Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In Memoriam: David Levine 1926-2009


"My philosophy is that politicians should be jumped upon as often as possible."

Quips and Quotations

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

--Oscar Wilde

Monday, December 28, 2009

Release Form

A while back I was reading this one blogger--none of the followers in the lower left hand corner--who described blogging as a "cathartic" experience. Catharsis is not exactly a household word, but it does come up in interviews I've read with various writers and artists and musicians over the years. Now blogging is supposed to be cathartic, too. That made me wonder, how come I don't ever feel this catharsis? When I finish writing, and re-writing, I feel a certain relief that it's over and done with, but I also feel that way when I'm finished cleaning the toilet. No, no, that's not a good comparison. I like writing, or, at least, having written, and then putting it over the Internet. There's some real satisfaction there, much more than I'd have if I sent a photo of my toilet bowl over the World Wide Web. Besides, I just googled "toilet bowl" and there's plenty of photos already on-line. Nobody needs mine.

I decided to get to the root of this whole catharsis business. Find out why so many other writers, artists, musicians, and bloggers are having these cathartic experiences, and how I could, too. If I could learn what the trick is, that in itself would be cathartic. So I set out to do some research, and that brought me to Aristotle.

Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher who studied under Plato, who in turn studied under Socrates. Aristotle, for his part, had Alexander the Great as a student. What made Alexander so great is that he conquered a bunch of countries and city-states, thus spreading Greek culture far and wide. This widespread Greek culture eventually evolved into what we now know as Western Civilization. One of the most recent byproducts of that civilization is the Internet, so one could say that Aristotle is responsible for the very blog you're reading. That should afford him some respect. If not, well, the Huffington Post can also be traced back to him.

What's all this have to do with catharsis? Originally a medical term describing the purging of impurities from the body (in which case I did experience a number of cathartic experiences many New Year's Eves ago), Aristotle adapted the word to art. In his work Poetics, he described catharsis as the purging of such strong emotions as pity, fear, sorrow, anger, laughter, and disgust that are aroused in the audience upon watching a play and all subsequent art forms invented since then, such as blogs.

Now, did you read that carefully? I said audience. That means YOU. I'm not the one that's supposed to have the cathartic experience. That's your responsibility. Aristotle says so.

So the next time I write about Barack Obama, or something some right-wing nut is saying, or give my opinion on some TV show or movie, or describe the antics of Marty Volare at the Looking-Glass Cafe, and it arouses in you feelings of pity, sorrow, anger, laughter, and disgust, feel free to catharsize.

Meanwhile, I'll just sit back with all my emotions comfortably bottled up inside of me.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Quips and Quotations

First I counted the weeks until Christmas...Then I counted the days until Christmas...On Christmas Eve, I counted the hours until Christmas...I counted the minutes until Christmas...Finally, I counted the seconds until Christmas...I counted every second until Christmas...NOW IT'S ALL OVER!

--Lucy van Pelt

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hollywood Holiday

After about five months of doing Shadow of a Doubt, I started a second, more specialized blog about old movies called Ancient Celluloid. Unfortunately, I soon found two blogs a bit tough to handle, especially as my access to the Internet was limited to the computers at the library. After writing about just two movies (both of which I put in a lot of hard work), I decided to put Celluloid on hold until the day I'm online right in my own living room. Nevertheless, I do get the itch to write about old movies from time to time, so I've decided to give myself a Christmas present, and review some ancient yuletide celluloid right here in Shadow.

Now, Christmas movies come in two types. There are those where the holiday is front and center, like the various versions of A Christmas Carol, and there are those where the holiday is more of a backdrop, such as The Apartment. It should be no surprise that so many movies have Christmas scenes, even when the holiday's not integral to the plot. Film is a visual medium, and Christmas is nothing if not visual. You've got colored lights, and Nativity displays, and pine trees with ornaments, and overweight guys in red suits, and mistletoe in hallways, and hall decked with boughs of holly, and snow. Plenty of snow. A word about that last item. In most Christmas movies and Christmas TV specials there's usually a scene with a lot snow falling gently to the ground, presumably on Christmas Eve. Looks lovely, doesn't it? Well, for those of you who live in climates warmer than that of Greater Cleveland, what you're actually looking at is a SNOW STORM. Not a blizzard, in which high winds swirl the flakes around, but no matter. If that much snow actually fell on Christmas Eve as portrayed in the movies, no matter how gently the flakes hit the ground, there would be no visiting Grandma's the next day because you wouldn't make it out of the driveway.

Now, I've said these are old movies. I define the term "old movie" the way I've always defined it, as something made before the earliest time that I can remember, about 1967-68. Any movie made after 1968 is a contemporary film as far as I'm concerned. Of course, there may be some 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds reading this who may disagree with me. They may consider A Christmas Story (1983), National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989), The Santa Clause (1994), and Jingle All The Way (1996), old movies. That is their prerogative. They can describe them as old movies on their own blogs.

Let us begin...

Alcoholism, divorce, mental illness, materialism, psychobabble, politics, and courtroom theatrics. Yes, it's that old yuletide favorite, Miracle on 34th Street (1947). All about an old gentleman named Kris Kringle who believes he's Santa Claus (Kris Kringle is actually a synonym for Santa in some countries, though that's never made clear in the movie). It stars Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, and 10-year old Natalie Wood. About that last name. I'm usually not a big fan of old Hollywood child stars. Shirley Temple has been known to make me to run out of the room screaming. But I make an exception for Natalie. As a serious little girl who believes only in hard reality, she has the perfect deadpan expression while uttering such lines as, "Some people are giants, but they're abnormal." But the real star is Edmund Gwenn as Kris, even if he's cruelly denied top billing. It's a nuanced, ultimately realistic performance Gwenn gives, something I think is often overlooked in a film often described as a "fantasy". Watch him in the psych ward scene, when he struggles with his own disillusionment. Santa Claus has never been more human.

I said there's been various movie versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol . By far, the best of these is Scrooge (1951) (some copies do go by the name of Dickens' book, so let's just confuse the hell out of everybody. Bah, humbug.) Looking like a cross between Boris Karloff and Chris Elliot, Alastair Sim plays a slightly stooped, wholly neurotic Ebenezer. As he makes that long night's journey into day, just about every emotion registers on Sim's wonderfully bug-eyed face. This movie also has a great Gothic atmosphere about it. In fact, things get so spooky at times, you might mistake it for A Halloween Carol.

Babes in Toyland (1934) aka March of the Wooden Soldiers (some more holiday confusion for you.) Loosely based on Victor Herbert's operetta, and with a few of his songs, it takes place in Toyland where fairy tale and nursery rhymes characters make up the citizenry. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy play Stannie Dumm and Ollie Dee. Their sister is Little Bo Peep and their mother is the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe. The biggest employer in town is a workshop that supplies toys for Santa Claus (hence the Xmas angle.) Stan and Ollie make a 100 wooden soldiers 6 feet tall instead of 600 soldiers one foot tall, as was ordered. Santa laughs the whole thing off, but Stan and Ollie lose their jobs anyway. This is bad news for the Old Woman as the mortgage is due on her shoe. Evil banker Silas Barnaby (I wonder if he took TARP money) agree not to foreclose if he can have Bo Peep's hand in marriage. She reluctantly agrees, but Silas is tricked into marrying Stan instead (don't worry. It's never consummated.) Later on, Silas frames Bo Peep's boyfriend Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son for the murder of one of the Three Little Pigs. To complicate matters, Toyland is invaded by Boogeymen. Remember, though, it's just a fairy tale, and it all ends happily ever after. What I find interesting about this film is that Stan and Ollie, funny as ever, once again play innocents in a dark world, even if that dark world is in the guise of a childhood fantasy.

White Christmas (1954). Irving Berlin's popular song was first introduced in Holiday Inn (1942), sung by that film's star, Bing Crosby. I don't include it here since it takes place all year round and has songs that cover all the holidays, whereas this remake is more Xmas-centric. Again starring Der Bingle, he and Danny Kaye play WWII buddies/Broadway producers who want to help their commanding officer with his struggling inn. That's about all of the plot I can really remember. No matter. Crosby, Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and a dubbed Vera-Ellen sing a lot of great Irving Berlin tunes. And, of course, Bing superbly groans the title song.

Remember The Night (1940). Preston Sturges' last screenplay for another director, this comedy-drama goes where most Christmas movies fear to tread, namely January. Barbara Stanwyck is scheduled to go on trial for shoplifting. Assistant DA Fred MacMurray is afraid a jury besotted with the spirit of Christmas might acquit. So he has the trial postponed until after the holidays, when juries tend to be more Scrooge-like. Turns out MacMurray is besotted with the Christmas spirit himself. Not wanting to see Stanwyck spend the holidays behind bars, he offers to drop her off at her mother's house on his way home for Christmas. Stanwyck mother turns her away, however, so MacMurray ends up taking her to his own mother's house. The movie turns into a straight ahead romantic comedy at that point, as the DA and the defendant both fall in love. Once the holidays are past, the film gets dramatic again, with a bittersweet ending. Like I said, January. A couple of years later, MacMurray and Stanwyck would appear together in another movie. Something to do with insurance.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945). Barbara Stanwyck again, though in much lighter fare. She plays a popular magazine writer who writes both recipes, and articles about the joys of being a wife and mother and how to make the perfect home, none of which turns out to be true. She's single without a child, lives in a small apartment, and gets all her recipes from a friend who owns a restaurant. As a kind of WWII publicity stunt, her publisher (who's unaware of all the mendacity) arranges for a survivor of a torpedoed Naval ship to have Christmas dinner at her nonexistent home in the country. Naturally, she has to fake home, husband, child, and homemaking skills. To make matters worse, she and the sailor fall in love at first sight. In an era when every other film seemed to be a romantic comedy, this one oh-so-slightly misses the mark. There's a lot of funny stuff as the deceptions pile up, and Stanwyck is always worth watching (if you only know her from TV's The Big Valley then you don't know much.) The problem is with her love interest, played by Dennis Morgan. He's kind of a bland character, and, as complications ensue, seems like a bit of an afterthought. In fact, Stanwyck's most memorable scenes are with Sydney Greenstreet, who plays the publisher. Maybe they should have gotten together. It could have been a nice May-December romance.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who excelled at romantic comedy, I can't say enough good things about this film. In 1930s Budapest, James Stewart, "aw, shucks" persona intact, and a very funny Margaret Sullavan are pen-pals who fall in love via the Hungarian Post Office. Unbeknownst to either one, they also work in the title location, where they both hate each other. Obviously, that won't stand. It's a romantic comedy, remember? It's also, in its' own way, a very good workplace comedy, with all kinds of recognizable types such as the devious suck-up, the obsequious employee always worried about crossing the boss, and the brash, ambitious youth at the bottom of the ladder. Then there's Frank Morgan (The Wizard of Oz, remember?) as the basically decent but insecure boss who, thanks to the aforementioned suck-up, comes to loathe his best employee, Stewart. Two great Christmas Eve scenes toward the end. A lonely Morgan invites a newly hired errand boy out to a grand feast, and Stewart and Sullavan finally correspond directly.

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942). A subdued Bette Davis gets top billing in this, but she's really just playing a secondary character. Monty Woolley is the title character, main character, and, for just this one film, star. Woolley hilariously plays sharp-tongued journalist and radio personality Sheridan Whiteside, a character based on Alexander Woollcott, famous in his day but now less well-known than the play and movie he inspired. But what he inspired! Whiteside slips and injures himself while attending a dinner at a small town industrialist's house, and stays right through Christmas. To fully appreciate the Kaufman and Hart dialogue, it helps if you have some knowledge of 1930s pop culture (which, fortunately, I do) but, even without it, Woolley's crack comic timing remains timeless. On top of all that you get a Christmas morning visit from Jimmy Durante, playing a character supposedly based on Harpo Marx, though, frankly, he reminds me more of, well, Jimmy Durante. Not a bad substitute. And this may be the only Christmas-themed movie with a character based on Lizzie Bordon.

The Bishop's Wife (1947). Angel Cary Grant comes to Earth to teach Bishop David Niven the true meaning of Christmas, which is to neglect neither the poor, nor his drop dead gorgeous wife, appropriately played by Loretta Young. The film concentrates more on the latter, as the angel spends so much time with the wife that a romance threatens to develop. It must be hard enough competing with Cary Grant, but a supernatural Cary Grant? The expression on Niven's face throughout most of this aptly registers his dilemma. Monty Woolley, light-years removed from Sheridan Whiteside, is in good form as a washed up professor who's also helped by the angel.

The Apartment (1960). Billy Wilder's masterpiece, and one of the finest movies ever. Jack Lemmon gives his best performance as an office drone who moves up the corporate ladder by lending the keys to his apartment to various superiors who want to use the place to cheat on their wives. Going by just that sentence, Lemmon seems kind of creepy, huh? Really, he's not. He's actually a desperately lonely guy, and a bit of a pushover, who yearns for a different kind of life. Someone who IS a creep is Fred MacMurray as Lemmon's boss. Having strung along an emotionally fragile Shirley MacLaine (another great performance), he leaves her alone in Lemmon's apartment on Christmas Eve, where she attempts suicide. Lemmon comes home in time to prevent a tragedy, with the help of Jack Kruschen as the perplexed doctor who lives next door. The scenes between Lemmon and MacLaine, which go from comedy to drama and back again at the turn of a dime, are among the best captured on film. You're not going to want to leave this apartment.

Now, we come to the most praised, the most revered, the most lauded, the most glorified, the most exhalted, and the most beloved Christmas movie of all time, It's a Wonderful Life (1946).

I think it's a bit overrated.

I'll give you a couple of seconds to get off the floor.

Allow me to explain.

It's certainly not the actors. Jimmy Stewart. Donna Reed. Thomas Mitchell. Henry Travers. Lionel Barrymore. I'll give Frank Capra this, he knew how to cast 'em. The problem I have is the story, and the moral of that story.

All kinds of troubles befall George Bailey on Christmas Eve. Standing on a bridge looking down at the river below, it looks like he might commit suicide. An angel named Clarence shows up, and keeps George from suicide by jumping in the river himself. Afterwards, the angel grants George's wish that he was never born. At that point, we might expect George to disintegrate right before our eyes. Instead, everything else changes. Nice people become rotten, happy people become sad, sane people go crazy, small town Bedford Falls becomes big city Pottersville, a navy transport sinks to the bottom, and Donna Reed wears glasses. Horrified by all this, George asks to be reborn. He also gets that wish granted, and heads back home to find his living room crammed with people willing to help him out of his jam. Moral of the story: One man can make a difference.

Now, here's my problem: George Bailey seems to be the ONLY man that can make a difference. Nobody else in that town (with the possible exception of Mr. Potter) seems to have any thing in the way of free will. They have no control of their lives or even their own personalities. As Kansas would say, all they are are dust in the wind. Determinism. All victims of much larger forces beyond their comprehension, in this particular case a wish granted by an angel. And about that angel, suppose he had unborn anybody else (other than Mr. Potter) who lived in that town? That one bartender, maybe. The one played by Sheldon Leonard. What might Bedford Falls look like had that one bartender never been born? I don't know. I guess it depends on how well his replacement makes a Tom Collins.

Had Jimmy Stewart never been born, and someone else had played George Bailey, I don't think the movie would be nearly as watchable as it is now, so maybe he's the one that made the difference.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Quips and Quotations

Groucho and Chico are going over a contract.

Chico: What's that?

Groucho: It's the sanity clause.

Chico: Ah, I don't believe in Sanity Clause!

--A Night at the Opera

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I was 17 when the student radicals took over the U.S. embassy in Iran, an event that so angered me I felt President Carter was within his rights to drop an H-bomb on Tehran, even if it killed all the hostages and just about everybody else. Now, before any of you peaceniks out there get angry, let me say I no longer feel that way. I'm glad that Carter didn't drop an H-bomb, an A-bomb, a neutron bomb, a jellied gasoline bomb, a buzz bomb, or even a cherry bomb on Iran, when it would have been politically advantageous for him to do so. He later won the Nobel Peace Prize both for the Camp David accords, and his efforts to promote peace after he left office. But, as far as I'm concerned, he could have won solely for restraining his inner hawk in his final year of office, even at the cost of re-election.

22 years later, two planes flew into each of the World Trade Center towers, and one flew into the Pentagon, resulting in close to 3000 deaths. I was angry about that, too. In spite of the greater loss of life, or, for that matter, any loss of life (as scary as they seemed at the time, the Iranian hostage-takers of 1979 didn't kill anybody) I didn't want the H-bomb dropped this time. Call it maturity. Still, I felt we had to do something. Those deaths had to be answered. That had to be avenged. Or else they all would have died in vain.

It soon came out that a Middle-Easterner by the name of Osama Bin Laden, and a terrorist organization he headed called Al-Qaeda, were behind the attacks. They were headquartered in Afghanistan. Another group called the Taliban, which ran Afghanistan, wouldn't give the killers up. That was belligerent enough for me. President Bush was well within his rights to declare war on Afghanistan. Barring that, the Taliban. Or at least Al-Qaeda.

Instead, Bush declared war on terrorism. He declared war on a word.

Still, it seemed like a war on Afghanistan. The Taliban were soon toppled from power, and Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were on the run.

Problem was, nobody seemed to run after Bin Laden or Al-Qaeda. And, in a remarkably short time, nobody seemed to care. Not the mainstream media, not the business community, not the political establishment (including the Democratic half of that establishment), and, finally, not even We, The People.

Because we were now going to go to war with Iraq. That would avenge those 3000 deaths on 9/11, even if they were 3000 deaths Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with. The war with Iraq started out well. A statue was toppled. Hussein was caught and hung on live cell phone. But it was a war we didn't seem to know how to end. So far, about 4000 Americans have died in Iraq so that the 3000 dead of 9/11 won't have died in vain.

A week ago, President Obama reminded us again of 9/11. He also reminded us of the original villains of the piece, Bin Laden and Al-Qeada. And he reminded us of their original headquarters, Afghanistan. Except that's not their current headquarters. They're now in Pakistan, something the Pakistanis have recently denied. Wherever they are, maybe on the moon, we're now in Afghanistan, and will be even more in Afghanistan in the next couple of years.

Obama spoke out against the war in Iraq, and, to some, that gives him credibility, or at least cover, in the Afghan buildup. I can only hope he's doing the right thing. People who spoke out for the war in Iraq have been speaking out for a renewed war in Afghanistan, and the President, perhaps coincidentally, seems to be heeding their advice.

Except for the deadline for withdrawal. The hawks are upset about that. I'm not too happy about it either, but for a much different reason. It makes me wonder if this isn't all for show. We just can't seem to get any closure on this thing. This thing being 9/11. 3000 died. And 4000 died in Iraq. We can't let them all die in vain. We have to do something. So lets have a surge in Afghanistan like the one we had in Iraq. Show that we're serious, get the bad guys to back off some, declare Bin Laden dead or irrelevant, declare victory, and then scram.

Hopefully, they can do this without too many more dying for those who died in vain.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Archival Revival

Sometime next week, I'll be celebrating my 48th birthday. Or I might just be in deep mourning. Hard to say. I kind of touched upon it a week ago in a post titled "Time Travel" which received a surprising amount of attention. But I actually prefer the post I did about the same subject a year ago, when I was about to turn 47. For one thing I was a year younger. The other is that I thought it was a nice little piece of writing. It has a few rough spots, but there's a soft landing.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Blog Verite: See Spot Run

On my way over to the library I saw a dog taking a pee against a fire hydrant.

I thought that kind of thing only happened in cliches.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Stopped Clock

So I log in to this web site, and I get the site's name, but not the content, just blank space. I look at that blue bar at the bottom of the screen. You know, the one that gets longer, or grows, as you wait for something to materialize. Except this is stunted growth, the blue bar only about a third of the way there. I decide I don't feel like waiting, and I'll go someplace else. So I type a different word in that long rectangular box. Well, only half that sentence is accurate. I did physically type out the word, but nothing appeared in the box. I looked down at that blue bar, and it was growing once again. OK, I thought, I'll stay after all. Then once again it stopped. The blue bar was now about halfway where it was supposed to be. Determined not to patiently wait, I aimed the arrow icon to the X on the top of the screen, hoping to blank everything out, and start all over again. But instead of an arrow icon I had an hourglass icon. Ever try to blank out the screen with an hourglass icon? You can't. It won't work. So, left with no alternative, I just stared at the hourglass. And stared. And stared. And you know what?

The sand in the hourglass wasn't even moving.

Whatever happened to computer animation?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Recommended Reading

Michael Moore wants Obama to pass on the Khyber.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Time Travel


Slow it down! Slow it down!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vital Viewing

Happy Thanksgiving--and stay indoors.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is You Is or Is You Ism

About twenty years ago, I was sweeping the parking lot of the McDonald's where I worked when this car that had just been in drive-thru pulled up along side me. The driver lowered his car window and, in a pissed-off voice, said to me, "I thought we were supposed to be different from the communist countries!"

"Huh?" was my honest, heartfelt reply.

"I thought we were supposed to have choices in this country. That's why we're supposed to be so much better than the communists."

This was right after the Berlin Wall fell. It didn't literally fall, but East Berliners were now allowed to visit West Berlin without getting their heads blown off. Meanwhile, other Eastern Europeans countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary were peacefully replacing their communist leaders with capitalistic democrats. Or democratic capitalists. Take your pick. And the whole thing had been set in motion by the sphere-influential leader of the U.S.S.R., Mr. Glasnost himself, Mikhail Gorbachev. As a result, there was a lot in the U.S. media about how the formally enslaved peoples of the Iron Curtain countries would now have more choices in their lives.

What kinds of choices? Well, they could now choose their own leaders. And they could now read anything they wanted. They could now criticize the government if they wanted. And they could write and paint and draw and compose and sculpt and direct and perform whatever they wanted without fear of being sent to some gulag in Siberia.

But that wasn't the kind of choice the guy in the McDonald's parking lot had in mind.

"Sir," I said. "I really don't know what you're talking about."

"I tell you what I'm talking about! I wanted Hot Mustard sauce for my Chicken McNuggets, but the girl in drive-thru said they were all out. She tried to give me Sweet 'N Sour instead! What kind of choice is that?! This country is supposed be about choices. I might as well be in Russia!"

With that, he did an angry burn out of the McDonald's parking lot, leaving me standing there in a cloud of carbon monoxide.

Let's jump 20 years ahead (and 70 years back) to an ism other than communism, shall we?

As you may know, both the House and the Senate have produced their health care reform plans. Plans that, hopefully, promise universal coverage at affordable rates. For the last six months or so, the political Right have been comparing such efforts to Nazism. You remember Nazism, don't you? Adolph Hitler. Goosesteps. Swastikas. Book burnings. Tattooed numbers. Cattle Cars. Barbed wire. Showers. Zyklon B. Ovens. Crimes against humanity. None of which I believe is mentioned in the current health care bill. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) recently appeared at an anti-health reform teabag event, sharing the podium with some guy holding up pictures of the dead at Buchenwald. That's not in the health care bill, either.

The Nazis did offer free medical attention to twins, whether they needed it or not. Usually not. Again, not in the current health care bill.

Really, you shouldn't compare what happens in the U.S. or other western countries to what happened under communism or Nazism. It's like comparing apples and oranges.

Or Hot Mustard and Sweet 'N Sour.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quips and Quotations

I passionately hate the idea of being "with it". I think an artist always has to be out of step with his times.

--Orson Welles

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Following Update

I'd like to welcome Pappy of Pappy's Golden Age Comics.

Fans of comic art (or non-fans who need to be converted) should check out his fine site on my "List of Blogs", along with Hairy Green Eyeball II and Stripper's Guide.

And, in case you comic fans out there are curious, in spite of my last name and the fact that my pipe dream, er, profile, reads "writer/cartoonist", I am no relation to the popular cartoonist Joe Jusko.

However, if he wants to leave me something in his will anyway, I won't complain.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Blog Noir

My friend Marty Volare almost got himself into some very big trouble the other night...



"Excuse me, but are you Bugsy Scarfather, the notorious underworld loan shark?"

"Maybe. Who the hell are you, and why the hell are you holding a palm tree?"

"Oh, well, I'm Martin Dangerfield Volare, and this isn't a palm tree. A palm tree would be much, much bigger."


"It's a rubber tree plant."

"Why the hell are you holding a rubber tree plant?"

"Oh, it's a peace offering from Veronica Stanwyck."

"VERONICA STANWYCK!!!" Enraged, Bugsy motioned for one of his goons to come to the door.

Marty smiled. "She told me you'd be excited to hear from her."

"That dame owes me $60,000! She's past due! I was just about to send out a couple of my boys to collect."

"Oh, she told me all about it, Mr. Scarfather. You lent her money so she could start her own combination greenhouse/ice cream stand. It was a pretty good idea, and I'm sure if the economy hadn't tanked, it would have gone over big. I mean, it gets pretty hot in a greenhouse. A cone or Popsicle or maybe a bowl of orange sherbet would be just the thing to cool you off as you peruse the fauna. But, like I said, the economy. Anyway, this rubber plant is Veronica's token of appreciation."

"That's it. The broad's gonna get whacked!"

"Well, Mr. Scarfather, I think she's a little old for a spanking, and, besides, once I'm done here, me and her are off to Vegas to get married."

"Oh, you are, are you?" With that, Bugsy motioned to another one of his goons, who walked up behind Marty, and held up what is known in the gangster vernacular as a "heater" up to his head.

Marty didn't seem to notice. "You see, me and Veronica are in love."

"Just how long have you known Veronica?"

"Oh, about an hour ago. No, make that two."


"I said, make that two. You see, I went to the Looking-Glass Cafe to bowl a few frames, and, while I was changing into my bowling shoes--"

"Wait a second. I've been to the Looking-Glass Cafe. You can't bowl there."

"Sure you can. Just stick in a few quarters--"

"You're talking about one of those machines? Then why the hell were you putting on bowling shoes?"

"I was hoping they might improve my game."

Bugsy let out a sigh, and then said, "Go on with your story."

"Well, I put on the shoes, and I heard this whistle. I turned, and, sitting in the corner was this beautiful woman in a white dress and big white hat and wearing an ankle bracelet. I walked over to introduce myself, and you know what she said?"

"I'm sweating with curiosity."

"She said, 'A girl like me could fall for a guy like you.'"

"And then what?"

"I fell for her. She led me to the alley in back, and, and, and--"


"She gave me a peck on the cheek."

"That's some passionate love affair you two got going there."

"And tonight's the honeymoon! Lip to lip!"

"We'll see if you make it to the honeymoon. What I want to know is how you ended up on my doorstep with that palm tree."

"Rubber plant."


"Well, soon after we met--in fact, I was still wearing my bowling shoes--I told her I was deeply, madly in love with her, and she promised to fall deeply, madly, in love with me if I just did her this one little itty-bitty favor. That's how she put it. One little itty-bitty favor."

"I bet I can guess the little itty-bitty favor. Stall me while she blows town."

"Oh, no, she hasn't blown town yet. Not without me. Like I said, we're getting married."

"So you walked all the way over here from the Looking-Glass Cafe with that palm tree, while--"

"Oh, I didn't walk. Veronica drove me."

"Drove you? I happen to know her car was repossessed!"

"She was driving my car."

"She drove you in your own car?! Where's your car?! I know it's a foggy night, but I should at least be able to see your car."

"Oh, she dropped me off. She had some errands to run and needed my car. I figure I'll take a cab to the airport. Or maybe the bus. Is there a bus stop around here?"

"Yeah, I think there's one around the--forget about the bus stop! You mean to tell me she talked you into coming here, and then talked you out of your car?! How the hell could you let her do that?!"

"Like I said, we're in love. At least I'm in love with her. And she'll fall in love with me once this little itty-bitty favor is over with."

"Man, this is so pathetic, I'm not even going to kill you."

"Oh, good. Like I said, she's waiting for me at the airport. And, for safekeeping, she's holding all my credit cards."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Following Update

I'd like to welcome Dreamfarm Girl to Shadow of a Doubt. I promise it won't be a nightmare.

Hmm..If I keep on using lines like that, I'm not going to be able to keep that promise, huh?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Quips and Quotations

Frankly, I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole thing to private industry.

--Milo Minderbinder in Catch-22, by Joseph Heller.

(played by Jon Voight in the movie--KJ)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monkeys are the Root of All Evil.

Read in the paper that Inherit the Wind is now playing at the Drury Theater downtown. I seriously thought about going. According to the article, tickets are starting at $45, so I put on my ski mask and headed to the nearest bank...Just kidding! Just kidding! I've never even stole a towel from a hotel room. I have thought about stealing the soap, but it's usually so small I don't think I'd get much use out of it other than washing what separates me from the beasts, my thumbs. $45! Maybe I could afford if I fast for a week. That way I'll be nice and hungry for Thanksgiving. No. I've already seen Inherit the Wind . The same way I've seen all the great plays of the 20th century--as a movie on TV. Made in 1960, it starred Spencer Tracy as a character based on Clarence Darrow, Fredric March as a character based on William Jennings Bryan, Gene Kelly as a character based on H.L. Mencken, and Dick York as a character based on John T. Scopes, who was arrested in 1920s Tennessee for teaching the theory of evolution (in York's next big role he was married to a witch. Any fundamentalist Christians reading this are now nodding their heads and saying, "Yep, that sounds about right.)

To summarize the play, and the real life event on which it was based, lawyer Darrow defended Scopes, while starch evolution opponent Bryan served as district attorney. The judge was biased against Darrow, and kept out a lot of scientific evidence that might have exonerated both John Scopes and Charles Darwin (I'm not sure what to make of it, but on Bewitched, Endora sometimes called Darren Darwin.) Frustrated, Darwin, I mean Darrin, I mean Darrow, called Bryan himself to the stand, and asked him questions about the Bible, and how it squared with reality. Now it was Bryan's turn to be frustrated as he tried to square dance around various facts Darrow threw at him. For instance, he asked Byran where did Cain's wife come from, as Adam and Eve were the only ones giving birth to kids at the time. Christian smart ass that he was, Bryan replied, "I leave it up to you agnostics to go looking for her." And if Joshua, as the Bible claims, actually cause the Sun to stand still for a day, why weren't all the people flung off the planet into space when the Earth suddenly stopped moving on its' axis? Bryan's answer was that he didn't think the question was "expert testimony". Darrow asked how the sun could be created on the fourth day. Bryan replied that days were a lot longer back in the day, like thousands of years longer. After two hours of this, the judge adjourned for the (24-hour) day. The next morning the jury found Scopes guilty. It was a hollow victory for Bryan, as he had just made a fool of himself on the stand. He tried to get back at Darrow by distributing to the press a series of questions for him to answer, such as "Is there a God?" and "Is the soul immortal?" Smart ass agnostic that he was, Darrow answered, "I don't know." Bryan died soon after (though not on the day of the verdict, as depicted in the play.)

I'm sure by know some of you are saying, "Gosh! Even though it happened back in the 1920s, it's relevant today. People are still arguing about it." Well, yes, it it still relevant, and people still do argue about it. Usually, it's fundamentalist Christians (like Bryan) on one side, and atheists or agnostics (like Darrow) on the other. It's also usually part of that larger argument, the one between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. Here's where things start getting irrelevant:

Both William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow were liberal Democrats. Bryan, in fact, was a three-time Democratic nominee for President (and three-time loser.) H.L. Mencken, who covered the trial for the Baltimore Sun, was the closest thing to a conservative, and he hated fundamentalist Christianity. Almost as much as he would later hate the New Deal.

Speaking of that New Deal, in a 1934 speech dedicating a memorial to Bryan, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt praised him for his "lifelong fight against sham and privilege and wrong." FDR also said WJB "fought the good fight." In 1962, Harry S. Truman said, "If it wasn't for ol' Bill Bryan, we wouldn't have any liberalism in the country right now. Bryant kept liberalism alive. He kept it going."

If Bryan was so liberal, then, what was his beef with The Origin of Species?

Actually, as a young man in the 19th century, he kept an open mind about the then-newfangled theory. What closed that mind was the phrase "survival of the fittest", coined not by Darwin but by the philosopher Herbert Spencer, best known as the chief proponent of "Social Darwinism", though that phrase was coined by someone else (I've heard of passing the buck, but coins?) Spencer and others were against any type of government action that might make life better for the poor and dispossessed. They were bound for extinction anyway. Just like dinosaurs. Byran, the lifelong champion of the poor and dispossessed, naturally protested. Plus, dinosaurs weren't even mentioned in the Bible. He came to loathe evolution even more than the gold standard.

And Clarence Darrow? As someone who spent his life fighting for the underdog, you'd think he'd be against evolution. Had he had the opportunity to defend a poor person against imminent extinction, I'm sure he would have. But it never happened. Besides, in spite of all the scientific discoveries going on, it was still a very religious age, and he came to see atheists and agnostics (such as himself) as the true underdogs. So he embraced Darwinism, though not socially.

Bryan's fears turned out to be unfounded. Class-based extinction, at least in the US, never became official public policy. Something else happened instead. As the country's manufacturing base frittered away, and the middle-class along with it, more and more disenfranchised people, in Barack Obama's memorable words, began to cling to "guns and religion and developed an antipathy towards government." They also began voting for Adam-and-Eve-believing politicians, who then enacted policies that frittered away the middle-class even more, almost to the point of extinction, just like the dinosaurs, the ones not mentioned in the Bible.

Funny how it's all evolved, huh?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Quips and Quotations (Halloween Edition)

It grossed something like 12 million dollars and started a whole slew of boy-meet-ghoul films.

--Boris Karloff, talking about Frankenstein.

Pat Boone!

--Vincent Price, when asked by Peter Marshall on Hollywood Squares as to who was the most evil man in the world.

I have a perfect cure for a sore throat. Cut it.

--Alfred Hitchcock

The love bite. It is the beginning. You will be irresistible.

--Bela Lugosi

Do you think we should drive a stake in his heart just to make sure?

--Peter Lorre, to Vincent Price at Bela Lugosi's funeral.

I think I'm insulted!

--Peter Lorre, playing himself on Route 66. Lon Chaney Jr., also playing himself, and made up like the Wolf Man, was chasing this young woman around a motel lobby. She ran around a corner, and came face to face with Lorre, who was in his regular street clothes. She fainted at the sight if him.

A clown may be funny in a circus ring, but what would be your reaction to opening your door and finding that same clown on your front step at midnight?

--Lon Chaney

They had to starve me to take this name!

--Lon Chaney Jr, born Creighton Chaney.

He was my baby!

--Lon Chaney Jr, referring to his most famous character, the Wolf Man

There is nothing in the dark that isn't there when the lights are on.

--Rod Serling

We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the Columbia Broadcasting System.

--Orson Welles, at the end of his radio broadcast of War of the Worlds.

As you know, there's a real scary holiday coming up. Election Day.

--Paul Lynde

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Following Update

Started out the week with five followers, lost one (Hill deactivated her follower thingie; fortunately, she still reads SOAD, as indicated by her appearance in a recent comments section), was down to four (duh), and then, just a couple of minutes ago, gained another follower, so I'm back up to five (duh again.)

According to his blog, Cosmic Navel Lint hails from the land of the Fab Four, Peter Sellers, and Monty Python. Welcome aboard, Cosmic (which reminds me, it's also the land of Red Dwarf.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Improv Theater

How exactly do they decide what is or isn't a "reality show"? Obviously, it can't be something fictional like Lost or The Simpsons. But why isn't, say, Charlie Rose considered a reality show? Charlie is real, as are Henry Kissinger, Paul Volcker, Warren Buffett, Gore Vidal, and his various other guests. If Charlie Rose is too highbrow for you, how about Larry King Live? Larry's real. All too real, perhaps. And so are all of his guests. Kathy Griffin, Bill Maher, Gloria Allred, Jack Hanna, and Joan Rivers. Joan probably slightly less real since all the plastic surgery. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is considered a reality show, so why not Jeopardy? Both shows involve real people answering real questions (or, in the case of Jeopardy , questioning real answers) and getting real money if they answer those questions (or question those answers) right. Yet Jeopardy is still referred to as a "game show". I guess because the term "reality show" entered the vernacular around the year 2000, where as Jeopardy, in one form or other, has been around since the early 1960s. Remember Art Fleming? If you do you need bifocals. Then there's American Idol, America's Got Talent, and So You Think You Can Dance. Back in the day those were called "talent shows". On the elementary school level, they're still called that. Anyway, talent is real. Come to think of it, the talent on those shows is sometimes not so real. But unless you're Simon Cowell, you hate to have to tell someone that.

Why am I going on and on about reality shows? I guess it's because of that little boy who was, then wasn't, in that runaway balloon. His mother, who along with his father was once on a reality show called Wife Swap , has admitted the whole thing was a hoax. She and her husband hoped the publicity would get them another reality show. And it did. It's called the news. On some cable channels this reality show runs 24 hours a day. As they were putting on an act, the little boy's mother and father can't properly be called the stars of this show. The real stars were the rescue workers who worked desperately to bring that little boy safely back to Earth. If only there had been a real little boy in danger. This show's not through with reality stars. Expect a judge, DA, and defense attorney. And expect to see a lot more of Gloria Allred on Larry King Live.

The documentary type of reality show seems to be divided between two types. Those with famous people, and those without famous people. As I can always view the latter by simply looking in the mirror, I prefer the former. Lessee, over the last ten years there's been The Osbournes, The Surreal Life, The Simple Life, Hogan Knows Best, Breaking Bonaduce, Being Bobby Brown, My Life on the D List, Celebrity Fit Club, and my all-time favorite, The Anna Nicole Show (the late Anna Nicole will be the subject of a future post.) I always feel we get get beyond the carefully crafted public image and see what these celebrities are really like. For instance, on Bonaduce's show, we learned of his struggle with drugs and alcohol. Wait a second. That already was his carefully crafted image, wasn't it? OK, then, how about that one guy from Taxi ? No, not Danny DeVito. The blond guy. You know, he also played John Travolta's friend in Grease. Jeff Conway, that's it. On Celebrity Fit Club, he seemed kind of stoned much of the time. Proving he's not afraid of typecasting, his next gig was Celebrity Rehab with Dr Drew. I don't know if Conway ever solved his problems, but he's at least now as well-known as Bonaduce. Of course, these reality shows don't all focus on celebrity bad behavior. The Osbournes took a celebrity whose carefully crafted image was that of bat-chomping lunatic, and revealed him to be just a family man, dispensing wise advice to children Jack and Kelly in a Ward Cleaver/Mike Brady/Cliff Huxtable fashion. Unlike Ward's, Mike's, and Cliff's children, Jack and Kelly never acted on that wise advice, probably because it was impossible to know what the hell their father was saying half the time. Jack and Kelly had an older sister, Aimee, who didn't want to be on TV, and moved out of the house shortly before the show began. I don't recall her ever being mentioned on the show, which seemed a little unrealistic. Not even Kelly asking if she could now have Aimee's bedroom. At the height of the show's success, Ozzy and wife Sharon appeared on Greta Van Susteren and was asked about that missing daughter. Ozzy compared her to Marilyn Munster. I think he meant it as a compliment, but I'm not sure. Whatever, mentioning her on the show would have brought a little reality to the reality.

As for reality shows featuring unknown real people, The Real World , now in it's 23rd season, provides the basic template. A group of real people trapped in a not so real house getting on each others real nerves. There are also interviews, or "confessionals", where each real person gets to complain about the others getting on their real nerves. But they're always the victim, never the perpetrator. Later shows such as Big Brother and Survivor (where they're trapped on an island rather than a house) turned the whole thing into a contest, and the real people got even more on each other's nerves. That ol' competitive spirit, I guess. One common criticism of these shows is that people won't act natural if they know they're on camera, that they'll always be on they're best behavior if they think people are watching. I disagree. On these real shows you see real pettiness, vanity, envy, selfishness, covetousness, betrayal, hostility, rudeness, boorishness, obnoxiousness and general stupidity. If this is their best behavior, off-camera they must eat their young.

The one aspect of these shows that I do find unrealistic is the physical appearance of the participants, which is frequently one of complete perfection. Even the midget on The Amazing Race was kind of hot. All the imperfections we associate with real people--you and me--are increasingly absent on these shows. There are no double chins, beady eyes, acne, receding hairlines, big ears, big noses, or weak chins. Nobody even cuts themselves shaving. As the participants, whether they're on an island or in a communal bedroom, are often in various states of undress, you can see they're also perfect from the neck down. Tanned, toned, buffed, and sculpted. No beer guts, no knobby knees, no flat chests, no sunken chests, no love handles, no big asses, no Olive Oyls, and no 90-pound weaklings. No fat, flab, or cellulite. Nothing hangs, sags, or droops. They don't look like real people. They look like stars.

And that, of course, is the whole idea. Once their stints on these shows ends, the participants hope to stay on TV. But the other kind of TV. The old-fashioned TV, where the words that come out of your mouth are written by somebody else. And it doesn't have to stop at the small screen. In fact, a couple of years ago there was even a movie based on The Real World.

From real to reel.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Quips and Quotations

Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.

--Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Quips and Quotations (Hannibal, MO Edition)


PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

--BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR, Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Warhead of State

President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize made me think of my eighth-grade field trip to Washington DC. I had never been out of Ohio before. In fact, I sometimes wondered if Ohio was it . Oh, sure, I was taught there were other states, and other states were often mentioned in books, movies, and TV shows, and I knew other kids who who had been to or were from other states, but it could have been all part of a giant conspiracy designed to lull me into a false sense of security as our bus drove off the edge of Ohio and into the abyss. Fortunately, it drove into Pennsylvania instead. We spent an hour in Gettysburg, proving that place actually exists, even if Abraham Lincoln was still in question. Finally, toward the end of the day, we reached DC. Or a motel on the outskirts of DC, as it was late and we were all tired. For the next couple days, however, all those places I had only seen in books, film strips, the evening news, and in special two- or three-part episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies and Gomer Pyle, were suddenly there in front of us in 3-D. You didn't even need cardboard glasses! The Washington Monument. The Lincoln Memorial. The Capitol. We had to drive through what looked like slums to get to some of these places. I never saw the Clampetts do that. But no matter. That bit of reality meant it was just that, real. As did the crowds. Whenever sitcom characters visit Washington, the place always looks relatively empty. Oh, there are extras in background playing tourists, but they keep a respectable distance so as the regular cast members have a lot of room to make fools of themselves. In real life, you have to be careful making a fool of yourself, so as to not bump into someone with a Nikon. Washington DC was like an amusement park--lines everywhere.

The longest line was the one that snaked around the White House, the place I was the most excited about seeing. I'll get to why I was so excited in a second. But as I waited in line with my fellow eighth-graders and tourists from around the world, two things caught my attention. First, some guy was mowing the White House lawn. Over the years I've thought quite a bit about this guy. He was black, looked to be about 19, and wore a blue T-shirt with Superman's "S" on the front, blue jeans, and a pair of sneakers. He seemed neither happy nor sad about the work he was doing. Just an average guy mowing the lawn. I wondered then, and I wonder now, how did he get such a job? Did the White House advertise in the classifieds? Or did you have to "know somebody"? What was the pay like? Did he get paid more than the guy who cut the grass in front of the Capitol? Maybe he mowed both. I wonder if he ever got to meet the President. In 1976, that would have been Jerry Ford. It would have been something had Ford come out his house, walked up to the guy, slapped him on the back and said, "Son, you're doing a fine job!" and then, as he turned to go back inside, tripped over a lawn ornament (those of you either alive at the time, or who have seen an old repeat of Saturday Night Live with Chevy Chase, will get that joke.)

The other thing I noticed was that just inside the wrought iron fence that surrounds the White House, somebody had thrown a used candy bar wrapper. It was close enough that, had I wanted, I could have reached through the fence and removed it. But I didn't. It wasn't my responsibility, and, besides, there might be a Secret Service agent hiding behind a tree ready to shoot my hand off. Besides, I assumed the guy mowing would eventually make his way to that part of the lawn, and pick up the wrapper. Or, he could do it the lazy way and mow right over it, watching it shoot out the side as little paper crumbs. Suppose President Ford had come out and seen that wrapper. Would he have yelled at the guy for not picking it up immediately? Maybe he would have just walked over and picked up the wrapper himself, in the process tripping and landing face first onto the wrought iron fence (I've been waiting for over 30 years to make up my own Jerry Ford-tripping-and-falling-down jokes. Such humor played a formative part of my early adolescence.)

A bird landed on the candy wrapper and started pecking at it. The Secret Service agent I was sure was hiding behind that tree left it alone. The bird was no threat to the President. The bird didn't even know it was on the White House lawn. If it had flown over and pooped on the President's head, well, then the agent might have taken a shot at it.

The line moved along, and soon we'd be in the White House itself. I was so excited, and I'll now tell you why. It wasn't because the President signed legislation into law, or that he sometimes vetoed such legislation. I couldn't have cared less. The President's role as commander-in-chief? Close. Let's just narrow it down a bit.

The President had his finger on The Button. If he pushed that Button, it would cause a nuclear war that would destroy the world. I thought that was so cool.

Hey, I was 14 years old, OK? I also thought Fonzie, Sasquatch, the car that Starsky and Hutch drove, and slapstick passing for political satire were cool.

Besides, I didn't want the President to destroy the world. I just thought it was cool that he could destroy the world.

I fully expected that once inside the White House, the tour guide would usher us eighth-graders right into the Oval Office where the President would shake all our hands, then pull The Button out of a drawer, and place it on his desk where we all could get a good look. Not too close, as one of us eighth-graders could fall on it (though, as Ford was President, that fear was rather misplaced.)

Of course, he could decide to press The Button even while we were still outside waiting. What would happen then? Would he come out and yell to the guy mowing the lawn to get his ass into the bomb shelter? And then turn around and fall into a rose bush? Actually, he'd probably have to walk up and whisper it in the guy's ear. If he said it too loud, all us eight-graders and tourists would start panicking and climbing over the wrought iron fence to safety. There maybe wasn't enough room for all of us in that bomb shelter. The President would have no choice but to order the Secret Service and Marines to start shooting. It would have been a bloody massacre. It would have certainly ruined the field trip.

Fortunately, none of that happened. Less fortunately, once inside the White House, we saw neither The Button nor the Oval Office. We quickly passed through six or seven rooms of roped-off fancy furniture, and that was that. We might as well have been at Ethan Allen.

I later learned there's no actual Button. It's a metaphor. A short-hand way of saying that if the President wants to start a nuclear war, he can. There's actually a guy with a suitcase that follows the Commander-in-Chief wherever he goes. When the President so desires, a set of codes comes out of the suitcase. The President than gets on the phone to NORAD or wherever, the codes get punched into a computer, and the missiles emerge from their silos. Something like that. Of course, for the world to properly end, the other side has to fire back. As they no doubt would.

Given all the stupid, cruel things people do to each other, it's a bit surprising that we've never had a nuclear war. Maybe the Nobel Peace Prize should have gone to every president since Harry S. Truman, just for suppressing that inner eighth-grader and not pushing that button. And to every leader of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Even India and Pakistan have shown remarkable restraint.

I no longer find the proximity to power, to nuclear power, to be all that cool. If a President ever decides to push that metaphorical button, I might as well be at a rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike watching some guy mow the grass divider while a bird pecks at a candy bar wrapper in the parking lot.

The bird wouldn't know what the hell was going on, anyway.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blog Verite: At Cross Purposes

Overheard at the Bagley Rd McDonald's in Middleburg Heights:

"So, my niece was going to have her Confirmation, where she becomes a full Christian or something, and we were all supposed to meet at the church, and then the party after, and my sister and her husband wanted me to go in the car with them, but, you know, I'm not into going into the same car thing because I like to be able to leave whenever I want to, but I got into the same car anyway and that was the worst car to get into because it was their daughter getting confirmed so they were going to stay at the church the longest, and I thought about just walking home so I could change and everything because it really wasn't that far from where I live, but it was cold out and I didn't want to walk outside wearing this nice dress, so I just stood there and because I stood there so long waiting for my sister and her husband to finally go that I started noticing things about the other people there, like the one woman had bad teeth, and the one guy's suit didn't fit him right, and the one woman didn't look like she had even combed her hair, and then I thought, wow, this is not what this thing is supposed to be all about and this is not what I'm supposed to even be thinking and I wouldn't be thinking it if I had just gone in my own car!"

Friday, October 9, 2009

Yearning Potential

Some time ago, I found out that a local writer was going to appear at a "Meet the Authors" event at a suburban community center. As I had taken an interest in this person's writing, I decided to attend. There would be other writers there, too, and maybe I could pick up a few helpful tips. I could use some. They were published writers that got paid for their work, whereas I flushed my stuff down the Internet free of charge. (Please don't take offense at that last remark, Loyal Reader. It's just that I filled out a White Castle job application this morning, and had to come up with three reasons--three reasons!-- why I wanted to work there. The experience has left me a tad grumpy.)

At the community center, the writers all sat behind little tables with paper nameplates that ringed the fairly spacious room. About half the names I recognized as writers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the rest worked for various alternative weeklies in the area. One fellow worked for an Akron paper, and he just so happened to be seated next to, and chatting with, the writer I came to see. I walked up to my writer, thus interrupting the chat, and introduced myself. We exchanged pleasantries, she told me about an upcoming project she was working on, and that was that. Except it wasn't. You see, whenever I meet a famous person--her name was regularly in print; that was famous enough for me--I don't want it to end. So I just stood there, desperately trying to come up with something to say. The fellow from Akron took this as an opportunity to resume his conversation. This guy was a sports writer, and had just written a book about LeBron James. Impressive, huh? Apparently not.

"I want to write about the things you write about," The guy from Akron said to my writer. "I'm tired of writing about sports all the time. There's a whole world out there!"

I was astonished to hear him say this. Though I'm not one of them, I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who would give their right arms to be sports writers. Well, maybe their left arms, as most need their right ones to type.

Brent Larkin, a longtime writer for The Plain Dealer, and, before that, the now defunct Cleveland Press, retired a couple of months ago. An article announcing that retirement mentioned how he always wanted to be a sports writer, in fact a sports editor. It never happened. Instead, for the past two decades, he had to settle for being the editor of the Plain Dealer editorial page, a position that allowed him regular contact with mayors, congressmen, governors, senators, even presidents.

"I'm in a rut," said the sports writer who had just written a book about LeBron James.

Such is life. A shining city on the hill for one is a ghetto to be escaped from for another.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pet Tricks

Big controversy brewing over David Letterman. He's admitted to sleeping with a couple of his female staffers. Some wonder if it was sexual harassment, that he forced himself onto his subordinates.

Well, sexual harassment is not unheard of in the workplace.

But then neither is sucking up to the boss.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Quips and Quotations

Satire is what closes on Saturday night.

--George S. Kaufman

(Sometimes earlier--KJ)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Flesh is Weak, but the Spirits are Willing

I was reading somewhere that alcoholism is genetic. If so, it's a pair of genes I should fit into, but, fortunately, don't. As of this writing, I am not an alcoholic, and, despite myriad concerns and pressures, am not about to become an alcoholic. That's not to say I'm a teetotaler (whenever I see that word I think of a seesaw), and have never been drunk. There have been times in the distant past when I got falling down drunk on a regular basis. But never because I had a compulsive need to drink. It was either peer pressure--I was hanging around alcoholics--or, at other times when I was under no pressure whatsoever, I drank to excess because I thought it made me look cool.

OK, I can hear the bluenoses clucking now. Kirk, they're saying, don't you know that alcohol can never make you cool? Well, cluck you, bluenoses, it can make you cool and I'll prove it!

Say you're at a party, and a total boor, but a boor who's totally sober, walks up to you and starts talking:

"The attack on Pearl Harbor of December 7, 1941 was certainly a major shock to the American public, transforming a largely isolationist country into an angry nation gripped by war fever. What exactly happened on that day that brought about such a transformation? At 7:48AM, Hawaiian time, two waves of Japanese warplanes, numbering 353, and including the famous Zeroes, reached the island of Oahu, where Pearl Harbor was located. The American defenders were unprepared, as guns were unmanned, ammunition lockers locked, and airplanes parked wingtip to wingtip right out in the open. Ninety minutes later 2386 Americans were dead, eighteen ships, including five battleships were sunk, and 188 airplanes were destroyed. About half the casualties were on the USS Arizona, which blew up and sunk to the bottom of the harbour. But what's interesting is what the Japanese missed, the three US aircraft carriers that were out on sorties that morning. Although not immediately apparent in 1941, battleships were rapidly becoming obsolete. The three aircraft carriers the Japanese missed were decisive at the Battle of Midway six months later, turning the tide of the war in the Pacific. Thereafter, the Japanese were on the run."

At that point, you'd be on the run from that boor. But suppose, just suppose, you gave that very same boor a couple of screwdrivers. Now he's talking like this:

"Man, can you imagine bein' on vacation in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor attacked the Japanese? I know I'd be on th' phone to my fuckin' travel agent, what the fuck kind of vacation did ya book for me?! You got zeroes all over the sky like its' a goddamn bowl of Cheerios! And they bombed Arizona, so don't you go booking me to th' Gran Canyon either! It sunk to the bottom. I don't know, maybe the Colorado River overflowed. But all them isholationish's gonna be pissed, 'cause I think they booked vacations, too. I see them runnin' around the hotel lobby and comin' down with war fever. Jush book me another vacation midway from here, where th' Japs aren't runnin' things!"

There! He's much better company now, wouldn't you say?

The thing that's really kept me from becoming an alcoholic is that I've never really liked the taste of the stuff. I don't condone heroin addiction, but there's something to be said for injecting a mind-altering substance directly into your veins, thus bypassing the tongue. I remembering telling somebody once that I only drink to calm my nerves. They haughtily replied that's the wrong reason to drink. Well, what's the right reason to drink? The sheer pleasure of having what feels like a thumb tack shot down my esophagus? When I drink it's usually beer, because you can kind of monitor your buzz. Whiskey or Vodka can fool you into thinking you're not drunk, until you try to get off the bar stool and realize that somebody amputated your legs when you weren't looking. But, like I said, I've never really acquired that liking for the taste of beer that so many others seem to have. I have a friend who's in AA, been on the wagon for ten years, yet whenever he goes out he orders O'Doul's, a non-alcoholic beer. He obviously likes the taste, even if that's not what attracted him to beer in the first place (I wonder if former cocaine addicts ever snort salt, sugar, that stuff you put on cue sticks, just because they're used to having white powder up their nose.)

I went to a picnic a while back. Feeling a bit nervous, as I do sometimes in public, I had a few beers. That calmed the nerves. But I didn't like having the aftertaste of Bud or whatever it was in my mouth, so I switched to Pepsi. That got rid of the aftertaste, but all that caffeine and sugar soon made me nervous again, so I switched back to beer. I guess you could say I was having mixed drinks.

The worse thing about being drunk, other than committing vehicular homicide, is throwing up. Especially if you do it in your sleep. Actually, you don't stay asleep as it tends to wake you up. But not completely. Your eyelids may remain asleep, as do your arms and legs. In fact, every muscle in your body that could get you into that bathroom stays asleep. Only your mind is awake, as you realize with growing horror that you now know what a gushing oil well feels like.

If you're awake when you feel like you're about to vomit, there's absolutely no excuse for not getting yourself in the bathroom. Unless your legs have been amputated when you weren't looking. To be fair, even if your legs are functioning you might not make it. I was at a party once when this petite young woman got up out of her chair, and started to calmly make her way across the room. About half way there--BLURBLRB! Unfazed, she daintily stepped over the brown puddle, and walked into the bathroom. Why she still needed a bathroom at that point, I don't know. Maybe she still had a drop of bile lodged in her throat.

If you feel like throwing up, and can make it to the bathroom in time, there's absolutely no reason not to deposit the residue into the toilet bowl. Unless you see two toilet bowls, and aim for the one on the left, instead of the actual one on the right.

Then there's the desire to drink somebody under the table. This can take the form of drinking games. Mexicans. Quarters. There are others. I know longer remember how exactly you play those games, but it's always had something to do with rolling the wrong dice or picking up the wrong card, the penalty being that you have to take a drink. That's the penalty even if getting drunk is the reason everybody got together in the first place. I remember I was at a bachelor party once, and before going to a strip bar we all played a rather complicated drinking game where you made up rules as you go along. I think we took turns making rules. Anyway, this one guy came up with a rule that if you roll the wrong dice or pick the wrong card (I no longer remember) you have to drink a whole bottle of beer right then and there. Not a sip. Not a chug. The whole beer. The rest of us protested this, but as it was his turn to make up a rule, we eventually acquiesced. Guess who kept rolling the wrong dice or picking the wrong card? That's right, the guy who made up the rule! When it came time to go to the strip club, we pulled him out from under the table, threw him in the back seat, and drove downtown. We figured he'd wake up by the time we got there. No. He was still asleep. And we didn't much feel like waking him, as he was now covered with vomit. So we went inside and enjoyed the show, while he slept it off in the back seat. Too bad about that mugger.

But that's all right, because that guy, and everyone else I've mentioned in this piece, got to go to work or school on Monday morning and, when asked how their weekend went, got to puff their chest up with pride, and say, "I got shitfaced drunk!" It's living life to the fullest. Too bad you can't remember that fullness the next morning.

I guess no matter how often we throw up, say something we don't mean, get into stupid fights, destroy our family, wrap the car around a tree, need a liver transplant, wake up on a wet spot the exact size and diameter of the wet spot on our pants and underwear, and find out that during those two missing hours last Saturday night we were out murdering somebody in cold blood, drinking will always seem a much cooler way to spend our free time than, say, going to a Star Trek convention.

Either way, you could end up talking to a pointy-eared alien.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Archival Revival

I've caught a small cold, and thought I might like to write about it. Then I remembered that last March I had a much, much, worse cold, which I wrote about at the time. Rather than try to--excuse me--PKTHGKLTG!--top myself, which may not be possible or even desirable, I've decided to rerun the earlier post. Read it, if you dare.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Following Update (Again!)

Welcome to the blog, Hill. Hope you like the altitude.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Following Update

Wow, another follower! Welcome, Lemmy Caution. You've reached safety.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

He Likes Her! He Likes Her!

Stopped by The Looking-Glass Cafe, where I saw my old friend Marty Volare hunched over the bar writing something on a piece of paper, which couldn't have been easy as the beer dribbling down from his mouth caused the ink to run.

"Hiya, Marty!," I said as I walked into the place. "Whatcha' writing?"

Even though we've known each other for years, Marty looked at me quite shyly, and then cast his eyes down, muttering, "Oh, just a love letter."

"A love letter? To who?"

"Sally Field."

"You like Sally Field, huh?"

"Ever since I was a little boy plopped in front of the TV set with my tray of marshmallow pinwheel cookies and a big cup of Tang, the drink the astronauts drank, on the side."

"Can I read it?"

A frightened look appeared on Marty's face, and he clutched the letter close to his chest, not a good idea as his shirt was covered with Cheez-It crumbs.

"Aw, c'mon, Marty, you've known me for years!"

Marty shyly, reluctantly, handed over his letter. It wasn't easy to read, what with all the dribbled beer and smashed Cheez-It crumbs, but read it I did, and, man, it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever read, Shakespeare and the King James Version of The Bible included. Before he sends his letter off to Sally, Marty has graciously allowed me to share it with all of you. Read it, and see if you don't get a lump in your throat.

My Dearest Darling Sally Field,

I have carried a torch for you ever since I was seven years old and the local UHF station played Gidget and The Flying Nun back to back. I first fell in love with you in that little yellow bikini, and then fell in love all over again in that white nun's habit. It might have been better for my psycho-biological development had it been the other way around, but, no matter, whether you were frolicking on the beaches of Southern California, or soaring through the skies above Puerto Rico, so, too, did my heart. Later you appeared in the TV movie, Sybil, and I fell in love with all thirteen of your personalities, though the Mike personality and the Sid personality didn't help my psycho-biological development much either. Not too long after that you appeared in Smokey and the Bandit. Oh, Sally, how I longed to be the Burt Reynolds who would rescue you from the evil clutches of Jackie Gleason, who was even meaner than when he played Ralph Kramden. No matter. He would not send you "to the moon" as long as I was there to protect you. Then there was Norma Rae. Inspired by your performance, I tried to organize a union in my place of employment. Unfortunately, I was working in my grandmother's collectibles shop at the time, and she told my parents on me. Finally, Places in the Heart, for which you won your second Academy Award. Of course, Sally, your place was in my heart all along.

Recently, I was distressed to learn that you suffer from osteoporosis. Oh, Sally, how I want to take those brittle bones of yours in my arms and make them all better. Fortunately, you've discovered Boniva, and, watching those commercials, I was thrilled to see that you're now healthy enough to go to the farmer's market and buy some ripe tomatoes (by the way, I like ketchup.) Still, I was a bit puzzled. Isn't osteoporosis a disease older women get? So I looked up your age on the Internet, and was surprised to see that you're now 63!

Sally, I swear to you from the bottom of my love-stricken heart, you don't look a day over 40.

I, on the other hand, am only 45, yet strangers always mistake me for being a couple of decades older.

Oh, Sally, don't you see? We were made for each other!!!

Lovingly yours,

Martin Dangerfield Volare


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Follicle Correctness

This morning I looked in the mirror and noticed that the right side of my head is graying faster than the left side.

If only my head were an election cycle.

Friday, September 18, 2009

In Memoriam: Henry Gibson 1935-2009

Comic actor. Rowen and Martin's Laugh-In. Nashville. The Long Goodbye. The Blues Brothers.

"Did you ever stop to figure
Why the thumbnail is so hard?
Well, it hasn't any choice
With all that skin to guard.
It may look fat and pudgy
But it's heart is good and true.
It's prettier than a toenail
And easier to chew."

Following Update

Clicked on my blog, and saw I had another follower, for a grand total of three. Welcome to Shadow of a Doubt, LimesNow. I promise it won't be a lemon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Corrections and Retractions

In every article I've read about Larry Gelbart since I first became aware of his name as a teenager, it always said he wrote for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. In every TV interview I've seen with Larry Gelbert (excepting brief clips) he talked about writing for Your Show of Shows. Furthermore, I've seen TV interviews with people like Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, who remember Larry Gelbart writing for Your Show of Shows. So it was with complete confidence that when I posted "In Memoriam: Larry Gelbart 1928-2009" a couple of days ago, I included Your Show of Shows among his many credits.

Since Gelbart's passing, however, most of the obituaries listed Sid Caesar's successor show Caesar's Hour, not Your Show of Shows, as the program for which he actually wrote. Unsure myself, I listed both. Then yesterday, while skimming through The Huffington Post, I noticed a link to Larry Gelbart's final interview, for Vanity Fair, in which he states, unequivocally, that he never wrote for Your Show of Shows.

So that's my correction. Larry Gelbart wrote for Caesar's Hour, not Your Shows of Shows. As both shows aired before I was born, they're not even the reason I felt the need to honor him in the first place. I honor him for the first four seasons of MASH, and the screenplays for Oh, God!, Tootsie , and a few other things. I'd also like to honor him for the book to the stage musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, but I only know it as a movie. According to IMDb, it was written by someone else, although I have a difficult time believing that that someone else didn't use Gelbart's lines!

Next thing you know, someone will try and tell me Woody Allen didn't write for Your Show of Shows either.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Recommended Reading

A while back I mocked Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz for suggesting the news--hard facts--be copyrighted. Well, today I sing her praises. No, I haven't changed my mind about the copyright; I still think that's nuts. This is about a more weighty matter. In the current health care crisis, people need a scapegoat.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

In Memoriam: Larry Gelbart 1928-2009

Writer. Wrote gags for Bob Hope in the 1940s. Your Show of Shows. Ceasar's Hour. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Mash (TV version). Oh, God. Tootsie.

"One doesn't have a sense of humor. It has you."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shadow of a Redoubt

This blog has been pretty political of late. The past two weeks, anyway. For about a month and a half prior to that, however, it was pretty apolitical. Oh, I had a few "Recommended Reading" links to political web sites, but mostly it was dirty jokes, rock and roll, coincidences, and the voices you hear waiting for the light to turn green. Go back farther than that, though, and things start getting political all over again. You may be wondering if I plan it that way. Nope. This blog is whatever's on my mind at any given time. Sometimes I'm musing about kings, other times, cabbages.

It might be better if this blog was apolitical all of the time. Why alienate half the potential audience? I'm sorry but I just can't do it. What you're reading is my take on the human condition, and I can't ignore the presidents, chancellors, prime ministers, premiers, monarchs, potentates, dictators, mullahs, and county sheriffs that preside over said condition. It would be like writing about Las Vegas without the gambling, Cleveland without the ethnic groups, Jerusalem without the religions, Rome without the naked statues, Brooklyn without the "dese" and "dose", California without the wildfires, and Indochina without the Nike factories.

So I'm writing about politics. But what's my ultimate goal? To change hearts and minds? That's what people assume you're trying to do when you get political. Really, when you give any kind of an opinion, no matter how innocuous. Tell somebody that you think Mary Ann was hotter than Ginger, a "fact" that can't be proven one way or the other, and you're nevertheless likely to face resistance. "Mary Ann?! If she's so hot how come she's not the movie star?! Answer me that, huh? Huh?!" (Ah, but she once was. Ever see the one where the coconut falls on Mary Ann's head and she thinks she's Ginger? Sex-x-xy!)

I'll admit it would be nice to change some body's mind. If by reading one of my posts Sarah Palin could be transformed into a moose-petting, Mother Jones-reading, public option supporting, hippie chick progressive, I might consider even moving to Wasilla. But I really don't think my powers of persuasion are all that powerful.

It's not that I think minds and hearts can never be changed. If you have some sort of multi-billion dollar media blitz, either like that which led to the war in Iraq, or which convinced millions of Americans to watch the season premier of Jon and Kate plus 8 , when just a week earlier they hadn't even heard of Jon or Kate or the 8, then, yeah, people can be swayed. I just don't think I can sway those people. At least not completely. Best I can hope for is to plant a doubt in their minds. A shadow of a doubt.

OK, so if I'm not going to change any body's mind, what other possible reason do I have to give my two cents? Easy. To keep my own mind from being changed.

This blog is where I resist the multi-billion dollar media blitz, the trillion dollar PR push, the quadrillion dollar ad campaign (unless they want to use the AdSense box to the left, in which case I get a cut.)

This blog is my chance to show my resolve, to speak my mind, to be true to myself, and to be firm in my beliefs.

It's also where I can be stubborn, unyielding, obstinate, hardheaded, bullheaded, pigheaded, and just plain mulish. What's that you say? Those are negative personality traits? Why, of course they are! That's why I don't want anybody else with those same traits telling me what to think!

This blog is where I stand up to the status quo, the party line, the conventional wisdom, the received wisdom, the accepted wisdom, the societal norm, the social strictures, the cultural mores, and the p's and q's (which I don't mind at all.) On this blog I refuse to toe any line except the one I myself draw in the sand.

This blog is my outpost, my stronghold, my fortress.

I just hope it's not my Alamo.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Boston Common

If I don't look after the interests of the underprivileged, maybe somebody else will. Maybe somebody without any money or property!

I always gagged on that silver spoon.

--from the movie Citizen Kane

Sir, I hear you haven't worked a day in your life, and some hold this against you. Well, let me tell you, kid, you ain't missed a thing.

--factory worker

The first Citizen Kane quote above occurred to me little bit after hearing of Ted Kennedy's death. Not immediately after, but right when I asked myself, "Should I write about this?" (I held off so I could write about the cartoonist Jack Kirby, who's been dead for years.) The second Kane quote occurred to me a little bit after the first (thanks to the good people at TCM, I've seen that movie three times this past year) The third quote a local politician told me a couple of years back at my one, and, so far, only political meeting (I like to think of myself as political, but the people who attend those things are REALLY political. I think they'd hand out bumper stickers in their sleep.) I heard it again watching Ted Kennedy's memorial service. Supposedly this is a story he often liked to tell, about a factory he toured during his first campaign for senator in 1962. But it must have been a story he liked to tell off the record, for I could find nothing directly on the record, no speech or interview, not even something said accidentally in an open mike. So I attributed the quote instead to the factory worker. After all, he said it first. If it seems odd this factory worker would call Kennedy both "sir" and "kid", well, that's because there's no single version out there, so I decided to just combine them all.

Just because these are the quotes that occurred to me doesn't necessarily mean they aptly describe either Ted Kennedy or his family as a whole. Let's take the one about the silver spoon. The fact of the matter is the Kennedys seem to enjoy their money. Watching coverage of his passing on TV, I saw film of a young dark haired Ted Kennedy on his sailboat, then film of a middle-aged Ted Kennedy with slightly wild hair tinged with gray on another sailboat (the same one? Couldn't tell), then film of a much heavier Kennedy, his hair completely white, but still able to work the sails (I wish I knew the technical term), and, finally, film, actually video tape, taken a couple of weeks ago, of a dying Kennedy being wheeled onto that sailboat one final time. I can only conclude that not only did Ted Kennedy enjoy the somewhat elite pastime of sailing, but he also liked having someone follow him around with a camera as he enjoyed it.

Let's move to that third quote. The first time I heard that story I laughed out loud. I know you shouldn't explain humor, but I'm going to anyway. The joke is Kennedy didn't miss anything bad about working. Conservatives are always attacking rich liberals, be they born of wealth like FDR, or acquired it along the way like, well, just about anybody in public life, as being somehow hypocritical. Or they believe that if you personally can't identify with a person from a different walk of life, you have no business caring about what happens to them. Well, I personally can't identify with a squirrel, but if I'm driving and one runs in front of my car, I going to sure damn well slam on the brakes (I have this paranoid fear of dying and being sent to the roadkill section of Hell. Satan hands me a putty knife, and makes me scrape flattened fur and guts off the pavement.)

Besides, having a fortune is no guarantee you'll avoid misfortune. The wheelchair bound FDR knew this. As for the Kennedys, tragedy is practically their defining characteristic. There's the two assassinations, of course, but the bad tidings started long before that. Joe and Rose Kennedy lost a son and daughter, Joe Jr. and Kathleen, within three years of each other. (Both in plane crashes. Had I been in that family, I would have taken the Greyhound from that point on.) Some have gone so far as to suggest a family curse, while others reason that with such a large brood (Joe and Rose had nine kids) tragic outcomes increase exponentially. As a lifelong skeptic, I tend to agree with the latter explanation. Still, it's kind of weird that, had Joe and Rose just had four kids, by 1964 only one would still be alive, and she'd be in a mental institution. At any rate, Ted didn't have to be born poor to learn at an early age that life can bite some times. And the biting didn't stop with his siblings. He got into a plane crash himself (if you don't like Greyhound, how about Trailways?) and his son lost a leg to cancer. How about we make Ted an honorary member of the underprivileged? I think he's earned it.

Now, let's look at that first Citizen Kane quote.

(Incidentally, I've kind of been lumping the working-class in with the underprivileged. That's because, historically, they've been one and the same. It's only since World War II that they've been considered two distinct groups of people. In fact, I've known some blue-collar folks who absolutely loathe the underclass, but methinks they protest too much.)

Did Ted Kennedy, and the rest of his family, adopt liberalism as their cause because they feared some sort of proletariat uprising? Such fears in the 1930s are said to have lead to the New Deal. Lately, however, "class warfare" has just been a cliche bandied about whenever a fat cat doesn't get the tax cut he wants. The wild-eyed radical in me would like to think there's someone out there without any money or property ready to look after the interests of the underprivileged. But if you have no money or property, it's hard enough just looking after your own interests, much less worrying about the underprivileged. So, for the foreseeable future, it's a job for those with property and money. And it's a job that Ted Kennedy performed well. He amassed a long and progressive legislative record. And even when he screwed up (No Child Left Behind), at least his heart was in the right place.

So let's hear it for noblesse oblige. And rest in peace Ted Kennedy.

Still, we shouldn't depend too much on the kindness of somebody with lots of money and lots of property. Remember, George W. Bush, like Franklin Roosevelt and Ted Kennedy, also grew up in the lap of luxury.

In his case, I don't think he'd gag on an entire set of silverware.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Graphic Grandeur

The whole superhero concept is absolutely absurd. Costumed vigilantes with godlike powers battling aliens and skyscraper-sized monsters while a nuclear armed government stands by helplessly? How can anyone take such dreck seriously?

Well, no one says you have to take it seriously. What you should take seriously (or at least enjoy) is the absolutely glorious artwork that occasionally arises from said dreck. Hail to the King.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Between Barack and a Hard Place

I've discovered that political commentary is a bit more problematic when the guy you voted for actually gets into office.

As someone who cast his ballot for Barack Obama last November, I really should give the guy the benefit, or--heh, heh--shadow, of a doubt. After all, the poor man's under siege by birthers, Third Reich health care scholars, and those who assert their First and Second amendment rights to peacefully assemble with peacemakers .

Lets start with the birthers. No matter how many copies of his birth certificate, or Hawiian birth announcements, he shows those folks, they're still not convinced. All counterfeit, they claim. And that his mother was a native born American doesn't seem to convince them, either. Was she counterfeit, too? A fembot, maybe? Or a Stepford wife?

And the guys who show up with guns at Obama events? Simple self-protection. You never know when those Secret Service men might do something rash. Like protect the President.

What must be most annoying are these folks who insist of disrupting the Town Hall health care meetings with their screaming and shouting. Ah, says the right-winger, left-wingers have a long history of disrupting meetings, hearings and speeches with screaming and shouting. Just look at Code Pink. Fair is fair. And the right-winger is correct. Left-wingers do have such a history. They also have a history of getting sprayed with tear gas, dragged by their hair, and dumped in the back of paddy wagons. None of which seems to be happening to the anti-health care protesters. Unfair is unfair. Some have accused the insurance lobby of sending those people to protest. If so, they're sending some of the most emotionally fragile, Prozac-deprived souls this side of Dr. Phil. On the news I saw one overwrought woman wearing glasses cry out:

"I don't recognize my own country!!"

I think she needs to go to LensCrafters and get a new prescription.

OK, so it's not a good time for President Obama, and I really shouldn't add to his troubles with my own criticisms. On the other hand, should I cut the oxygen to my brain all in the name of liberal solidarity? After all, I just want to criticize Obama from the Left. I'd think he'd find the change in direction refreshing.

I'm just afraid this is going to be the Clinton administration all over again. Liberals and progressives who won't admit to being liberal and progressives and, in fact, don't seem to be particularly liberal or progressive much of the time, but liberals and progressives are expected to support them anyway because there are people out there a lot worse at being neither liberal nor progressive. Truth be told, what followed Clinton was a lot worse. But maybe if Clinton had been a little more liberal and a little more progressive, Bush and friends would have had a more difficult time being otherwise. Yes, there was prosperity under Clinton, but he talked so much like a Republican at times that I think some voters thought there would be even more prosperity if they voted for someone who sounded even more like a Republican. Say, an actual Republican. But before any of that came about, liberals and progressives were expected to fight the good fight. And what exactly was that good fight in the 1990s? The right for a president to screw around behind his wife's back on the public dime and then lie about it under oath? He shall overcome. All over a black dress.

I don't expect Obama to cheat on his wife, and don't much care if he does as long as I'm not expected to cover for him. But he's getting more Republican by the day, even as the real Republicans sharpen their knives, or, as health care dominates the news, their scalpels. Like Clinton, he probably believes he, and only he, can keep the barbarians at bay, and, like Clinton, he may just end up at bottom of that bay tied to a rock, gurgling that it's all a right-wing conspiracy. Takes one to know one.

Perhaps I'm being too hard on Obama. He is pushing for health care reform. If we only knew which health care reform (I half-expect him one day to say lower prices is not the essential element of health reform.) He did say--after what, two, three weeks?--that there were no death panels and that he found such talk "objectionable." So's your old man!

Last year about this time, I heard Obama supporters mocked as fanantics who expected their candidate to be the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Let's just hope he doesn't turn the other cheek while being nailed to the cross.