You can't defend except by offense," said Donald Rumsfeld, taking the offensive. "Corruption keeps us safe and warm," says a cynical character in the movie "Syriana."
Michael Kinsley wrote: "If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, piousness is virtue paying tribute to itself." Writer Mark Steyn said, "Multiculturalism is a kind of societal Stockholm Syndrome." In The Washington Post, Ruth Marcus wrote: "Diversity at the expense of quality is no virtue, but quality without diversity is nonetheless a vice." Aphorist Mauro Cherubini said, "Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done."
"There is nothing quite so powerful as an idea whose time has passed," said David Frum. "Many people think the purpose of their faith is to make them feel good," said aphorist Lee Frank. "Politics is kind of like sport for old guys" said Mitt Romney, governor of Massachusetts. "On a net basis, modernity is good for you," said the late Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley.
The late media critic David Shaw, lamenting the number of chatterers it takes to broadcast Air America, said: "It shouldn't take a village to raise a radio program." Entrepreneur Bo Peabody said: "The vast majority of the press is not concerned in covering what is actually happening. They are interested in covering what they think people want to think is actually happening."
"Falsetto is the highest expression of emotion," said press critic Jack Shafer. Chris Browne, the cartoonist of "Hagar the Horrible," said, "Everybody has to believe in something — I believe I'll have another drink."
John Leo's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times.
2005, John Leo