Even as a child I consumed the newspapers. Yes, the comics were interesting but as someone that got involved while still quite young in 1968’s presidential election — at the age of 12 — I lived to read the serious commentary and thought pieces.
One of my favorites on the commentary page has always been fellow Virginian Russell Baker.
Baker was never a George Will or a Jack Anderson. Baker was thoughtful farce. Baker had the ability to sum up entire philosophies in as little as an entire sentence. Sometimes. He was the person that you always wanted around the dining room table for long chatty meals, and endless coffees afterwards.
Russell Baker is probably closer to Mark Twain and to Dave Barry than to the other great minds that mislead us. While it amazed me that he was included on the same page with the serious columnists I am happy to report that I probably learned more from Baker than all the others (although I never missed a George Will or William Safire column, even after Safire became a continuous grump after the late 1990s).
Some Russell Baker observations on life, humanity and pierogies:
“In America nothing dies easier than tradition.”
“The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately defeat him.”
“Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things.”
“One of the many burdens of the person professing Christianity has always been the odium likely to be heaped upon him by fellow Christians quick to smell out, denounce and punish fraud, hypocrisy and general unworthiness among those who assert the faith. In ruder days, disputes about what constituted a fully qualified Christian often led to sordid quarrels in which the disputants tortured, burned and hanged each other in the conviction that torture, burning, and hanging were Christian things to do…”
“The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn’t require any.”
“The Government cannot afford to have a country made up entirely of rich people, because rich people pay so little tax that the Government would quickly go bankrupt. This is why Government men always tell us that labor is man’s noblest calling. Government needs labor to pay its upkeep.”
“Happiness is a small and unworthy goal for something as big and fancy as a whole lifetime, and should be taken in small doses.”
“An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious – just dead wrong.”
“A group of politicians deciding to dump a President because his morals are bad is like the Mafia getting together to bump off the Godfather for not going to church on Sunday.”
“Live by publicity, you’ll probably die by publicity.” >> Are you listening Newt?
“You can’t enjoy light verse with a heavy heart.”
“A solved problem creates two new problems, and the best prescription for happy living is not to solve any more problems than you have to.”
“All politicians are humble, and seldom let you forget it. They go around the country boasting about their humility. They are proud of their humility. Many are downright arrogant about their humility and insist that it qualifies them to be President.”
“Inanimate objects can be classified scientifically into three major categories: those that don’t work, those that break down and those that get lost. The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately to defeat him, and the three major classifications are based on the method each object uses to achieve its purpose. As a general rule, any object capable of breaking down at the moment when it is most needed will do so.”