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Too Big For His Breaches

How to quote Shakespeare. Plus: Post-Columbine America, Tommy Thompson, John McCain, Colin Powell, and lots more unconventional wisdom.

4.22.02

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BARD MESSAGES
Re: Francis X. Rocca's Where Did That Come From?

My personal favorite misuse of a quote from Shakespeare is the observation in Hamlet that firing the cannons after the King drains his goblet is "a custom more honored in the breach than the observance." I have often heard it used to refer to a custom that is infrequently or carelessly observed; in fact, it means that it would be more honorable not to observe the custom, indicating that it is a shameful practice.
-- Tom Boudreau

Francis X. Rocca writes: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be? Your dad probably told you the same; and, like the rest of Polonius's speech, it's not bad advice as far as it goes."

"So what then does it mean that Shakespeare puts those words in the mouth of a pompous old fool...."

In this case, Shakespeare borrowed it from Elizabeth I's counselor, Lord Burleigh (Wm. Cecil). One of his "ten precepts" being:

"5. Beware of suretyship for thy best friends. He that payeth another man's debts seeketh his own decay. But if thou canst not otherwise choose, rather lend thy money thyself upon good bonds, although thou borrow it. So shalt thou secure thyself, and pleasure thy friend. Neither borrow of a neighbour or of a friend, but of a stranger, whose paying for it thou shalt hear no more of it."
-- Patrick R. Sullivan
Kent, WA

I couldn't agree more. Another catastrophic misuse of Shakespeare is from Twelfth Night, where the note that lures the pompous Malvolio on to destruction reads, "Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." I always cringe when anybody quotes those lines as if they were sincere. Thanks for a great column!
-- David N. Taylor

One might also include the oft-(mis)quoted "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" as a passage interpreted wrongly when "quoted out of context." The line from Henry VI is spoken by one of several ignorant rebels, who are trying to figure out how to "take over" and believe that by killing all the lawyers they will be able to subvert the rule of law and replace it with their own subjective version. Note the next line -- "And we will make it a felony to drink small beer." It does provide a whole new meaning, doesn't it? By the way, I am a lawyer, but I sometimes believe that the more common understanding of the quote might not be a terrible idea!
-- Warren Mowry

TOMMY THOMPSON FLAMES OUT
Re: The Prowler's On Wisconsin: Tommy Talk:

Thompson left McCallum with a huge "systemic" budget deficit, made only FAR worse by the recession. Current total is around $1.3 billion. Thompson cannot negotiate the shark-filled waters of Washington, D.C. because he killed too many of his braincells while he was getting fat and lazy with 16 years of being elected again and again and again...

As far as conservatives are concerned, Tommy's return will be a sign
that Bush is declaring war on Wisconsin. Not a good thing for Bush, nor Wisconsin.

Keep Tommy in Washington, PLEASE.
-- L.A. Stich
Suburban Milwaukee

SPUD MISSIVES
Re: Dave Shiflett's Tater Trauma:

I share Dave Shiflett's love of the spud launcher. Here's
some instructions for scoff-laws in East Grand Rapids:
http://www.spudlauncher.com/pneumatics.htm
-- Rodger Schultz
http://rschultz.blogspot.com

I just read Dave Shiflett's column. I couldn't agree with him more.

I am a "Columbine parent." My son was a freshman at the time. Even though he was sitting within 3 feet of the duffel bag that contained a bomb that consisted of two 20 lb. propane tanks with a 5 gallon gasoline accelerant when it was supposed to go off, and even though he was shot at as he ran from Eric and Dylan, he was not physically hurt. He has been in therapy since 4/20/99 -- one of the reasons is the press.

Everything, it seems, is related to Columbine. The press will not leave it alone. Tomorrow is the third anniversary. Reporters are walking the streets of my neighborhood, knocking on doors, wanting to do interviews about how life has changed because of Columbine.

Even three years later hardly a night goes by on television where someone, either in a sitcom, drama or news program, makes some remark about Columbine.

The story is never allowed to die. Thirteen people were murdered that day but the real victims are the survivors. They have to go forward, get on with their lives. But they can't, not when every time you turn around someone else, someone who has no idea what went on (the press reports were notoriously inaccurate) but is an expert on the subject just shoots off their mouth because everybody knows about "Columbine."
-- Steve Ahlstrom

CACTUS SOUR
Re: Jerry Carter's And They're Off!

Jerry Carter's 4/18/02 column including McCain in a list of presidential contenders for 2004 continues to ignore the former POW's unsavory history. Why are reporters so kind to McCain? In Arizona McCain's sainthood has worn thin and the odor of CFR sanctity insufficiently masks the stench of his past.

A carpetbagger from Connecticut, he barely won a five-way primary for an AZ Congressional seat with the help of a thoroughly corrupt leader of the statehouse named Burton Barr. A few years later, McCain rushed to call for the resignation of an honest Republican Governor who was falsely accused of fraud (later acquitted) and who had beaten the same Burton Barr in a primary. McCain's treachery to Republicans (sound familiar?) turned the state over to Democrats and, eventually, to another financial mentor, the now thoroughly discredited Symington. Also, Arizonans haven't forgotten Charles Keating. McCain thrives in the media, but would have trouble carrying his own state.
-- Bill Heuisler
Tucson, AZ

Jerry Carter replies: My mention of McCain as a possible GOP nominee in 2008 didn't "ignore" his unsavory history. I just didn't need to go into it. And I was hardly "kind" to McCain, since the one sentence I devoted to him insulted him and suggested he is not a true Republican.

NEUMAYR ON MAHONY
Re: George Neumayr's Mahony's Roman Holiday:

Bravo, bravissimo! Exquisitely biting.
-- Christopher A. Ferrara

BEYOND THE CONVENTIONAL
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s Conventional Wisdoms:

The first fact, which ought to be tattooed on the forehead of every Republican, is that there is a different set of rules for Democrats and Republicans. Any "wisdom" which fails to distinguish between the parties is worse than "CW."

GOP voters will not tolerate lying, fraud and corruption. Democratic voters routinely ignore blatant criminality. A politician only suffers when his base refuses to support him. Thus, Dems are rarely hurt by scandal, but Republicans always are.
-- Stan Brown

Ray let Clinton sleaze off to the edge of the stage with another old term from the Nixon era -- plausible deniability. A few bucks penalty and a 5-year law license suspension. I'm surprised we didn't hear stories of Clinton, upon hearing this, jump to his flat feet and exclaim, "That's it... that's all? Hoo-wee, I'm goin' Scot-free!" And Robert Ray has the gall to now run for office, as if he's done something.
-- John Carrigg
Downers Grove, IL

JUDGE GARZON
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s Spanish Bull:

I already know the answer to this but here goes: Why doesn't this lunatic "judge" pursue the REAL criminals like Castro, Saddam et al.? When will we hear Tom Brokaw (insert other statue here) report this and say something like " Idiot Spanish Judge pursues the good people of the world instead of despots." Thanks for your website. I miss the old American Spectator.
-- Tim Pfister
Billings, MT

Any chance the late tenant of the White House will be visiting Spain?
-- Bill Roughton

PROPER POWELL
Re: Lawrence Henry's The Bush-Powell Conundrum:

This article reads a great deal more like wishful thinking than reasoned analysis. One could as easily make a contrary case: that Karl Rove is controlling the Bush administration's policies, and is basing his prescriptions on inaccurate polling.

At any rate, it is difficult to see any value in Powell's delaying tactics unless the military is in need of breathing space while a buildup is being made. But where's the buildup? Our military budget is anemic by historical standards.
-- Richard Donley

Lawrence Henry replies: Yes, I suppose one could. But many people have done that. So far as I know, no one else has made the case that Colin Powell is doing exactly what he's supposed to do. Michael Ledeen, writing January 28 on National Review Online, produced a column called "Good Powell/Bad Powell -- the Truth Behind the Powell Play." I think, however, Mr. Ledeen was trying to be funny. He has many gifts; satire is not one of them.

VENEZUELA'S FORTUNE
Re: Wlady Pleszczynski's Hugo Chavez Is Huge:

Your thoughts on the above were most apt but failed in one significant area: The belief that democracy can flourish in any country with more than fifty percent of its population in abject poverty and concomitant ignorance.

To function properly, a democracy's constituents must have a stake in the game economically and be sufficiently informed to be able to vote meaningfully. One cannot expect persons who are literally concerned about having enough to eat to decline the blandishments of Chavez and his ilk. Given a not totally corrupt judiciary and some serendipitous good fortune a country can evolve into a functioning democracy but don't bet the ranch on it....

The Chavez embarrassment also highlights the stupidity of signing documents supporting structures that exist only on university campi (campuses??) and the pages of the NY and LA Times and the Washington Post. There is no doubt that all would be better off with the ouster of Chavez, but the administration prefers to play "let's pretend".
-- Bruce Karlson
Navarre, Florida

ENEMY CENTRAL ETHNIC SLUR?
Re: Enemy Central's :

Being from New York, I'm certainly no fan of Andrew Cuomo, but what exactly is this supposed to mean?

"Word on the street is that Andy remains irate that his friends in the scrap metal business were cut out of the post-9/11 cleanup."
-- Mark Passaro

SIGHTINGS
It's great to see you folks back on the web! But this situation seems a bit like the Pope/Anti-pope. Isn't The American Prowler really the American Spectator in Avignon?

Will you have a saloon series before too long?
-- David Reed

Greetings. Just signed up today and I like, really like, your news site. As we said in The Nam, "Drive On."
-- Ron
SouthEast Oklahoma

I wondered where all the eminentoes from the old American Spectator had gone. I found yourselves again by accident, but to the subject: Your sidebar on us being divided between those who pay most of the taxes reminded me of Mencken's father's maxim to him, to wit: "Mankind is divided into two great races, those who paid their bills and those who didn't." Mencken is being feted on C-Span as part of American writers. Mencken's definition of democracy ,not that we live in one, was "the worship of jackals by jackasses."
-- Edward Del Colle

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