Who Do You Think You Are, Diamond Jim Brady?

I've heard the name "Diamond Jim" Brady since I was very small. I just knew it meant someone with a lot of flash and easy money. No idea how my family would have heard of him; their references to "Coxey's Army" made more sense.
When I could read my animal books for myself, his name would show up in chapters about the passenger pigeon and the bison, as an example of the gaslight glutton who would eat whole boxcars of birds, or dine on buffalo tongue while the rest of the animal went to waste.
In my adult life, he shows up in Jim Harrison's food writing as a troubling, ambiguous figure-- was he glutton, or gourmand? And I still use his name to admonish the young against flash spending (do as I say, not as I do), although it turns out that it was Robert Mitchum, not Diamond Jim, who told his new bride, "Stick with me me, Baby, and you'll be fartin' through silk." (She did.)
Now there's a very entertaining article by some guy named David Kamp sorting out fact from fiction in the case of Diamond Jim's legendary gluttony. I didn't know that Diamond Jim kept company with Lillian Russell. Or that the Urological Institute at John Hopkins is named after him. Being as I am already fond of reading about La Belle Époque in Paris (let me recommend Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals by Cornelia Otis Skinner), this inspires me to track down a book by H. Paul Jeffers called Diamond Jim Brady : Prince of the Gilded Age.

Bring the Cute: Panda Diplomacy and the Charm Offensive

In a better world of my own design (I’m avoiding the word “utopia”—you see how that worked out for Thomas More) conflicts between nations are resolved by pandas, snow leopards and lemurs. (There are other components to my plan: reseeding the primeval forest from Maryland to the Mississippi, restocking free-range bison from the Mississippi to the Rockies, a guillotine on Madison Avenue as a warning to publicists, and secluding Dick Cheney and his Eurasian counterparts in Death Valley or the Rub' al Khali, where they can fight their own goddamn wars to their hearts content— but hey, it’s Christmas, so in the interests of Peace, I limit myself to the Cute Animal Problem.)

After years of negotiations, China is making a gift of two giant pandas to Taiwan named Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan. (Please note that on this blog, we will distinguish from the red panda, Ailurus fulgens.)

This is the first success after ten failed attempts at panda diplomacy between China and Taiwan since 1992. Even their names were problematic-- Taiwan wanted pandas named "Independence" maybe "Friendly Harmony", but "Reunion" and "Unify"--? Fahgeddaboutit! See, if the pandas are on "loan" from mainland China, per international wildlife statutes, then Taiwan is being treated as an independent state (yay), but that also means the taxpayers of Taiwan will have to pay Beijing for the privilege of having pandas (boo)... but if Taiwan accepts the pandas as a "gift" from the mainland, then that implies Taiwan is a province within China, and not an independent entity.

I thank the Baby Jesus that this was all about cute little fuzzballs (see illustration) and not about bombs or anxious refugees. No panda skipped a meal or worried about hidden training camps. I'm a Confucian, not a utopian; it's all about incremental changes, chipping away for a lifetime at the stones in my passway until they turn to pebbles and someday, Lord, turn to sand. As Melissa Etheridge said when deciding to let Rick Warren say the goddamn prayer. "Maybe if they get to know us, they wont fear us." There is a paranoid streak in Taiwan that won't give an inch to the pandas-- beware that cuteness, for it hides the dragon's claw-- but it was interesting to me that Taiwanese editorials blame the KMT for selling them out, since it was the Kuomintang that started all the trouble in the first place-- Sterling Seagrave's The Soong Dynasty is a good place to start on our dysfunctional relationships in that part of the world. Still, and I cannot say this enough, better to be sniping about pandas than about invasion plans and missiles.

Mock if you will, but more serious thinkers than me prefer cultural exchanges-- cute critters, Peace Corps volunteers, well-digging, road building, Habitat for Humanity and NGOs like Doctors without Borders-- to the bullying, bombs and puppet dictators we’ve used instead of diplomacy for the last fifty years. Richard Vague, for example, believes that sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan will not solve anyone’s problems: “…That is the last thing we need to do… The trouble is that we could defeat the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the warlords in Afghanistan again and again, but unless someone provides a viable economic path forward for the broad citizenry there, it won't matter. They'll just come back."

Here's to a year when the ascendant voices will not be those of the hysterical and the violent, but the protectors and the sharers and the builders. "Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too." Just a world where we can all smile at unconcerned, roly-poly pandas, joy without logos and without fear of either the madman in the crowd or the imperial satellites above.

How, How Did This Not Sell a Million Copies? Number Two in a Series

Porky Pig, singing "Blue Christmas".

Emily Dickinson Kicks My Ass

It makes us think of all the dead
That sauntered with us here,
By separation's sorcery
Made cruelly more dear.

It makes us think of what we had,
And what we now deplore.
We almost wish those siren throats
Would go and sing no more.

An ear can break a human heart
As quickly as a spear
We wish the ear had not a heart
So dangerously near.

The Antikythera Machine

New Scientist
(the liveliest of the journals) and The Guardian posted this video of the rebuilt "Antikythera Mechanism", a machine found in a Greek shipwreck some 2,000 years old.
There's an argument on Wired as to whether it's a computer or a clock. Since it predicts points in time-- like calculating upcoming dates for the Olympics-- I say it's a computer. (The x-ray shows the inner workings of the original device.) I've been interested in ancient technology all my life-- Hero's steam engine, the citric juice battery used by the Egyptians for electroplating-- and seeing this mystery restored and deciphered is a wondrous thing.

World War One in Color

A startling gallery here of color photographs taken by French photographers during the Great War.

The Return of the Comic Strip: Online

Video killed the radio star, but thirty years before, Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent and the McCarthy era killed the comic book's chance to evolve into a mature medium. The comic strip as objet d'art held on in the newspaper, with the Joycean wordplay of Walt Kelly's Pogo, Hal Foster's Prince Valiant (which survives, when you can find it, under Gary Gianni and Mark Schultz) and Frank Frazetta's underpaid work-for-hire on Li'l Abner. By the 1970's, newspapers had shrunk the panel size by half, which made panoramic vistas and pen-and-ink work like that shown here next to useless.

Doonesbury was moved to the editorial page so that no innocent might trip over an idea, Peanuts was treading water and collecting royalties, and wit and craft were replaced by odious pablum.
I don't know if anyone outside fandom has noticed yet, but webcomics have been quietly building a new golden era for the comic strip, although dignified people are still embarrassed by the form. True, New York wants us to call them "graphic novels" and constipate the reader with proper MFA nightmares like Chris Ware, the kind of comics they think they should enjoy (ooh, look! art deco borders!), like those end of the year Oscar-bait films that someone said "confuse pain with art".
But Get Your War On and This Modern World captured an era as well as anything in any medium, and Alison Bechtel's alt-family strip Dykes to Watch Out For is finishing up just as the format is finding its legs. It's telling that the newly corporate Village Voice tried to kill This Modern World, and that the people in Bechtel's strip look more like my friends and family than Hi and Lois ever did-- and at their most dysfunctional, they still aren't as annoying as Cathy.
Kalamazoo artist Jane Irwin is posting her historical fiction about clockwork automatons online, before it appears between covers.
Phil and Katja Foglio's all-ages steampunk adventure Girl Genius can be read online; and sometimes I gotta go for the profane, self-referential "Sweet Monkey Jesus!" humor of Neo-Monster Island (and if you've been waiting for Godzilla to stomp the Bush administration into chutney, here's your chance to get your kaiju on).
Of the big, corporate publishers, The New York Times, of all people, has the cleanest presentation, with online comics that scroll up and down, like this strip, "Snow Dope" by Dean Haspiel. They even had sense enough to get the stick out of their butt and run La Maggie la Loca, by my ongoing favorite, Jaimie Hernandez, in the Sunday magazine, though online it's a huge, unreadable mess; wait for the trade.

The online reader developed for DC's Zuda Comics travels from left to right, meant to approximate page turning, but I find it simply annoying, and Marvel's online reader is even clumsier. The panels are either too big or too small for the screen, and whether a comic is fast or slow, the software-- not the reader-- dictates the pace at which the eye scans story and art. When even a hardened addict like myself finds it too much trouble to read your comics online, you've got issues that need resolving bigger than Joe Quesada's problems with women. The majors (in this case, Marvel and DC) need to bite the bullet, reformat their scans, and go with a presentation similar to the reader's choice, 11" by 17" scroll used by the Times and the independents.

"A Good Many Things Go Around in the Dark Besides Santa Claus." (Herbert Hoover)

Michael (Mike) Connell (standing above left), the I.T. guy for Karl Rove and the Bush administration, the fellow who "lost" those Justice Department e-mails, who admitted that the 2004 vote in Ohio had been rigged, has died in a small plane crash, leaving a wife Heather and four children. Probably an accident, but certainly the most convenient death for an outgoing administration since William Casey slipped into a coma during the Iran-Contra affair.


"A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab?" -- While Raj from What's Happening looks on.

Goodbye, Bettie Page

Living archetype and artists' avatar Miss Bettie Page has passed away at 85. I've written about her twice before-- just last year because of the early death of her greatest benefactor, Dave Stevens-- and we shall not see her like again.

"All the sad sweet funny pretty girls in comics, from Sophie Bangs as Promethea to Francine to Maggie Chascarillo, owe a debt to Bettie Page."

Of all the money e'er I had, I spent it in good company;
And all the harm I've ever done, alas was done to none but me;
And all I've done for want of wit, to memory now I can't recall,
So fill me to the parting glass, goodnight and joy be with you all.

Of all the comrades e'er I had, they're sorry for my going away,
And all the sweethearts e'er I had , they wish me one more day to stay,
But since it falls unto my lot that I should go and you should not,
I'll gently rise and softly call, goodnight and joy be with you all.

Take Off, Eh?

Canadian Coup Corner: What the hell is going on with Canada? They're supposed to be the sane ones. Sure, they've just as many guns as the U.S., and their junior hockey program would give a Spartan pause, but they mostly leave the craziness on the ice. With habeas corpus suspended in the land of Mickey Mouse, the U.S. in the thrall of busy, evil men, and labyrinthine Mexico reviving human sacrifice as a pastime along the Juarez border, I thought we could count on Canada to be the designated driver of North America. Now their election is suspended? By Her Majesty's representative? The 21st century might not be about democratization, but more and more about crowd control by the governing class, walling themselves off from desperate mobs in the drowning streets.

Comics Advent Calendar by Brian Conin

It's that time of year, when Brian Cronin puts together an advent calendar for his blog Comics Should be Good. This year it features political cartoonists from Thomas Nast to Dr. Seuss (whose political work is collected in Dr.Seuss Goes to War). If you're "in love with pen and ink on paper" like I am, it's worth a click. I thought I knew Thomas Nast, but I'd never seen this drawing before; hats off for the effort to surprise jaded eyes.

Shocking Revelations as Bush "Secret Prisons" Empty

With the Obama administration planning to restore habeas corpus and close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, while Bush factotums scramble for pardons, new photographs have been released of some of the "prisoners without a name, in cells without a number" rounded up by the Bush administration.

Learning to Take "Yes" for an Answer

This is how I plan to dress if I'm ever invited to the White House. So we're sitting at the big table with the grown-ups, and Barack is choosing his cabinet, and pundits I used to think of as intelligent (smarter than a Republican anyway) are already bitching about the choices. Welcome to the difference between bitching and governing, a moral struggle the Grover Nyquists and Gingriches never grappled with at all.

I'm no fan of the Clinton years either (and a digression here to explain why I don't like them would only give the Clintons what they want)but damnit, the only Democrats younger than Clark Clifford who can find the White House washrooms all worked for the Clinton administration. So deal with it. I was going to use a Lyndon Johnson quotation here: "It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in," but Sam Donaldson, comfortable millionaire and bloviator, already beat me to it, the cost of my procrastination.

The complaint assumes that a wonk who worked for President Clinton will still follow Clinton-era policies under an Obama administration. In my own small experience with bureaucracies, I've seen teachers and nurses who bitch and moan about policy as a matter of course learn to prosper and produce after a change in administration, like desert plants waiting, begging for the rain. This is a chance to shine.

I asked an acquaintance, a professor of political science with experience in city planning, economic development, and capital budgeting-- hence the only person I know with more than barroom expertise in economics-- what she thought of Obama's picks for dealing with the crisis. Her opinion, mixed with backstage talk from a relative at the Fed, was that the Obama appointments are mildly disappointing, uncontroversial, but probably politically "safe".

I wonder if the so-called "carping from the left" is real, or if this is just another manufactured pissing match invented by columnists who would rather write about sexy conflict than how in the hell we're going to budget the rebuilding of bridges and schools. Me, I'm just happy to exult in feeling that the president is smarter than I am, better organized and hipper than I am, and can be trusted to hire really, really smart and well-intentioned people. Yes, this is me, the perpetual outsider, sighing like a fractious dog who's finally had the thorn removed from his paw.

The challenge for the progressive left has little to do with who's at the top of the agency, except as they affect the climate. Here's the challenge: whether you're interested in housing the homeless or protecting our groundwater or teaching a child the difference between bullshit and biscuits, we are finally in an environment that is friendly towards problem solving instead of actively hostile. What are we going to do in the lame duck session?

How, How Did This Not Sell a Million Copies? Number One in a Series

I like the kitties, though they seem to have wandered in off a popcorn can and more interested in the fringe on her costume than in joining her crime-fighting army of the night.
I blame the haircut. It may have worked for Linda Blair in the 1980's, but did nothing for Adrienne Barbeau in Escape from New York, and it almost certainly doomed Nightcat to only one issue. Of course, the writing and art inside were total crap, even for 1991.

Letters I've Written, Never Meaning to Send

The National Enquirer and Wonkette claim that Cindy McCain was entwined with a man not-her-husband at a Tempe Moody Blues concert.
We cast no stones here. It may be, as one Wonkette reader opined, "Being finger-banged during 'Knights in White Satin' isn’t very First Ladyish"-- but hell, when I was in high school that pretty much defined my love life.

Forrest Ackerman

Forrest Ackerman, ninety-something years old, is fading away in California, body failing but alert as a cricket and taking the greatest joy in messages of affection from unofficial "nieces and nephews" around the world. It isn't too much of an exaggeration to say Mr. Ackerman is one of the people who created and sustained genre fandom, with Famous Monsters of Filmdom one of the cornerstones. I was in the third or fourth grade when I first saw a copy at Steve Noel's house, with the ads for Mole Men masks in the back-- thirty years later, when I saw the cast of Mystery Science Theater wearing those masks, it was like a secret handshake.
Forrest Ackermman must look 'round at the San Diego Comicon with a wild surmise like Balboa on that peak in Darien. He's the Mr. Chips of science fiction, comics, horror and fantasy, and if anyone asks if he has any children, tell them "hundreds and hundreds".
Cards and letters are welcome at:
4511 Russell Avenue
Los Angeles, CA

Dollar Dances for Democrats

Photograph from my online imaginary friend Drusilla, out in San Fransisco. Our secret weapon in fund raising, Dollar Dances for Democrats, sometimes known as Bluenose Backlash.

Election Night

One more thing Sarah Palin doesn't understand; we're not "ashamed to be American", we're embarrassed to share it with people who shoot wolves from planes.
"Vote Early-- Vote Often": In his memoir Groucho and Me, Groucho Marx tells a story about Tammany Hall days, when his father and grandfather, poor immigrant Jews the rest of the year, would dress in their best clothes and be chauffeured down to the Hall for the election. They would come back smoking cigars, with vest pockets full of cigars, one for every time they voted. "Democracy is a great thing, Julius," his grandfather would explain.
Gore Vidal and others are so nervous about electoral fraud, they've posted an open letter calling for Obama to not concede the election.
Pixies friendly to Wonkette have somehow, um, hacked into John McCain's website.
Friends Pat and Bill are tucking in early, Patricia having worn herself to a frazzle stumping for Barry. I suspect it was guilt made her put in an extra day.
Pat was one of the Michigan volunteers selected to receive a personal phone call from the senator thanking her for her efforts, but when she tried putting the call on speaker phone so we could listen in, she accidentally hung up on him. Howls of dismay mixed with semi-hysterical laughter. If Obama concedes Michigan, you know who tipped the scales.
Me, I voted first thing thing this morning (half an hour early, and 20th in line). I had been looking forward to the parties downtown at the Radisson and District 211, or Challie Murphey's, or whatever-the-hell they're calling it. Now I'm tempted to stay in, like New Year's Eve, and watch it all with a cat or two in relative comfort.

Obama Secures His Kryptonian Base

"Contrary to the rumors that you've heard," Obama told the Al Smith memorial crowd, "I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor-el, to save the planet Earth."
He had my vote after the New York Review profile, and then his ability to think in more than one dimension in Dreams from my Father cemented me there-- but it's nice to have a shout out from the candidate to the guys down the comic book shop; see, it's getting the little things right in the joke, like the name of Superman's father, that showed attention to the sensitivity of fanboys.
Does this mean Eisner award winners invited to the White House, like the other literary prize winners and sports teams? You could do worse than Brian K. Vaughan, Paul Chadwick and a few others as part of a "kitchen cabinet". And while we're at it, why the implicit sneer at "comic book morality"? I thought I'd outgrown it, but after years of thought, reading and experience, I find myself returning. This "comic book morality", after all, proves out better for the world than the realpolitik of Kissinger and the other manicured sociopaths, or the opportunists and apologists for capitalism, or a fake Christianity so full of prejudice, xenophobia and tin-horn pharisees it hardly seems to deserve the name.

From Little Acorns a Poison Tree Doth Grow

An ACORN organizer was telling me once that the United Way hates his organization. ACORN works on housing for the poor, you see, and that frequently puts them in conflict with real estate developers-- and a lot of United Way groups are dominated by local real estate interests. "Be good," Mark Twain tells us, "and you will be lonesome."
Now poor little ACORN, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has been plucked from obscurity to be demonized in the Republican Party's ongoing effort to defame and distort the record of every left to liberal do-gooder in the country.
Gawker has a handy little FAQ on the non-existent scandal. It's fairly simple. ACORN hires people at eight dollars an hour to register voters. ACORN is required by law to turn in every registration form they collect, even the bogus ones signed by Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse. No one, not even the Rovians, really believe ACORN is trying to empower cartoon characters who might (gasp) be predisposed to vote Democratic. Oh, those wicked community organizers...
But in spite of our compromised Justice Department, I don't think of this as an organized cabal against the poor. Republicans operate like the drunken knights who murdered Thomas Becket-- they work themselves into a patriotic frenzy over who the king wants eliminated, if only the king could say so, and they go to work, leaving their masters with plausible deniability . You can almost smell the sulfur surrounding these lies.

The Nightmare Scenario

I don't care that Obama's ahead in the electoral college count this week-- we could still lose this thing, as foretold in this preview from the Simpson's "Treehouse of Horror: Die Bold".

Books: James Crumley, 1939-2008

Word comes that James Crumley has died of congestive heart failure. At least one of his novels, The Last Good Kiss earned him a seat at the table with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and another, Dancing Bear, is for me one of the best American novels of the last fifty years.
A lot of us have the first line of The Last Good Kiss memorized, like the opening of Moby Dick or Pride and Prejudice: “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonora, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.” – But it’s Dancing Bear that haunts me as a picture of lonely America in the closing years of the last century. It is also very funny and sometimes poetic and very violent and very sad.
The critics’ darling, Cormac McCarthy, covers some of the same violent ground, but doesn’t tell you anything you don’t already suspect about debased human nature; despite the poetry, there isn’t anything in No Country for Old Men or Blood Meridian you couldn’t learn elsewhere, and the Oprah bestseller The Road was a rehash of every genre post apocalypse novel from Jack London’s “The Scarlet Plague” to Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man, and you’ll have a much better time reading Y. McCarthy and James Elroy have become splatterporn for the literati, assigned by professors as exemplary instruction for the naïve. "America was never innocent,” Ellroy scowls in American Tabloid We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets."

Violence is as American as apple pie, but you need a great soul for it to become tragedy, and that’s what Crumley’s books provide with narrators like C. W. in Kiss and Milo in Dancing Bear. Without a soulful witness, as in the heartless landscapes of McCarthy, Ellroy, and your average slasher film, suffering has no meaning, the dead are left unburied and unmourned as Antigone’s brothers. Crumley looks back more often than Lot's wife, and is all about the regret.
The “dancing bear” of the title might refer to the Indian myth invented for the opening chapter, telling how the bears taught native tribes to gather sweetness from the bee, or it might be a section of forest near the Dancing Bear River stolen from the natives by Milo’s grandfather, and endangered by corporate polluters (“pollution” being our era’s euphemism for poisoning someone else’s earth and water), or it might be the hide of a grizzly killed by poachers, or it might be Milo himself, kept hopping like a circus bear trained to “dance” by making him walk on a hot metal plate.
The later adventures of Milo and C.W., in Bordersnakes and The Mexican Tree Duck sometimes teeter on self-parody— the New York Times in a snide review, called the setting “a Montana demimonde undreamed of in the philosophies of Dale Evans”-- but then, The Thin Man and The Little Sister aren’t as good as Red Harvest or The Long Goodbye. For a while there, in The Last Good Kiss, The Wrong Case and the war novel One to Count Cadence, James Crumley crafted very good books, and in Dancing Bear he made a great one.

My neighbor the detective, who knew Crumley out West and told me about his death, has Crumley stories to tell, but my favorite is from the Chicago Sun-Times. Crumley showed up late for a reading once and apologized, explaining, "I lost my watch."
"Any idea where?" he was asked.
"Yeah," Crumley said. "I threw it out a car window in El Paso in 1978."

Books and Favorite Scenes: Dickens' Dog-and-Pony Show

An idle question from John Martin made me look up my favorite character in Dickens, the theatrical manager Crummles from Nicholas Nickleby. Crummles is a relative of the mountebank Fox and Cat in Pinocchio and the Mouse from Pogo, featured in my masthead, but I suspect they were all carved from life.

... Nicholas was prepared for something odd, but not for something quite so odd as the sight he encountered. At the upper end of the room, were a couple of boys, one of them very tall and the other very short, both
dressed as sailors--or at least as theatrical sailors, with belts, buckles, pigtails, and pistols complete--fighting what is called in play-bills a terrific combat, with two of those short broad-swords with basket hilts which are commonly used at our minor theatres. The short boy had gained a great advantage over the tall boy, who was reduced to mortal strait, and both were overlooked by a large heavy man, perched against the corner of a table, who emphatically adjured them to strike a
little more fire out of the swords, and they couldn't fail to bring the house down, on the very first night.

'Mr Vincent Crummles,' said the landlord with an air of great deference.
'This is the young gentleman.'

Mr Vincent Crummles received Nicholas with an inclination of the head,
something between the courtesy of a Roman emperor and the nod of a pot
companion; and bade the landlord shut the door and begone.

'There's a picture,' said Mr Crummles, motioning Nicholas not to advance
and spoil it. 'The little 'un has him; if the big 'un doesn't knock
under, in three seconds, he's a dead man. Do that again, boys.'

The two combatants went to work afresh, and chopped away until the
swords emitted a shower of sparks: to the great satisfaction of Mr
Crummles, who appeared to consider this a very great point indeed. The
engagement commenced with about two hundred chops administered by the
short sailor and the tall sailor alternately, without producing any
particular result, until the short sailor was chopped down on one knee;
but this was nothing to him, for he worked himself about on the one knee
with the assistance of his left hand, and fought most desperately until
the tall sailor chopped his sword out of his grasp. Now, the inference
was, that the short sailor, reduced to this extremity, would give in at
once and cry quarter, but, instead of that, he all of a sudden drew
a large pistol from his belt and presented it at the face of the tall
sailor, who was so overcome at this (not expecting it) that he let
the short sailor pick up his sword and begin again. Then, the chopping
recommenced, and a variety of fancy chops were administered on both
sides; such as chops dealt with the left hand, and under the leg, and
over the right shoulder, and over the left; and when the short sailor
made a vigorous cut at the tall sailor's legs, which would have shaved
them clean off if it had taken effect, the tall sailor jumped over the
short sailor's sword, wherefore to balance the matter, and make it all
fair, the tall sailor administered the same cut, and the short sailor
jumped over HIS sword. After this, there was a good deal of dodging
about, and hitching up of the inexpressibles in the absence of braces,
and then the short sailor (who was the moral character evidently, for he
always had the best of it) made a violent demonstration and closed with
the tall sailor, who, after a few unavailing struggles, went down,
and expired in great torture as the short sailor put his foot upon his
breast, and bored a hole in him through and through.

'That'll be a double ENCORE if you take care, boys,' said Mr Crummles.
'You had better get your wind now and change your clothes.'

Having addressed these words to the combatants, he saluted Nicholas, who
then observed that the face of Mr Crummles was quite proportionate in
size to his body; that he had a very full under-lip, a hoarse voice, as
though he were in the habit of shouting very much, and very short
black hair, shaved off nearly to the crown of his head--to admit (as
he afterwards learnt) of his more easily wearing character wigs of any
shape or pattern.

'What did you think of that, sir?' inquired Mr Crummles.

'Very good, indeed--capital,' answered Nicholas.

'You won't see such boys as those very often, I think,' said Mr

Nicholas assented--observing that if they were a little better match--

'Match!' cried Mr Crummles.

'I mean if they were a little more of a size,' said Nicholas, explaining

'Size!' repeated Mr Crummles; 'why, it's the essence of the combat that
there should be a foot or two between them. How are you to get up the
sympathies of the audience in a legitimate manner, if there isn't a
little man contending against a big one?--unless there's at least five
to one, and we haven't hands enough for that business in our company.'

'I see,' replied Nicholas. 'I beg your pardon. That didn't occur to me,
I confess.'

'It's the main point,' said Mr Crummles. 'I open at Portsmouth the day
after tomorrow. If you're going there, look into the theatre, and see
how that'll tell.'

Nicholas promised to do so, if he could, and drawing a chair near the
fire, fell into conversation with the manager at once. He was very
talkative and communicative, stimulated perhaps, not only by his natural
disposition, but by the spirits and water he sipped very plentifully, or
the snuff he took in large quantities from a piece of whitey-brown paper
in his waistcoat pocket. He laid open his affairs without the smallest
reserve, and descanted at some length upon the merits of his company,
and the acquirements of his family; of both of which, the two
broad-sword boys formed an honourable portion. There was to be
a gathering, it seemed, of the different ladies and gentlemen at
Portsmouth on the morrow, whither the father and sons were proceeding
(not for the regular season, but in the course of a wandering
speculation), after fulfilling an engagement at Guildford with the
greatest applause.

'You are going that way?' asked the manager.

'Ye-yes,' said Nicholas. 'Yes, I am.'

'Do you know the town at all?' inquired the manager, who seemed to
consider himself entitled to the same degree of confidence as he had
himself exhibited.

'No,' replied Nicholas.

'Never there?'


Mr Vincent Crummles gave a short dry cough, as much as to say, 'If you
won't be communicative, you won't;' and took so many pinches of snuff
from the piece of paper, one after another, that Nicholas quite wondered
where it all went to.

While he was thus engaged, Mr Crummles looked, from time to time, with
great interest at Smike, with whom he had appeared considerably struck
from the first. He had now fallen asleep, and was nodding in his chair.

'Excuse my saying so,' said the manager, leaning over to Nicholas, and
sinking his voice, 'but what a capital countenance your friend has got!'

'Poor fellow!' said Nicholas, with a half-smile, 'I wish it were a
little more plump, and less haggard.'

'Plump!' exclaimed the manager, quite horrified, 'you'd spoil it for

'Do you think so?'

'Think so, sir! Why, as he is now,' said the manager, striking his knee
emphatically; 'without a pad upon his body, and hardly a touch of paint
upon his face, he'd make such an actor for the starved business as was
never seen in this country. Only let him be tolerably well up in the
Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet, with the slightest possible dab of red
on the tip of his nose, and he'd be certain of three rounds the moment
he put his head out of the practicable door in the front grooves O.P.'

'You view him with a professional eye,' said Nicholas, laughing.

'And well I may,' rejoined the manager. 'I never saw a young fellow so
regularly cut out for that line, since I've been in the profession. And
I played the heavy children when I was eighteen months old.'

The appearance of the beef-steak pudding, which came in simultaneously
with the junior Vincent Crummleses, turned the conversation to other
matters, and indeed, for a time, stopped it altogether. These two young
gentlemen wielded their knives and forks with scarcely less address than
their broad-swords, and as the whole party were quite as sharp set as
either class of weapons, there was no time for talking until the supper
had been disposed of.

The Master Crummleses had no sooner swallowed the last procurable
morsel of food, than they evinced, by various half-suppressed yawns and
stretchings of their limbs, an obvious inclination to retire for the
night, which Smike had betrayed still more strongly: he having, in the
course of the meal, fallen asleep several times while in the very act of
eating. Nicholas therefore proposed that they should break up at
once, but the manager would by no means hear of it; vowing that he had
promised himself the pleasure of inviting his new acquaintance to
share a bowl of punch, and that if he declined, he should deem it very
unhandsome behaviour.

'Let them go,' said Mr Vincent Crummles, 'and we'll have it snugly and
cosily together by the fire.'

Nicholas was not much disposed to sleep--being in truth too anxious--so,
after a little demur, he accepted the offer, and having exchanged a
shake of the hand with the young Crummleses, and the manager having
on his part bestowed a most affectionate benediction on Smike, he sat
himself down opposite to that gentleman by the fireside to assist in
emptying the bowl, which soon afterwards appeared, steaming in a
manner which was quite exhilarating to behold, and sending forth a most
grateful and inviting fragrance.

But, despite the punch and the manager, who told a variety of stories,
and smoked tobacco from a pipe, and inhaled it in the shape of snuff,
with a most astonishing power, Nicholas was absent and dispirited. His
thoughts were in his old home, and when they reverted to his present
condition, the uncertainty of the morrow cast a gloom upon him, which
his utmost efforts were unable to dispel. His attention wandered;
although he heard the manager's voice, he was deaf to what he said; and
when Mr Vincent Crummles concluded the history of some long adventure
with a loud laugh, and an inquiry what Nicholas would have done under
the same circumstances, he was obliged to make the best apology in his
power, and to confess his entire ignorance of all he had been talking

'Why, so I saw,' observed Mr Crummles. 'You're uneasy in your mind.
What's the matter?'

Nicholas could not refrain from smiling at the abruptness of the
question; but, thinking it scarcely worth while to parry it, owned that
he was under some apprehensions lest he might not succeed in the object
which had brought him to that part of the country.

'And what's that?' asked the manager.

'Getting something to do which will keep me and my poor fellow-traveller
in the common necessaries of life,' said Nicholas. 'That's the truth.
You guessed it long ago, I dare say, so I may as well have the credit of
telling it you with a good grace.'

'What's to be got to do at Portsmouth more than anywhere else?' asked Mr
Vincent Crummles, melting the sealing-wax on the stem of his pipe in the
candle, and rolling it out afresh with his little finger.

'There are many vessels leaving the port, I suppose,' replied Nicholas.
'I shall try for a berth in some ship or other. There is meat and drink
there at all events.'

'Salt meat and new rum; pease-pudding and chaff-biscuits,' said the
manager, taking a whiff at his pipe to keep it alight, and returning to
his work of embellishment.

'One may do worse than that,' said Nicholas. 'I can rough it, I believe,
as well as most young men of my age and previous habits.'

'You need be able to,' said the manager, 'if you go on board ship; but
you won't.'

'Why not?'

'Because there's not a skipper or mate that would think you worth your
salt, when he could get a practised hand,' replied the manager; 'and
they as plentiful there, as the oysters in the streets.'

'What do you mean?' asked Nicholas, alarmed by this prediction, and
the confident tone in which it had been uttered. 'Men are not born able
seamen. They must be reared, I suppose?'

Mr Vincent Crummles nodded his head. 'They must; but not at your age, or
from young gentlemen like you.'

There was a pause. The countenance of Nicholas fell, and he gazed
ruefully at the fire.

'Does no other profession occur to you, which a young man of your figure
and address could take up easily, and see the world to advantage in?'
asked the manager.

'No,' said Nicholas, shaking his head.

'Why, then, I'll tell you one,' said Mr Crummles, throwing his pipe into
the fire, and raising his voice. 'The stage.'

'The stage!' cried Nicholas, in a voice almost as loud.

'The theatrical profession,' said Mr Vincent Crummles. 'I am in the
theatrical profession myself, my wife is in the theatrical profession,
my children are in the theatrical profession. I had a dog that lived
and died in it from a puppy; and my chaise-pony goes on, in Timour the
Tartar. I'll bring you out, and your friend too. Say the word. I want a

'I don't know anything about it,' rejoined Nicholas, whose breath had
been almost taken away by this sudden proposal. 'I never acted a part in
my life, except at school.'

'There's genteel comedy in your walk and manner, juvenile tragedy
in your eye, and touch-and-go farce in your laugh,' said Mr Vincent
Crummles. 'You'll do as well as if you had thought of nothing else but
the lamps, from your birth downwards.'

Nicholas thought of the small amount of small change that would remain
in his pocket after paying the tavern bill; and he hesitated.

'You can be useful to us in a hundred ways,' said Mr Crummles.
'Think what capital bills a man of your education could write for the

'Well, I think I could manage that department,' said Nicholas.

'To be sure you could,' replied Mr Crummles. '"For further particulars
see small hand-bills"--we might have half a volume in every one of
'em. Pieces too; why, you could write us a piece to bring out the whole
strength of the company, whenever we wanted one.'

'I am not quite so confident about that,' replied Nicholas. 'But I dare
say I could scribble something now and then, that would suit you.'

'We'll have a new show-piece out directly,' said the manager. 'Let
me see--peculiar resources of this establishment--new and splendid
scenery--you must manage to introduce a real pump and two washing-tubs.'

'Into the piece?' said Nicholas.

'Yes,' replied the manager. 'I bought 'em cheap, at a sale the other
day, and they'll come in admirably. That's the London plan. They look up
some dresses, and properties, and have a piece written to fit 'em. Most
of the theatres keep an author on purpose.'

'Indeed!' cried Nicholas.

'Oh, yes,' said the manager; 'a common thing. It'll look very well
in the bills in separate lines--Real pump!--Splendid tubs!--Great
attraction! You don't happen to be anything of an artist, do you?'

'That is not one of my accomplishments,' rejoined Nicholas.

'Ah! Then it can't be helped,' said the manager. 'If you had been,
we might have had a large woodcut of the last scene for the posters,
showing the whole depth of the stage, with the pump and tubs in the
middle; but, however, if you're not, it can't be helped.'

'What should I get for all this?' inquired Nicholas, after a few
moments' reflection. 'Could I live by it?'

'Live by it!' said the manager. 'Like a prince! With your own salary,
and your friend's, and your writings, you'd make--ah! you'd make a pound
a week!'

'You don't say so!'

'I do indeed, and if we had a run of good houses, nearly double the

Nicholas shrugged his shoulders; but sheer destitution was before him;
and if he could summon fortitude to undergo the extremes of want and
hardship, for what had he rescued his helpless charge if it were only to
bear as hard a fate as that from which he had wrested him? It was easy
to think of seventy miles as nothing, when he was in the same town with
the man who had treated him so ill and roused his bitterest thoughts;
but now, it seemed far enough. What if he went abroad, and his mother or
Kate were to die the while?

Without more deliberation, he hastily declared that it was a bargain,
and gave Mr Vincent Crummles his hand upon it.

As Mr Crummles had a strange four-legged animal in the inn stables,
which he called a pony, and a vehicle of unknown design, on which he
bestowed the appellation of a four-wheeled phaeton, Nicholas proceeded
on his journey next morning with greater ease than he had expected: the
manager and himself occupying the front seat: and the Master Crummleses
and Smike being packed together behind, in company with a wicker basket
defended from wet by a stout oilskin, in which were the broad-swords,
pistols, pigtails, nautical costumes, and other professional necessaries
of the aforesaid young gentlemen.

The pony took his time upon the road, and--possibly in consequence
of his theatrical education--evinced, every now and then, a strong
inclination to lie down. However, Mr Vincent Crummles kept him up pretty
well, by jerking the rein, and plying the whip; and when these means
failed, and the animal came to a stand, the elder Master Crummles got
out and kicked him. By dint of these encouragements, he was persuaded
to move from time to time, and they jogged on (as Mr Crummles truly
observed) very comfortably for all parties.

'He's a good pony at bottom,' said Mr Crummles, turning to Nicholas.

He might have been at bottom, but he certainly was not at top, seeing
that his coat was of the roughest and most ill-favoured kind. So,
Nicholas merely observed that he shouldn't wonder if he was.

'Many and many is the circuit this pony has gone,' said Mr Crummles,
flicking him skilfully on the eyelid for old acquaintance' sake. 'He is
quite one of us. His mother was on the stage.'

'Was she?' rejoined Nicholas.

'She ate apple-pie at a circus for upwards of fourteen years,' said the
manager; 'fired pistols, and went to bed in a nightcap; and, in short,
took the low comedy entirely. His father was a dancer.'

'Was he at all distinguished?'

'Not very,' said the manager. 'He was rather a low sort of pony. The
fact is, he had been originally jobbed out by the day, and he never
quite got over his old habits. He was clever in melodrama too, but too
broad--too broad. When the mother died, he took the port-wine business.'

'The port-wine business!' cried Nicholas.

'Drinking port-wine with the clown,' said the manager; 'but he was
greedy, and one night bit off the bowl of the glass, and choked himself,
so his vulgarity was the death of him at last.'

When Bear Stearns Dove, and Lehman Spasmed, Who Then Was the Gentleman?

Writing about high finance is way beyond my pay grade, and my indifference to Wall Street drama is surpassed only by capitalism's indulgent contempt and incomprehension for what I do--
But now investment banks are failing, and the Merrill Lynch bull has been eaten by Bank of America, and they come crawling to the taxpayers for a bailout, so damnit, I'm going to say something.
Capitalism, or more specifically, the pursuit of profit, has inspired a great deal of harm [insert obligatory but-communism-was-much-much-worse boilerplate here]. One of the most pernicious is its insistence that all-- all!-- must get on the capitalist train and serve the Invisible Hand or be run over. Minimum wage lackeys, folks losing their homes, artists, teachers, soldiers reduced to food stamps, sweatshop workers, firemen, cops-- except when they're needed-- poor dopes, they should have wised up to the way the world works, accepted that money talks and bullshit walks. The working class that maintains the great cities like San Francisco or New York can't afford to live there.
Their great-grandfathers had the same pious contempt for the Indians, and African slaves before that: serves 'em right for being hunter-gatherers, and if the Africans didn't want to build our infrastructure, they shouldn't have let themselves be kidnapped in the first place.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. The Servants of the Invisible Hand have had a thirty-year spree, with Ronald Reagan and the rest (I include Clinton in this) looking the other way while they Built Wealth, with no serious regulation and devil take the hindmost. The problem is fundamental: this "wealth" is mostly a game of three-card monte, money moved from here to there; "real" wealth would include a sound infrastructure, roads and bridges, concrete and steel, manufacturing here instead of overseas, and schools that produce human capital for the future instead of fighting an intellectual holding battle.

Apparently they've gotten themselves in a whole mess of trouble, and even people whose job it is to know this stuff, like the Treasury Secretary or Christopher Dodd on the Banking Committee, are flummoxed. I was going to say "standing around with their dicks in their hand", but "flummoxed" was classier.
If Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were an elderly couple about to lose their home, the response from capitalism's gatekeepers would be a loud "Fuck you. Your fault. Now hurry up and die." Instead we are expected to reach in our pockets and bail out the investment bankers. The bohemians, teachers, soldiers, firemen, cops and minimum wage lackeys will chip in and bail them out with whatever tax money is left over from Bush's wars. The thing the losers understand, that capitalism's servants don't seem to get, is that if you want to live in a civil society, then when someone's in trouble, even an arrogant rich asshole, it's in everyone's interest to grit our teeth and bail their sorry asses out. They can go back to spitting in our eye the next time the market goes up.

Florida White Sale

A Florida man named Andy Lacasse, claiming to be a Korean War veteran and registered Democrat, put a sign on his front lawn accusing Barack Obama of being a sturdy cotton fabric of plain weave.

Still Wondering Why She Can't Get a Date

It's true I have no instinct for marketing, and less success in love, but even I could have told them this was not a winning title for an ee-rotic thriller.

Hotsee Totsee, Another Little Nazi

"[Former Wasilla mayor] Stein says that as mayor, [Sarah]Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. 'She asked the library how she could go about banning books,' he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. 'The librarian was aghast.' The librarian, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire her for not giving 'full support' to the mayor."
(Time magazine)

And from the Anchorage Daily News:
"Back in 1996, when she first became mayor, Sarah Palin asked the city librarian if she would be all right with censoring library books should she be asked to do so.
"According to news coverage at the time, the librarian said she would definitely not be all right with it. A few months later, the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, got a letter from Palin telling her she was going to be fired. The censorship issue was not mentioned as a reason for the firing. The letter just said the new mayor felt Emmons didn't fully support her and had to go.
"Emmons had been city librarian for seven years and was well liked. After a wave of public support for her, Palin relented and let Emmons keep her job.... In December 1996, Emmons told her hometown newspaper, the Frontiersman, that Palin three times asked her -- starting before she was sworn in -- about possibly removing objectionable books from the library if the need arose."

The list making the rounds that claims to be Palin's hit list is a fraud; at least two of the books on the list, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire weren't published until three years after Palin approached the librarian. Like the one false note in an otherwise true story that cost Dan Rather his position, I suspect the fake list of being a bit of Republican disinformation, an attempt to discredit the larger story with quibbling.
Circulating a falsehood is already being used by people like Michelle Malkin as a way to discredit the core truth-- Palin's attempt at banning books-- just as the one forgery in CBS' National Guard story was used to absolve Bush of going AWOL. But screw that; let's see Joe Biden ask Palin why she hates John Steinbeck and Twelfth Night.

My Kind of News Day

Congress tightened control of interstate monkey sales (good) but forgot to include a provision for trained caupuchin helper monkeys (bad). One lonely strip club on Bourbon Street (the French Quarter being on high ground, remember) remains open in spite of the hurricane, but only at half-staff (Bada-BING!). And regardless of John McCain's fantasy life, the invasion of Iraq is still so FUBAR that the first major oil contract between Iraq and a foreign country went to China instead of the U.S.; this administration can't even do "Blood for Oil" right.

I'm recovering with coffee and a copy of Burne Hogarth's Drawing Wrinkles and Drapery after a week of extroversion: getting ready for school on Tuesday, out for live music almost every night including a terrific performance by E.C. Scott at the new 411 Blues Club in town and a life-changing performance by Zion Lion on the downtown mall, and finally an Obama/Biden rally in Battle Creek. But mostly I like confounding the search engines with an entry like this. Whoever typed 'strippers', 'helper monkey', 'Barack Obama', 'Burne Hogarth' and 'the blues' into Google-- I was born to love you.

Benny and the Cat Club

One of my summer projects was to find a little brother or sister for Doc, badly in need of a playmate after the loss of Sophie, an incomprehensible divorce, and the I-Want-to-Be-an-Only-Kitty truculence of his older sister Phoebe.
So here is Lord Tony Benn, formerly 2nd Viscount of Stansgate, known as Benny, a graduate of Kalamazoo Animal Rescue. By the second day of his arrival, he and Doc were practicing cat-fu and grooming each other. Even Phoebe is willing to let the kitten share one corner of the bed or walk past her in the hall without hysterics-- some of the time. Benny is a sunny little guy who litter trained instantly and taught himself (and me) to play fetch. He's still enough of a kitten to suckle noisily on a paw or a blanket and knead my tender flesh when he naps by my side, purring and oblivious to my screams. Most wonderfully, he has Sophie's talent for making me laugh at least once a day.

I was amazed to hear from Kalamazoo Animal Rescue that it's more difficult to place black cats; I would've thought they were everyone's first choice. My cat vet, Dr. Seeley Rotigel, put me in touch with KAR and they really are a bargain in addition to their virtues as animal rescuers: Benny arrived already neutered, wormed, de-flead twice and with all his vaccinations, at a cost much lower than I could have managed adopting on my own.

Benn (two n's please, in keeping with his namesake, the great British Labour MP Tony Benn) is shown here only after some difficulty, as he insisted on coming closer and blocking the lens every time I took out the camera. For the uninitiated, the other Tony Benn is shown here below, and in spite of his inability to jump five times his own height from a crouch, he talks beautifully about democracy, the health of the citizen, and the ways of the world in general. Ees a life-ah changer.