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In So Many Words

January 01, 1998

At year's end, the most engaging question in Washington was what the president would name his new puppy. That's what happens when the political parties deadlock, unemployment plummets and the stock market keeps humming.

In California, the most widely reported mega-event--El Nin~o--turned into a bust, for the time being. But at least it could be blamed for any disturbing or otherwise unfathomable phenomenon.

It was that kind of year--strange, off-kilter, full of let-downs--the year of Dolly the replicated sheep, Mir the uncontrollable space station, Hale-Bopp the comet that seduced Left Coast cultists, Deep Blue the computer that bested a master, "Ellen," the sitcom that dared to speak its true name.

There were endless tangled developments in Newtgate and fund-raising-gate and Al Gore-gate and Paula Jones-gate. But the president earned a smidgen of sympathy when his daughter left him for a campus across the continent.

In the real world, Bill Gates' power continued to expand, so much so that the Feds tried to intervene, and the digital world threw up ever new products and complexities. The so-called Asian flu threatened to devastate emerging economies once considered indestructible.

But in the end, it was probably best considered the year of the Tabloid Triumphant, when each slow news cycle gave way to greater shock and shame: JonBenet Ramsey, dead . . . Ennis Cosby, dead . . . Gianni Versace, dead . . . Andrew Cunanan, dead . . . dead, too, Princess Di.

So much waste, so many tears.

To inter this sort of year, the best we could do was to comb through the profundities and inanities on the public record and enshrine them one last time. Here are a few sublime sayings, and more that were memorably ridiculous.

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"There is still no cure for the common birthday."

--Sen. John Glenn, 75, announcing that age was the important factor in his decision not to run for another term as U.S. senator of Ohio.

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"I hate music. There's too much music everywhere. It's horrible stuff, the most noise conveying the least information. Kids today are violent because they have no inner life; they have no inner life because they have no thoughts; they have no thoughts because they know no words; they know no words because they never speak; and they never speak because the music's too loud."

--Writer Quentin Crisp.

*

"If you guys are going to be inhumane to my wife (by shadowing her constantly), then you shouldn't pet my dog!"

--John F. Kennedy Jr., who was dining in a New York eatery and left his dog outside tied to a pole. Upon seeing one of the paparazzi petting his pooch, John-John ran outside and denounced him with the above non sequitur.

*

"I wish him the best, I really do. I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He'd be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger."

--Apple Computer co-founder Steven Jobs, who returned to the company, commenting on Bill Gates.

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"Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning."

--Bill Gates on his avoidance of religion.

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"Hair to me has always been the one part of my body that I had control over. I could not be any taller. I could not lengthen my legs. I could not make my eyes have perfect vision--there was nothing else I could really do. But my hair has always been a source of great amusement for me."

--First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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"The president is a little weird. He has, like, skin that absorbs what you're thinking."

--Former Clinton advisor Dick Morris in a guest lecture to political science students at New York University.

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"The bottom line is, make our youth efficient English speakers so they can be competitive--ain't that the real point?"

--Rev. Jesse Jackson, after reversing his condemnation of the Oakland school board's plan to recognize the language of Ebonics.

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"Rock 'n' roll is always considered, quite rightly, a juvenile music. That's because it is young itself. That doesn't mean it has to be played by young juveniles."

--Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, 53, on why the aging band keeps on rolling.

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"The least costly treatment for any illness is lethal medication."

--Acting U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger, urging the Supreme Court not to establish a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide.

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"There was the Rhodes scholarship, the Marshall scholarship, Harvard Law Review. My life is a tangled wreck of failures."

--Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, who called his losing bid for the U.S. Senate not his first disappointment.

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"I had a dream that I would be . . . receiving something from the president. But I thought it would be the front-door key."

--Bob Dole, upon receiving the presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton.

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"My so-called campaign for president is a lot like my Macarena. There's no visible movement."

--Vice President Al Gore.

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