American Culture


Young man, you have the gift of gab. Keep it up and some day you’ll be President of the United States.

— an old Republican to a young Warren G. Harding after his first political speech, according to a New York Times obituary of President Harding; Aug. 3, 1923.

I predicted that New Orleans would come back as a stronger and better city. That’s the prediction I made. I also pledged that we’d help. And $126 billion later, three years after the storm — we’ve helped deliver $126 billion of U.S. taxpayers’ money. (Applause.) And I thank you for applauding on that statement, but I know you’re applauding the American taxpayer. A lot of people around the country care deeply about the people down here. And so it was — you know, it was money that we were happy to spend.

— President Bush, speaking at the historic Jackson Barracks in New Orleans on the recovery of the Gulf Coast region three years after Hurricane Katrina; Aug. 20.

Let no one suffer the illusion that $126 billion has gone straight to where it is needed and where it belongs.

— Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in an interview with The Associated Press, saying that the New Orleans recovery was far from complete and that key projects won’t be finished without more federal money; Aug. 20.

Q: Gordon, can you tell us where the negotiations stand with Iraq and the United States, Secretary Rice’s talks? And what are the major sticking points in that agreement for the troop withdrawal?
MR. JOHNDROE: I think you probably heard from Secretary Rice, now in Baghdad — you certainly have some comments from her on the plane, that she made last night on the plane into Baghdad. Discussions are ongoing. We have made some progress in the recent days on an agreement with the Iraqis, but there is no final agreement yet. We will continue to have these discussions with the Iraqis.

— exchange between reporter and White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe at Crawford, Texas, press briefing; Aug. 21.

Diplomats are just as essential to starting a war as soldiers are for finishing it. … You take diplomacy out of war, and the thing would fall flat in a week.

— Will Rogers

No leader has taken greater risks in the struggle against terrorism than President Musharraf of Pakistan and no country has more at stake in the fight. This past week, in his address to the American people, President Bush commended President Musharraf’s strong leadership. Pakistan’s success will be a success for all of us in the fight against terrorism and Pakistan deserves support from us all.

— Paul Wolfowitz, speaking at the 38th Verkunde Conference on Security Policy in Munich, Germany; Feb. 2, 2002.

The only option is negotiation. Using force against the militants in the tribal area is only in the interests of the U.S.

— Shafi Ullah, 29, a civil servant in Pakistan; a poll conducted by the International Republican Institute shows that 71 percent of responding Pakistanis oppose their country’s cooperation in the U.S. war on terror; Aug. 22.

George McGovern understood from the very depths of his being that napalm, and gas, and 500,000 Americans in the swamps of Vietnam was not the answer to the people of Vietnam or the people of the United States. George McGovern, ladies and gentlemen, had another solution for Vietnam. … George’s concept for underdeveloped countries is food; his concept is shelter, education, health, opportunity, and to bring a sense of brotherhood to submerged billions of people, wherever they may be.

— Sen. Abraham Ribicoff, D-Conn., nominating Sen. George McGovern for president at the Democratic National Convention; Aug. 28, 1968.

1. Larry Ellison, Oracle Corp., $84.6 million
2. John Thain, Merrill Lynch & Co., $83.1 million
3. Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp., $67.6 million
4. Richard Adkerson, Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc., $65.3 million
5. Bob Simpson, XTO Energy Inc., $56.6 million
6. Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., $53.9 million
7. Kenneth Chenault, American Express Co., $51.7 million
8. Eugene Isenberg, Nabors Industries Ltd., $44.6 million
9. John Mack, Morgan Stanley, $41.7 million
10. Glenn Murphy, Gap Inc., $39.1 million

— The Associated Press’s list of the highest-paid chief executive officers in 2007; says the AP: “The total pay figures are rounded, and are based on the AP’s compensation formula, which adds up salary, perks, bonuses, above-market interest on pay set aside for later, and company estimates for the value of stock options and stock awards on the day they were granted last year”; Aug. 21.

Q: But the Iraqis — officials are saying on the record this 2011 date. Do you dispute that? Do you have any reason to lead us away from it?
MR. JOHNDROE: I am not going to negotiate from the podium. President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki had a good conversation this morning in discussing the agreement. And our team and the Iraqi team are continuing discussions now. I think it’s fair to say — and I think everyone understands this — that when negotiations are hopefully coming to an end, when you can see the end in sight, there are a lot of details that have to be worked out, and I think we’re in the process of working out details right now.

— exchange between reporter and White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe at Crawford, Texas, press briefing; Aug. 22.

It is now evident that speculators in the energy futures markets play a much larger role than previously thought, and it is now even harder to accept the agency’s laughable assertion that excessive speculation has not contributed to rising energy prices.

— Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., in a Washington Post story by David Cho that reports a Commodity Futures Trading Commission inspection of the books of Vitol, a private Swiss energy conglomerate, found that the firm held 11 percent of all oil contracts in July on the New York Mercantile Exchange; the commission said Vitol was “holding oil contracts as a profit-making investment rather than a means of lining up the actual delivery of fuel”; Aug. 21.

[A]s a group, the 173 [Republican and Democratic convention] donors have been heavily engaged in the struggle for federal political influence since the last presidential election. Since 2005, their Political Action Committees, executives and other employees have contributed, under campaign finance law limits, $180 million to federal candidates and political parties, an average of over $1 million per organization. Contributions to the conventions are unlimited and come directly from corporate treasuries, so they can increase this amount considerably. During the same period, these convention donors have also spent over $1.3 billion to lobby the federal government, an average of $7.6 million per organization. Large convention donations may give the donors’ lobbyists more clout with those they seek to influence.

— from a report by the Campaign Finance Institute (in collaboration with the Center for Responsive Politics) titled “Party Conventions’ Financiers Have Spent Nearly $1.5 billion on Federal Campaign Contributions and Lobbying Since 2005”; Aug. 20; emphasis added.

This is probably one of the single most significant food safety actions done for fresh produce in many years.

— Robert Brackett, chief scientist for the Grocery Manufacturers Association; according to a New York Times story by Gardiner Harris, the GMA originally “petitioned the [Food and Drug Administration] in 2000 to allow manufacturers to irradiate a wide variety of processed meats, fruits and vegetables and prepared foods”; Aug. 21.

It’s a total cop-out. They don’t have the resources, the authority or the political will to really protect consumers from unsafe food.

— Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, on the FDA’s decision to allow some irradiation of food; Aug. 21.


— the total lobbying expenditures of the Grocery Manufacturers of America since 1998, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

I would ban that too if I knew the students were using it in class. What we want to encourage in these students is active intellectual experience, in which they develop the wide range of complex reasoning abilities required of the good lawyers.

— Robert S. Summers, a professor at Cornell Law School who has banned use of laptop computers in his course, in a New York Times story about some colleges’ decisions to provide iPhones and Internet-enabled iPods to students; Aug. 20.

A larger question is whether the IOC is genuinely trying to govern in these Olympics, or whether it has become a mere bag man for Chinese organizers and corporate sponsors. It’s hardly without precedent for a state to cheat, or for a sports federation like FIG to fail in its oversight or fold under pressure from a host government.

— from a column by Washington Post writer Sally Jenkins castigating the International Olympic Committee for inaction regarding whether some Chinese gymnastics were legally old enough to compete in the Beijing Games; Aug. 22.

If you were going to choose a gender-specific role model, why one of these four cardboard characters? As American women have won more and more rights, the feminist movement has had the luxury of branching off in many, even contradictory, directions. Feminist icons run the gamut from activist Gloria Steinem to porn star Jenna Jamison … not to mention our first viable female Presidential candidate in Hillary Clinton. One friend suggested we organize a boycott of the Sex and the City movie. But it’s just not that important. In an ideal world, former fans wouldn’t show up because they’ve moved on. The movie—neither a hit nor a stinker—would simply go out with a whimper, just like any idea whose time had come and gone.

— Lindsey Gerdes, a staff editor for BusinessWeek in New York, in her Starting Out column; March 25.

Occasionally, I get a letter from someone who is in ‘contact’ with aliens. I am invited to ask them anything. And over the year’s I’ve prepared a little list of questions. The aliens are very advanced, remember. So I ask things like, ‘Please provide a short proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem’. I write out the simple theorem equation with the exponents. It’s a simulating exercise to think of questions to which no human today knows the answers, but where a correct answer would be recognised as such. It’s even more challenging to formulate such questions in fields other than mathematics. Perhaps we should hold a contest and collect the best responses in ’10 Questions to Ask an Alien’.

— the late astronomer Carl Sagan from “The Demon Haunted World.”

photo credits:

• Sen. George McGovern: Rapid City (S.D.) Journal
• Chinese gymnast He Kexin: Xinhua
• the most distant galaxies known: European Space Agency et al

Quotabull is a weekly feature of Scholars & Rogues.

7 replies »

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  2. …the commission said Vitol was “holding oil contracts as a profit-making investment rather than a means of lining up the actual delivery of fuel”; Aug. 21.

    No, something like that would never happen in the world of modern, market capitalism. Wait, isn’t the pretty much what the world of modern, market capitalism encompasses? How many of those top CEO’s made their paychecks by doing (basically) just what Vitol did?

    I suppose that i should care more deeply about the age of the Chinese gymnasts…i wish that i could, but Phelps is going to pen a memoir/self-help kind of book soon and that’s all that i can think about.

    Let’s get one thing straight: if you buy it at a grocery store, your produce isn’t fresh. It never was fresh. It was harvested unripe and given a controlled rot in transit. It probably should be irradiated. After all, there’s nothing like putting out a fire by shooing away the smoke, eh? (p.s. irradiation isn’t going to remove the pesticides or the genetic modification…though i hope that the irradiated GMO’s might make some sort of super tomato who either saves the world from evil masterminds or goes Godzilla)

  3. Staggering set of quotes. To focus on one, all presidents have the “gift of gab” to some extent (except maybe Silent Cal). Maybe none to the extent of Bush 41, though. If you read about him, you’ll find he basically glad-handed his way to the top by socializing almost every night, among other things.

    Re Ribicoff: Remember that he was the one who Mayor Daley jeered from the floor and called “kike”? Personally speaking, that was the cherry on top of all the demonstrations that turned this previously apolitical 18-year-old sitting at home watching it on TV into a radical.

    Re questions for aliens: I always wanted to ask one what forms of government and economic systems do they use on their planets. I have a feeling it’s unlikely to be democracy and capitalism. If only because their populations are likely too large to let everybody go his or her own way. In general, when in doubt, I always ask myself: How do they do it on other planets?

  4. While there has been much to say about Vitol’s position in the oil markets, it should be noted that their position was a huge spread, not just a long position.

    I wonder why nobody ever complains about speculators bidding up the price of stocks….


  5. Unless I’m mistaken, people do. I know people who complain all the time about short sellers, and naked short selling seems like it could fall into the same category as “speculation”. But I’m hardly an expert.

  6. Brian,
    If a specualtor runs up the price of a stock, or an index, it helps increase the value of 401-K’s. Although it’s anecdotal, I’ve never heard anybody complain when the value of their 401-K went up.

    Amyways, any time one buys a stock, it’s speculation. The purchase of an investment is predicated on the expectation that one will find a bigger fool to pay a higher price for it at a later date.

    As for the latest dip in oil prices, it’s the short sellers who are moving the market down. The same thing has happened in the recent grain complex blow off, and the CRB index decline. As for naked short selling, I have no problem with that, as naked shorts have a way of biting the seller in the butt if the stock is locked up and he can’t make delivery. Whatever way you look at it, it’s all very risky, and all speculation is a double edged sword. That’s why I repeat my mantra that the general public has no reason to be in the market.


  7. That’s why I repeat my mantra that the general public has no reason to be in the market.

    I couldn’t agree more, Jeff…for your reason and others.