The Idea of Israel Versus the Reality of Israel

The death of Rachel Corrie and the map below ought to cure us of any sentimentality over Israel. An essay by Jeffery Goldberg in The Atlantic, "What If Israel Ceases to Be a Democracy?" should finish the job. Unblinking support for Israel isn't ennobling, it's enabling.

I already live in a country that cannot reconcile its stated intentions with the behavior of its governing class. Carrying a genetic rap sheet from the likes of Ireland, France and the Confederate state of Tennessee only adds to my chagrin. Add the tax burden of three billion for Israel, one billion for the Palestinian Authority, pretty soon I'm sponsoring a blood feud between relatives I didn't know I had. Do they really need another Hotchkiss Gun at Wounded Knee?

The Return of When Fangirls Attack!

Celebrating the return of the online index When Fangirls Attack,"a compilation of articles on gender in comics and comics fandom". More often than not, this source has led me to some of the most interesting thinking on comics as a cultural signifier, from the "Women in Refrigerators" trope (an ongoing complaint of mine in any continuing series, from Star Trek to Travis McGee) to Alison Bechdel's "test" for female characters:
1. [The story] has to have at least two women in it (later amended to include women with actual names other than secretary or nurse)
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.

The editors also have enough genuine love for the medium to wrestle with comic book quirks from Green Lantern butts to Power Girl's "boob window".

Happy Birthday, Peetie Wheatstraw

Peetie Wheatstraw, a.k.a. William Bunch, the Devil's Son-in-Law and High Sheriff of Hell, was born during the Winter Solstice of 1902 and died on the Solstice in 1941. He was born in Ripley, Tennessee and his people relocated to eastern Arkansas. By 1920 he had moved to St. Louis, taken his stage name, and recorded more than 160 songs starting in the 1930's.

You can always tell
When your woman gon' throw you down
She's always got business
Ooh-well-well, on the other side of town

At least one historian, Ted Gioia, thinks Robert Johnson borrowed some of his myth-making from Peetie's stories about a relationship with the Devil, just as some of it was borrowed for a Rudy Ray Moore comedy in 1979. A character in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man is based on the musician's persona.

I am going to Chicago
An' get my ham bone boiled
Because these St. Louis women
Woo-well, going to let my ham bone spoil.

My father knew a blues singer called "Wheatstraw" along the Mississippi delta near Blytheville, Arkansas, but that seems to have been a family man who sang from his front porch and in the field. William Bunch would have been a well-known professional by then, more likely to perform in the "blind pigs" or speakeasies around the delta.
He was riding in the back of a Buick up in East St. Louis when the car hit a freight train, December 21, 1941. His body was shipped to Cotton Plant, Arkansas in Woodruff County.

Bring me flowers whiles I'm livin'
Please don't bring them when I am dead
And bring ice bags to my bedside
Ooh-well-well, to cool my achin' head

Bring me water to my bed
A drink will keep me cool
And just say after I am gone
Ooh-well-well, 'I sure tried to help that fool'

Commonplace Book

"In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.” (Benjamin Franklin, "The Parable of the Whistle")

To fall into despair is just a high-class way of turning into a dope. I choose to laugh, and laugh at myself no less than at others."
(Saul Bellow)

“If I, Rigoberta Menchú served only as the testament of a failed revolution, a moment in history when the highest collective ideals of liberation theology crashed headlong into the most vicious distillate of cold war anticommunism, it would be a good book, still worth reading. But what made liberation theology, along with Latin America's New Left more broadly, so potent a threat in a place as inhumane as Guatemala in the 1970s was not just its concern with social justice but its insistence on individual human dignity.”
(Greg Grandin in The Nation)

"I find film in its modern form to be quite bullying. It spoon-feeds us, which has the effect of watering down our collective cultural imagination. It is as if we are freshly hatched birds looking up with our mouths open waiting for Hollywood to feed us more regurgitated worms. The 'Watchmen' film sounds like more regurgitated worms. I for one am sick of worms. Can't we get something else? Perhaps some takeout? Even Chinese worms would be a nice change."
(Alan Moore)

“I think most illustrators are far too hard on themselves. They expect to sit down with one piece of paper and draw exactly what they have in their mind the very first time around. In my opinion this is nearly impossible. Drawing is a process that takes a long time. I like to make an analogy between a good batter in baseball and a good illustrator. A great batting average for the major leagues is “.300.” This batting average means that they get 3 hits out of ten, or get a hit 30 percent of the time. I think that this is a reasonable expectation for an artist to have as well. If I can get 3 decent drawings out of ten attempts – I feel fairly good about myself.”
(William Beachy)

“Love is to our hearts what winds are to the sea. They grow into tempests, true; they are sometimes even the cause of shipwrecks. But the winds render the sea navigable, their constant agitation of its surface is the cause of its preservation, and if they are often dangerous, it is for the pilot to know how to navigate in safety.” (Ninon de l'Enclos, Letters to the Marquis de Sévigné , VIII)

“I happen to be an anti-Stalinist and an anti-Nazi, so I don’t think that the state should be granted the right to determine historical truth.” (Noam Chomsky)

Tina Fey: [ holds up picture of Hugh Hefner and seven girlfriends ] Tonight, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner will celebrate his 75th birthday. At Hefner's side will be his seven girlfriends - Stephanie, Tiffany, Regina, Cathy, Kimberly, Buffy and, of course, Tina. Because wherever two or more whores are gathered, there's always a Tina. Now, when I first saw these women, I thought the same thing we all did - what has happened to affirmative action in this country? Hefner's dating seven blonde, white women - not a blonde pubic hair among them, might I add. Not a pubic hair among them. Come on, though - seven blondes? There's not a hot Asian woman you can throw in there? A light-skinned black woman? A deaf brunette? Something? Where's the diversity? When are we going to have a Hefner harem that looks like America? Am I really to believe that these women, each of them, offers you something unique?
Let's go over them, if you will. [ points to first girlfriend ] This one is 19, okay. Two months ago she was working at Dairy Queen, now she goes clubbing every night with Bill Maher and Don Adams. Is she better off? It's hard to say!
This one.. [ points to second girlfriend ] ..this one isn't even trying. I'm actually very disappointed in this one. What is that, a man's shirt? You are the weakest link - goodbye!
[ onto the third girlfriend ] This one doesn't even have a name anymore.. she's just "Girl". She's basically just there because she knows CPR.
[ fourth girlfriend ] This one is always next to him, always holding his hand. [ in Chinese accent ] She a numba one girlfriend! At 28, Tina is the oldest and has a two-year-old son. That must be a wonderful way to grow up, playing Fetch the Ashtray with James Caan in the Grotto, while your mom's upstairs praying for the Viagara to wear off so she can get you to the orthodontist on time. Fantastic.
These two.. [ points to next two girlfriends ] ..these two right herem these two are like this.. [ crosses fingers ] Sometimes they're like this.. [ squeezes fingers ]
[ final girlfriend ] And this one, clearly, this one is willing to do something the others will not do. Whatever the filthiest thing you can think of - it's a little worse than that, and she'll let you photograph her doing it. Gotta be the reason she's there.
But you know what? You can't condemn these woman, because at least they work together, they support each other, and how many woman can say that, right? And these women aren't doing it for the money. They're doing it because they were molested by a family friend. I salute you, Hefner ladies. You are making it work! Back to you Jimmy!
(Tina Fey)

“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life; the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.” (Bertrand Russell)

“The word “prophet” is a very bad translation of an obscure Hebrew word, navi. Nobody knows what it means. But today they’d be called dissident intellectuals. They were giving geopolitical analysis, arguing that the acts of the rulers were going to destroy society. And they condemned the acts of evil kings. They called for justice and mercy to orphans and widows and so on. I don’t want to say it was all beautiful. Dissident intellectuals aren’t all beautiful. You read Sakharov, who is sometimes appalling. Or Solzhenitsyn. And the nivi’im were treated the way dissident intellectuals always are. They weren’t praised. They weren’t honored. They were imprisoned like Jeremiah. They were driven into the desert. They were hated. Now at the time, there were intellectuals, “prophets,” who were very well treated. They were the flatterers of the court. Centuries later, they were called ‘false prophets.’ People who criticize power in the Jewish community are regarded the way Ahab treated Elijah: You’re a traitor. You’ve got to serve power. You can’t argue that the policies that Israel is following are going to lead to its destruction, which I thought then and still do.” (Noam Chomsky)

The Democrats Deserve to Lose

Yes, I'm in that kind of a radical mood tonight, after a day of striving against ignorance. The Democrats are about to turn our country over to the Ratfuckers (who, as Yeats warned, are filled with a passionate intensity)... and worst of all, the Democrats deserve to lose. They spent two years trying to accommodate people who want to see us dead, somehow believing that right-wingers will one day compromise. The Obama administration tried to please everyone and ended by pleasing no one.

A wise punk rocker once said, "The Nazis used to say 'when I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun.' The trouble with a liberal is that when someone mentions guns, he reaches for his culture." Let us call ourselves radicals, let us pick up the mantle of the great Progressives, let us be petit-bourgeois anarchists, but please let us not be "liberals" any longer, who have confirmed themselves as callow wankers who cringe and waffle if only the bullies will leave them alone. We do not abandon this word to the dust-bin of history because of its debasement by the right, but we scorn the word 'liberal' because of it's debasement by the left. Imagine Harry Truman or Harvey Milk or Tony Benn in the same situations as Reid and Pelosi and you'll see what I mean.

I have spent almost 20 years in an incremental effort to make children a little less mean, a little more curious, a little less bullying, cannier about con-men, broader-minded, more willing to be themselves and allow others to do the same, less willing to settle for the world as it is-- and if right wingers do everything they can to drag us back to 1905*, well, that's to be expected-- but it's been 20 years without any help from "liberal" academics. They are mostly accomplished at "deploring conditions", something done from a distance and at a higher salary.

* [ 1905 is an arbitrary point chosen as the year before the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, child labor was still en vogue, Plessy v. Ferguson was de rigeur, Harper's Weekly was calling Governor Altgeld a Communist and apparently, Reagan Republicans think they would have been as happy as pigs in shit.]

Attached please find (again) my favorite monologues from Alan Moore's V for Vendetta. The second monologue, in which he warns the human race that if their performance doesn't improve, he's going to have to let them go...

"It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and apologized to no one."

The character of Valerie answers the question "Why we fight" in Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V for Vendetta, dramatized here:

If Valerie is the heart of the thing, my other favorite scene never appeared in the film -- a film Alan Moore sniffed at as "a thwarted and frustrated and largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values standing up against a state run by neoconservatives— which is not what the comic V for Vendetta was about."

My other favorite is a sequence showing V speaking over a pirate broadcast to the audience of a fascist "news" program. As he speaks, the screen shows scenes of human misbehavior, some straight to the point, some ironic. It's more Jonathon Swift than Orwell-- it's Alan Moore, actually, and it might be the kind of literature you can only pull off in a comic, giving you time to consider the justapostion of word and image. It's the kind of dark laughter Twain used to pull off in The War Prayer and Letters from the Earth, and the kind of thing I don't ask anyone but myself to laugh at, but you might:

Good evening, London. I thought it time we had a little talk. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin... I suppose you're wondering why I've called you here this evening. Well, you see, I'm not entirely satisfied with your performance lately... I'm afraid your work's been slipping and... and well, I'm afraid we've been thinking about letting you go.
Oh, I know, I know. You've been with the company a long time now. Almost... let me see. Almost ten thousand years! My word, doesn't time fly? It seems like only yesterday... I remember the day you commenced your employment, swinging down from the trees, fresh-faced and nervous, a bone clasped in your bristling fist... "Where do I start, sir?", you asked, plaintively. I recalled my exact words: "There's a pile of dinosaur eggs over there, youngster", I said, smiling paternally all the while. "Get sucking".
Well, we've certainly come a long way since then, haven't we? And yes, yes, you're right, in all that time you haven't missed a day. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.
Also, please don't think I've forgotten about your outstanding service record, or about all of the invaluable contributions that you've made to the company... Fire, the wheel, agriculture... It's an impressive list, old-timer. A jolly impressive list. Don't get me wrong. But... well, to be frank, we've had our problems too.
There's no getting away from it. Do you know what I think a lot of it stems from? I'll tell you... It's your basic unwillingness to get on in the company. You don't seem to want to face up to any real responibility. To be your own boss.
Lord knows you've been given plenty of opportunities... We've offered you promotion time and time again, and each time you've turned us down. "I couldn't handle the work, Guv'Nor", you wheedled. "I know my place".
To be frank, you're not trying, are you? You see, you've been standing still for far too long, and its starting to show in your work... And, I might add, in your general standard of behavior. The constant bickering on the factory floor has not escaped my attention... nor the recent bouts of rowdiness in the staff canteen.
Then of course there's... Hmm. Well, I didn't really want to have to bring this up, but... Well, you see, I've been hearing some disturbing rumors about your personal life. No, never you mind who told me. No names, no pack drill... I understand you are unable to get on with your spouse. I hear that you argue. I am told that you shout. Violence has been mentioned. I am reliably informed that you always hurt the one your love... the one you shouldn't hurt at all.
And what about the children, its always the children who suffer, as you're well aware. Poor little mites. What are they to make of it? What are they to make of all your bullying, your despair, your cowardice and all your fondly nurtured bigotries? Really, its not good enough, is it?
And its no good blaming the drop in work standards on and management either... though to be sure, the management is very bad. In fact, let us not mince words... The Management is terrible!
We've had a string of embezzelers, frauds, liars and lunatics making a string of catastrophic decisions. This is plain fact. But who elected them?
It was you! You who elected these people! You who gave them the power to make your decisions for you! While I'll admit that anyone can make a mistake once, to go on making the same lethal errors century after century seems to me nothing short of deliberate.
You have encouraged these malicious incompetents, who have made your working life a shambles. You have accepted without question their senseless orders. You have allowed them to fill your workspace with dangerous and unproven machines.
You could have stopped them. All you had to say was "No". You have no spine. You have no pride. You are no longer an asset to the company.
I will, however, be generous. You will be granted two years to show me some improvement in your work. If at the end of that time you are still unwilling to make a go of it... you're fired.
That will be all. You may return to your labors.

(Alan Moore, V for Vendetta)

"It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said." (Twain)

Commonplace Book of Quotations, August 2010

"I find film in its modern form to be quite bullying. It spoon-feeds us, which has the effect of watering down our collective cultural imagination. It is as if we are freshly hatched birds looking up with our mouths open waiting for Hollywood to feed us more regurgitated worms. The 'Watchmen' film sounds like more regurgitated worms. I for one am sick of worms. Can't we get something else? Perhaps some takeout? Even Chinese worms would be a nice change."
(Alan Moore)

“If you are superman, let me be forever animal.”
(artist and occultist Austin Spare in a 1936 letter to Adolf Hitler, responding to Hitler’s request that Spare paint Hitler’s portrait)

I bring you the stately nation named Christendom, returning, bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonored, from pirate raids in Kiao-Chou, Manchuria, South Africa, and the Philippines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle, and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her soap and towel, but hide the looking-glass.”
(Mark Twain, New Years, 1900)

“As a (semi-) reformed fanboy myself, you’d think I’d be celebrating... yet I find this rise to dominance both confusing and ironic, no more so than when fanboys shout down opposition to something they collectively adore. .. Not only is this wrongheaded, it’s the exact opposite of the fanboy ethos.... You loved what you loved, in part, because it spoke directly to you, and in part because most other people didn’t feel the same way... [and] if there is one thing the Internet is good for, it’s bringing together like-minded people, then convincing them that their opinion is the only valid one in existence. Psychologists call this “group polarization,” a tendency for people who agree to gather and prod each other toward further extremism. This has long been evident on political blogs, but it’s true in cultural criticism as well...Once the outcast underdogs, fanboys have become the new bullies.”
(Adam Sternberg in New York

“Charlemagne [columnist for The Economist, not the Holy Roman Emperor] doesn't always work for me, but he did this week, boy howdy. (I've never used that phrase before; I'm trying it out.) His column focuses on explaining something that Americans probably don't fully grasp, which is that Europe's tendency towards limiting the work week and lowering the retirement age came not out of laziness or me-me-meism, but from a general belief that these were the goals of a civilized society when they had escaped the basics of food/shelter problems for a large enough group. Throw a hand to the unfortunate, and try to get to a place where most people didn't have to work crazy hours. Take longer vacations. Chill the fuck out. It's a solid piece of wistful writing, even when it smacks of a little bit of blind optimism.”
(Tucker Stone)

“The reason that Europeans struggle to accept the need to work more, and get less from the state is that it seems to signal an abrupt reversal of the decades-long advance towards an ever-more civilised society: in short, the end of progress..... By progressively shrinking the number of hours worked a week, or years worked over a lifetime, society seemed to be rolling towards some sort of ideal, with vin rosé and deckchairs on the beach for all. This fits France’s sense of secular, revolutionary History, carrying the country forward, however fitfully, like an “endless cortege proceeding towards the light”, in the words of Jules Ferry, a 19th-century educationalist. Even President Nicolas Sarkozy, usually averse to abstract nouns, has spoken of “the politics of civilisation” and asked economists to measure output in terms of happiness, not just growth.
Put simply, if Europe stands for something, it is decent treatment for all. To this way of thinking, to guarantee a comfortable retirement is akin to banning child labour or giving women the vote: not optional perks, but badges of a civilised society. Such social preferences are what Europe is for, and what makes it different from America. Europe may no longer be a global power, or have much military muscle. Its churches may be empty, its spiritual fibre weak. It may not boast much cutting-edge innovation or economic growth. But it knows how to look after its sick and elderly, take a long lunch break and abandon the office in August. The cold realisation that time is up, and that such progress is over, prompts anger, denial and shock.”
(“Charlemagne” in The Economist)

“The difference between actors and comedians is that actors are symmetrical, physically, and comedians are lopsided.”
(Martin Brown)

“The human form, with its endless racial and genetic variations, is only one template for beauty which suffers from the changing tastes of passing eras - our views on horses and orchids have remained relatively static.” (Jay Stebly on the article “The Phenomenology of Ugly)

Tom Tomorrow on Obama Liberals

click on the cartoon to see in full

I held out longer than most of my friends, trying to give Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt. I was trying to be "sensible".

Excuse #1: Realpolitik means that progressives would have to swallow some things we don't like, in order to inch a little closer to a better world. I told my angry friends they underestimate the death grip of the intransigent right.

Excuse for Barack #2: Inheriting a dog's dinner of deficit, depression, and two trillion-dollar wars, I defy anyone to make Bush's mess into a chef d'œuvre.

Excuse #3: Obama is intentionally bending to the right so that when he finally implements the needed change, no one can accuse him of not trying to work with his opponents.

The Sharrod fiasco, followed fast by the administration's reaction to the Wikileaks affair finally tipped me over. No more excuses; "sensible" no longer.

Tom Tomorrow has introduced a new character, Chuckles the "Sensible" Woodchuck, who nails it better than anyone in the drawing above. Such is the power of the cartoon-- although Josh Shrei and Matt Hamlin come close: "If you’re changing your views or apologizing for a politician who has not met your expectations, something is wrong."

Pondering Mysteries

Koalas smell strongly of eucalyptus. So did my grandmother. Adult koalas look like old Jewish men (reference David Ben-Gurion and Lee Strasberg as seen below). My grandmother, however, was not Jewish, but a Spiritualist, in touch with an American Indian spirit guide.

Leviticus expressly forbids Spiritualism. It also forbids haircuts (19:27) and wearing clothes made out of more than one fabric,i.e. the polyester/cotton blend t-shirt (19:19). Koalas do not wear t-shirts. My grandmother did not cut her hair, but braided and wore it up in the fashion of her childhood. Neither did she wear t-shirts. Photographs show that Ben Gurion did on occasion cut his hair. Is this a signal to the gnostic community of his rejection of Leviticus' injunction against the Spiritualist church?

Seekers after knowledge lent my grandmother their house key, which she used to locate Bible verses relevant to their case. The Tree of Life, a diagram used in Kabbalah, can be thought of as a key or "map" that represents the structure of the universe.

Clark Gable nearly destroyed the t-shirt industry when he appeared without an undershirt in It Happened One Night. Claudette Colbert appeared without a shirt in Sign of the Cross while bathing in wild asses' milk. Polly Walker as Atia in Rome is more to my taste, none of which is germane to the case except to reinforce the Kinsey Institute's assertion that 54% of men think of sex several times a day, not every seven seconds as claimed by urban myth.

Tourists complain that koalas are fractious and not as cuddly as portrayed by the media, but it must be remembered that for the koala, posing for a photograph with a tourist bus at midday is like waking a human at 4 in the morning. Koalas are believed by the Aborigines to call the rain, though their name means "doesn't drink" because they get their moisture from eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus trees = the kabbalistic tree of life-- kabbalah, koala-- coincidence? I think not.

The book of Deuteronomy is full of shit.

How to Confront Organized Hate

Hug, nay, kiss and buy drinks and dinner for the comic book geek of your choice (ahem.) And pass this along to the PFLAG community, community organizers, and other people of good will.

Apparently a few members of the the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas, notorious and reviled for their "God Hates Fags" protests outside military funerals and other events, thought they would get their picture taken by protesting outside the Comicon in San Diego, biggest event in the comic book year. The Eisner Awards, comics' equivalent of the Oscar or the Pulitzer, happen there, and the big movie studios stalk the halls for "buzz", which I suppose attracted Fred Phelps.

Somehow, the fans at the convention not only got advance of the demonstration, they put together a counter-demonstration with materials at hand (costumes, signs) that was ten times larger and MUCH funnier. More in-jokes than ... than.. well I can't think of anyplace with more in-jokes than a comics convention, unless it's a couple of "Monty Python" fans, and those groups overlap.

Where else would you find a loving Jesus side by side with an invocation of the Hypno-Toad? Gail Simone was one of the pros there; she spoke clearly and simply about the protesters' intentions as you'd hope from the writer of Birds of Prey, Welcome to Tranquility, and the best run on Wonder Woman since Greg Rucka. I hope word spreads, because this seems much more effective at dissipating Phelps' power than the righteous anger and well-intentioned complaints he encounters elsewhere.

My friend Wayne hopes the Baptists try again in Chicago, giving him an excuse to break out the crotchless Riddler costume and a "KNEEL BEFORE ZOD" sign. As if he needs an excuse.

Commonplace Book of Quotations for July

“... It was the fixation of businessmen that the WPA did nothing but lean on shovels. I had an uncle who was particularly irritated at shovel-leaning. When he pooh-poohed my contention that shovel-leaning was necesary, I bet him five dollars, which I didn’t have, that he couldn’t shovel sand for fifteen timed minutes without stopping. He said a man should give a good day’s work and grabbed a shovel. At the end of three minutes his face was red, at six he was staggering and before eight minutes were up his wife stopped him to save him from apoplexy. And he never mentioned shovel-leaning again.“ (John Steinbeck, “Primer on the ‘30s", anthologized in America and Americans )

“Colleges must counter the experience of conventional high school education in the United States, where learning is little more than a standardized test-driven chore with utilitarian benefits. In college, students should discover that most of the important writings and discoveries they will study were not generated for their benefit, but rather came into being in order to illuminate and improve life.”
(Leon Botstein)

“Revolutions are always impolite because the upper classes have never taught manners to the people.” (Leon Trotsky)

“... The supposed rise of the “mama grizzlies” of the right, has obscured where things really are with women in politics. One in six members of Congress is female; out of a total of 535 seats, Republican women hold only 21, or 4 percent. It’s hardly an onslaught.” ( Julia Baird)

“The motor of accumulation has been sputtering for nearly four decades, and its coughs can be heard again now that the roar of combusting paper wealth is dying down. This doesn’t mean capitalism or even growth is at an end. Economists of all kinds have pinned their hopes on the transformation of laboring and saving Chinese into hardy consumers. In any case, the US consumer—a ravening appetite in a paper house—appears to be finished as the world’s buyer of last resort. It would add a nice dialectical twist to the future history of our period if it could be said that, around the time the post-Maoist Chinese took up shopping, the post-bubble Americans turned to studying Marx.” (n+1, uncredited)

“Professional historians were in danger of killing off history, he [Hugh Trevor-Roper] wrote, just as philosophers were killing off philosophy, through a misplaced zeal for ‘unimportant truth’. He therefore committed himself to promoting history as a public discourse aimed at helping ordinary readers to understand the world in which they live... By bringing history “down to earth”, Gibbon and the other Enlightenment historians had contributed more to the discombobulation of know-nothing theologians than any number of philosophers would ever be able to do... if skeptical secularism is to get a new lease of life, perhaps it needs a little more history and a little less philosophy, more explanation and less indignation.” ( Jonathan Rée)

“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.” (Unknown comment on Wonkette)

Whereas in the late 17th and early 18th century, an orange rock guy wearing a beard and a pirate costume is de rigueur for the Caribbean. Why? ‘Cause comic books, that’s why.

" 'Everything I'm doing now in terms of talking about climate, talking about immigration, talking about Gitmo is completely opposite of where the Tea Party movement's at,' [Lindsey] Graham said. . . . On four occasions, Graham met with Tea Party groups. The first, in his Senate office, was 'very, very contentious,' he recalled. During a later meeting, in Charleston, Graham said he challenged them: ' 'What do you want to do? You take back your country -- and do what with it?'. . . . Everybody went from being kind of hostile to just dead silent.'”
(The New York Times Magazine)

“Most media outlets have someone parked in Ballroom 20 and someone parked in Hall H, writing about the big developments in both rooms, and that makes it seem like the only stuff going on at the Con is the big set of announcements from the major studios and networks. There's a whole other world of weird, hyper-personal geekery that flows around the edges of the stuff that gets written about... So much of Comic-Con is about making you forget what you really love to replace it with a temporary high that clinging to the things that truly mean something to you becomes that much more important.”
(Todd VanDerWurff)

"The opposite of war isn't peace, its creation."
(A character in Rent)

Betty Lawyer Kimball

Cartoonist and muse Betty Lawyer Kimball passed away last week at the age of 97. Cartoon Brew posted a heartfelt obituary with charming photo album here.


We need a book for children that explains propaganda and media manipulation, from the Pharaoh's pyramids through Edgar Bernays, Madison Avenue and modern "spin doctors". For every seeker of the truth, there's a roomful of advertising executives and media consultants working overtime to create a perception that flatters their client.

Just how persnickety can they get? The Daily Beast has an excerpt from Randall Lane's The Zeroes: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Insane:

"As part of a public diplomacy program similar to Radio Free Europe or Voice of America, the State Department had allocated more than $4 million a year to launch a magazine about American culture, which would be translated into Arabic and sold across the Arab world.
... One of my favorite sections loosely translated to 'Window on America.' It was a simple conceit: a photo essay showing what America actually looks like, unfiltered. A bass fishing tournament, a breast-cancer walk, the Puerto Rican Day parade—these were exotic images to most Arabs, too often poisoned about the United States by their inflammatory local press. But during one review meeting, held before a star chamber of 10 high-level State Department officials, the co-leader specifically took offense to a photograph from a classic Western scene: campers and pack mules heading out on a rugged weekend expedition.

Our team always remained vigilant about cultural sensibilities, avoiding the bottoms of shoes, or bare arms, or other seemingly innocuous images that could backfire with the Arab audience. This official’s concerns, however, were more parochial. She held up the offending photo, as wholesome as a Norman Rockwell painting, and pointed to a pack mule that, by other names, might be known as a donkey. This has to go, she said. Too pro-Democrat. And out it went."

This sort of report is why I asked to be Cultural Czar after the revolution: Day One, a guillotine set up on Madison Avenue and we'll see how long it takes the media consultants to get the message. Place will look like a berserker's bowling alley.

My fellow revolutionaries may perceive a note of hostility in this plan. Let me make amends with this more pleasant reminder of Miss Betsey Trotwood, the old lady in David Copperfield equally obsessed with trespassing donkeys:

"Janet had gone away to get the bath ready, when my aunt, to my
great alarm, became in one moment rigid with indignation, and had
hardly voice to cry out, 'Janet! Donkeys!' Upon which, Janet came running up the stairs as if the house were in flames, darted out on a little piece of green in front, and warned off two saddle-donkeys, lady-ridden, that had presumed to
set hoof upon it; while my aunt, rushing out of the house, seized
the bridle of a third animal laden with a bestriding child, turned
him, led him forth from those sacred precincts, and boxed the ears
of the unlucky urchin in attendance who had dared to profane that
hallowed ground.

To this hour I don't know whether my aunt had any lawful right of
way over that patch of green; but she had settled it in her own
mind that she had, and it was all the same to her. The one great
outrage of her life, demanding to be constantly avenged, was the
passage of a donkey over that immaculate spot. In whatever
occupation she was engaged, however interesting to her the
conversation in which she was taking part, a donkey turned the
current of her ideas in a moment, and she was upon him straight.
Jugs of water, and watering-pots, were kept in secret places ready
to be discharged on the offending boys; sticks were laid in ambush
behind the door; sallies were made at all hours; and incessant war
prevailed. Perhaps this was an agreeable excitement to the
donkey-boys; or perhaps the more sagacious of the donkeys,
understanding how the case stood, delighted with constitutional
obstinacy in coming that way. I only know that there were three
alarms before the bath was ready; and that on the occasion of the
last and most desperate of all, I saw my aunt engage,
single-handed, with a sandy-headed lad of fifteen, and bump his
sandy head against her own gate, before he seemed to comprehend
what was the matter. These interruptions were of the more
ridiculous to me, because she was giving me broth out of a
table-spoon at the time (having firmly persuaded herself that I was
actually starving, and must receive nourishment at first in very
small quantities), and, while my mouth was yet open to receive the
spoon, she would put it back into the basin, cry 'Janet! Donkeys!'
and go out to the assault."

Fire Afghanistan

Here's five bucks says that General McChrystal pulls a McClellan, and runs for president against his former boss after Hopey fires him. Getting fired for being an asshole is the best thing to happen to him, career wise. Now someone else gets to take the heat for losing in Afghanistan. McChrystal can now spend the rest of his life posing as the guy who Would Have Won the Afghan War If Only.

Ah, how soon we forget: "The highest current ranking officer blamed in the [Pat Tillman] incident is Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. Investigators said he was "accountable for the inaccurate and misleading assertions" contained in papers recommending that Tillman get a Silver Star award."

I wanted to say something about the general's thirty years in black-ops as an unquestioning assassin for the emperor, but life's too short and how many ways can you say "murderous" and "self-fellatio"? That's just another motivation to stay limber.

Then there's Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice:
“Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

McChrystal is another Bush left-over with a long history of folly, leaks, and misplaced arrogance, still pouting because he wasn't given 60,000 more troops to pour down the rathole. Don't worry, the honored dead are products of American kindergartens: everybody gets a medal.

The solution is obvious: fire Afghanistan for non-cooperation.

Orthodoxy, OCD and the F@#ing Wire, Baby

“As the Bacchae knew, we always tear our Gods to bits, and eat the bits we like.”
-- Adam Gopnik, “What Did Jesus Do?” in The New Yorker


“The same energy of character which renders a man a daring villain would have rendered him useful in society, had that society been well organized.”
-- Mary Wollstonecraft-Godwin Shelley


“Each day brings fresh proof to my feeling that orthodoxy of any kind is simply another word for "learning disability." It's in the nature of orthodoxy that one is discouraged to process new information objectively: the world MUST be as previously learned. Hence new data, rejected, leaves the poor person, be it a driver, a doctor, or a politician, severely handicapped. “
(Steve Brodner)

“Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence, and we forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign. Education has spread, but intelligence is perpetually retarded by the fertility of the simple. A cynic remarked that ‘you mustn’t enthrone ignorance just because there is so much of it.’ However, ignorance is not long enthroned, for it lends itself to manipulation by the forces that mold public opinion. It may be true, as Lincoln supposed, that ‘you can’t fool all the people all the time’, but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country.”
-- Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History


Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar.
-- Jorge Luis Borges


As a Jewish child I was regularly instructed, both subtly and openly, that Jews, the people of Maimonides, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk and Meyer Lansky, were on the whole smarter, cleverer, more brilliant, more astute than other people. And, duly, I would look around the Passover table, say, at the members of my family, and remark on the presence of a number of highly intelligent, quick-witted, shrewd, well-educated people filled to bursting with information, explanations and opinions on a diverse range of topics. In my tractable and vainglorious eagerness to confirm the People of Einstein theory, my gaze would skip right over — God love them — any counterexamples present at that year’s Seder.
.... The shock comes not because we have never encountered any stupid Jews before — Jews are stupid in roughly the same proportion as all the world’s people — but simply because from an early age we have been trained, implicitly and explicitly, to ignore them. A stupid Jew is like a hole in the pocket of your pants, there every time you put them on, always forgotten until the instant your quarters run clattering across the floor.... If, in the words of the 1948 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, the Jewish people have a natural right “to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state,” then the inescapable codicil of this natural inheritance is that the Jewish people, “like all other nations,” are every bit as capable of barbarism and stupidity.”
-- Michael Chabon on the Israeli blockade of Palestine

“... Nobody—literally nobody—knows how to make the pencil on my desk (as the economist Leonard Read once pointed out), let alone the computer on which I am writing. The knowledge of how to design, mine, fell, extract, synthesize, combine, manufacture and market these things is fragmented among thousands, sometimes millions of heads. Once human progress started, it was no longer limited by the size of human brains. Intelligence became collective and cumulative.”
-- Matt Ridley


“Professor James Leckman of Yale University did tests on the cerebrospinal fluid of OCD sufferers and found gobs and gobs of Oxytocin, the chemical responsible for love, jealousy and parental attachment. As it turns out, OCD-sufferers produce as much of this stuff as new parents and raver kids on ecstasy. This led Leckman to think there may be a very big connection between parenthood and OCD, believing that once upon a time in our evolution, obsessive attention to detailed cleaning and hygiene rituals marked the difference between infants that survived childhood diseases and ones who didn't. Compulsive rituals don't seem so weird when they involve constantly circling the camp site to make sure there are no wolves coming to eat the children.... Apparently succeeding in the human species isn't a matter of being crazy or not crazy, but having just the right amount of craziness.”
-- Robert Evans and Philip Moon,

Othello, the Boulevard, Teabaggers and Lattes on the Rim of the Volcano

Othello isn't only about jealousy, any more than Hamlet is about revenge. Othello's great sin is his assumption that because you are Good, all others must necessarily be trustworthy as well.

If I were sent back with a warning to the Belle Epoque in Paris, Vienna and Berlin, how many of the boulavardiers could perceive the deadly earnestness with which the children of that time were training to become mass murderers? Would any of them have been able to strangle the infant Hitler in his cradle? Albert Speer said that it was hard to recognize the Devil when he's standing by your shoulder.

From what I’ve seen in Cultural Amnesia and Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals the people in the cafes thought of militarists as clowns, no real threat, certainly not builders of death factories— and if the militarists did succeed in finding a war, well, they mostly hurt themselves and young fellows stupid enough to follow them. War, however terrible, was fought between armies in a field outside of town-- sophisticates didn't realize what industrialization could do to weaponry and the practice of total war.

The Dreyfuss affair was the argument of that time. It was injustice and anti-Semitism that sent Colonel Dreyfuss off to Devil’s Island on a trumped up charge, but no one thought of The Affair as a blueprint.

So there I am on the boulevard with my coffee, laughing at someting Tristan Bernard just said, sighing at a stray tendril of hair on the neck of a passing girl who might have modeled for Mucha—- but how could I tell them what I know? That the 20th century will be a bloodbath, that industrialization will turn the front line into an abbatoir, with my friends from the cafes and salons-- Tristan Bernard's own grandson Francois-- at the bottom of the pile in Matthausen? How many of them would believe me?

They would smile and nod and exclaim mais certainment! if I’d predicted that a militarist would blow himself up with some diabolical device, that a head of state would be caught in a sex scandal, or a minister sent to prison for embezzlement. They would recognize our own all-too-human sins, folly, arrogance, lust and greed. But would anyone on the boulevard believe a prediction of the ash pit, the soap factories, the pillows stuffed with human hair? A medievalist might recognize the precedent for Ilsa Koch, but like trusting Othello, most would not be able to countenance the sick rantings of the so-called man from the future. When the most dreadful thing you can imagine in others is limited your own capacity for evil, you never see what's coming until it’s too late.

This is not to paint a sentimental picture of bohemians caught napping by the wicked military-industrialists— it was a failed water-color painter, Hitler, an amateur mythologist (Himmler) an advertising genius (Goebbels), and a country full of worshipful rubes who dreamed the iron dream. Never underestimate the resentment and malevolence of a failed artist-- from Beck to Norman Podhoretz, O'Reilly, Midge Decter and the Kristols, angry failures have found a home on the right because the hipsters made fun of them and wouldn’t invite them to the cool parties. This may be oversimplify the motivations of Limbaugh and Goerring, but not by much.

The bad guys can fall into the same trap as Othello. Krupp sponsored the Nazis because they could not imagine a wickedness greater than their own capacity for greed and political control. German militarists and industrialists thought they would use the Nazis to get rid of the labor unions and the liberals, and in the end the Nazis used them. American conservatives thought they could use the emotion of the Teabaggers and the the Know-Nothings to disguise their plutocracy as populism. The Bohemian Grove made Ronald Reagan, patron of idiots, who didn’t know, didn’t care and didn’t think it mattered how many were ground in the wheels beneath his chariot. Now of course, the tail is wagging the dog, with Limbaugh and Palin the soul of the party.

Othello is a supreme success in his own field, but battle savvy doesn't transfer to the parade-ground. He knows only two kinds of women-- his sainted mother and voracious camp-followers, and if Desdemona isn't a saint, then she must be a whore. In the world of men, he thinks his combat instinct has taught him all he needs to know about reading men; if he's fought alongside me, then he must be a pal. It is naivete and self-assurance that destroys him, long before the first whisper from Iago.

One morning in an inner city classroom, three sharp explosions went off outside and I turned to see that all the kids near the window had hit the floor without any comment. In most classrooms, anything out of the ordinary from first snowflakes to fornicating dogs will draw a mob to the glass. "Missa Fountain," Wayne scolded, "you might want to get away from the window." I was the sophisticate, but in the words of a forgotten punk-rock magazine, "Goerring said 'When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun'. When someone mentions guns, a liberal reaches for his culture." Shades of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.

Now we are in a political cycle with candidates mined from the Jerry Springer show, deviance defined downward. It is permissible among people like Sharon Angle and Rick Barber to make physical threats against their opponents, to talk of secession, to shout down reason. Palin smiles more broadly the crazier the talk gets. They see themselves as perpetual victims, giving them psychological permission to use "any means necessary" against their oppressors.

I wonder about my own complacency. Having a wonderful time, sipping my latte on the rim of the volcano, but keeping one eye on the exit and hoping my friends and I have enough sense to jump to Canada before it blows. When do the clowns cross the line from buffoon to monster?

Smile or Die

Through a friend of my friend Shannon McRae, this wonderful animation of Barabara Ehrenreich's explication of the Happy People...
I suppose my first encounter with the Happy People would have been in the 1970s. There had been experiments like the attempt to levitate the Pentagon, or my friend Tom's Whole Earth theories about mucus, but these thought experiments harmed no one and made great theater; most of us still understood the difference between reality and make believe.
By 1976, the year Tom Wolfe published "The Me Decade", there was real money changing hands for the power of positive thinking. I knew some Erhard Seminar Training graduates intimately, and learned that my skepticism was not just a buzzkill, but a hindrance to any progress. I nodded and demurred while a honest-to-stereotype yuppie complained that his mother's cancer was "her own damn fault". She had given herself cancer-- not by cigarettes or swimming in chemicals, but by bad, cancer-causing thoughts.
I dodged repeated invitations to attend an est seminar, and instead went looking for Chicago theater while my girlfriend spent her money becoming more "real"-- ironic phrase, now that I think of it. I'm not bitter about never getting real with Werner Erhard; instead I attended a performance by the Japanese Grand Kabuki its own self.
Here Ehrenreich points out that the "think and grow rich" con doesn't just take foolish people's money anymore; it now contributes to our collective delusion. Hell, it's one of the building blocks.

Commonplace Book: Hypocrisy and the Culture War, Rabbits, "Original Intent" and the Constitution, and Ye Ancient Dogge of Malta

“Of all wars, only culture wars offer the hope of sheer, unadulterated hilarity. Sex and hypocrisy were staples of farce long before America became a nation, and they never go out of style.”
(Frank Rich)


"We Maltese — we bichon maltais, the Roman Ladies' Dog, the old spaniel gentle, the Maltese lion dog, or Maltese terrier – are suffered to know ourselves to be the aristocrats of the canine world."
(from the novel # The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his friend Marilyn Monroeby Andrew O'Hagan)


“[T]he constitutional doctrine of original intent has always struck most historians of the founding era as rather bizarre. ... The doctrine of original intent rests on a set of implicit assumptions about the framers as a breed apart, momentarily allowed access to a set of timeless and transcendent truths ...

... [T]he doctrine requires you to believe that the "miracle at Philadelphia" was a uniquely omniscient occasion when 55 mere mortals were permitted a glimpse of the eternal verities and then embalmed their insights in the document. Any professional historian proposing such an interpretation today would be laughed off the stage.”
(Joseph J. Ellis, “Immaculate Misconception and the Supreme Court”, The Washington Post)


"Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did beyond amendment....
Let us follow no such examples, nor weakly believe that one generation is not as capable of taking care of itself, and of ordering its own affairs . . . Each generation is as independent of the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before."
(T. Jefferson, in a letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816)


“Rabbits are clever about manipulating humans and can seem stubborn about learning how to live in our homes. It helps to see things through rabbit eyes: a wire is root that needs trimming, a piece of furniture is a tree, a household is a rabbit warren with strict hierarchy and rules.

Rubbing chin on things, such as houseplants, priceless armoires, Italian leather shoes.

What it means
A great misconception: It does NOT mean marking territory. It is a rabbit custom, like saying grace before a meal. In short, "One day I will eat you."

What you should do
Give your bunny more sticks and branches, keep your stuff off the floor, and kiss the antiques goodbye.”

(from Rabbit Language , or: "Are you going to eat that?" by Carolyn Crampton)

From Peasant to Yeoman to Peasant Again, in Three Generations

“We’re becoming peasants again. Most of us. There’s the money people and the people around them, and then there’s you. But the rest of us, we’re peasants.” (A character in Adam Haslett’s short story “Night Walk”)

As the Man with No Name told Tuco, “there's two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig." If Great-Granda couldn’t afford the suit of armor, or wasn’t ruthless enough to take it by force, you probably belong to a peasant family. Sharecropper grandparents, in my case, first generation to go to college.

Most of us were peasants, peons (a painfully acute sobriquet), and then the Black Death killed so many of us that our labor had to be paid for, and some of the peasants became yeomen, and things got marginally better. We were no longer subject to the random cruelty of the baron’s bastard sons or the droit de seigneur , and even a cat could look at a king. Small scale, the craftsman selling shoes or ironware, started lifting us out of peasantry.

By the time Adam Smith noticed the phenomenon, religious dissenters from the Church of England-- unable to send their sons to the posh Oxford and Cambridge—started technical schools. The new technologies made their children better skilled and more valuable than any spare aristocrat. The stout yeoman bought respectability by marrying aristocrats, as sure as Jenny Jerome’s American father married her off (with substantial dowry) to Lord Randolph Churchill.

A specter was haunting capitalism— not the specter of communism, though that would have its day as a way for the more rapacious peasants, like Stalin and Mao, to prey upon their own kind. No, this was the specter of the corporation: a moneyed collective that will prove every bit as destructive to our species as Mao and Stalin’s collective farms were to the individual.

These business cooperatives-- call them “corporations”-- are mercantile guilds gone mad. Corporation is to small businessman as labor union is to laborer. It seems an obvious corollary-- but instead, corporations paint themselves as defenders of individual liberty, while the labor union-- defender of a peasants’ fair share of profit and health-- is a tyrannical, slovenly mob. And the peasants ate it up, repeated it among themselves, voted against their own self-interest. If the corporate paradigm said shit was sugar, then crackers would be asking for a spoon.

Remember Heinlein's novel Friday in which corporations replaced the nation-states, even waged war on one another? I remember shaking my head at how far out the old man had become, almost as goofy as that time he predicted a religious dictatorship scrapping the Constitution of the United States.

Now I’m wondering if the modern corporation and the Corporate Man signal a return to the days of the pyramid builders. They’re all very proud of the culture that they’ve built, a cathedral built for no god but Mammon. Humans don’t like admitting they’re being played for a sucker, so the pyramid builder, he who sells his labor to a corporation, romanticizes his raison de’etre like a man romanticizes his mistress.

Lena Horne

I'm guessing most tributes to Lena Horne will include the 1943 version of "Stormy Weather", but it's interesting to compare that young girl's intuitive understanding with a bluesier version sung later in life. Not a false caesura in either version, by the way, which ought to teach pop idols the difference between genuine emotion and sentiment, but probably won't.

The other two songs, "Moon River" and "It's Not Easy Being Green", I posted for myself. I'd like to know what went through her head while rehearsing "Green". With that voice and those impossible cheekbones, this woman could have run the table as Hollywood's Cleopatra, Shakespeare's Dark Lady, Sally Hemings or the Queen of Sheba-- but in that benighted time, she couldn't even hang on to the part of Julie in Showboat. The studio cast Ava Gardner in the "controversial" role of a "high yellow gal" passing for white in order to marry the man she loved.

So Lena finally said to hell with Hollywood, went home to New York and became a chanteuse instead. Ironically this was a winning decision: Hollywood discards its leading ladies quickly, whereas jazz and blues singing, like painting, rewards longevity and depth.

Commonplace Book, April: Sensitive Redheads, Richard Pryor, What Wonder Woman Represents and Too Much Twee in Literature

“He had seen society in its three great phases—Obedience, Struggle and Revolt... and he hesitated in his choice. Obedience was dull, Revolt impossible, Struggle hazardous.”
(Balzac, Pere Goriot)

“He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave.”
(William Drummond, some old Scotsman)

“Something nice this way comes. It begins with the awful—whether it’s as enormous as the Holocaust or the World Trade Center or as intimate as family dysfunction or the death of a loved one—and then finds comfort. None of this Anna on the tracks, Emma in the dumps, or depressing Father Zosima’s corpse smells stuff; that’s sooo 19th century. ...
Instead, let’s just book passage on a gentle, healing voyage. Sound trite? It is, but it’s apparently the literature of our time as exemplified by Jonathan Safran Foer, Myla Goldberg, Nicole Krauss, and Dave Eggers, along with everything McSweeney’s, the magazine founded by Eggers.”
(Melvin Jules Bukiet , ”Wonder Bread” in The American Scholar)

“In American popular culture, the private detective is a unique heroic figure: champion of last resort for the vulnerable client, a knight-errant for hire, bringing rough or poetic justice to cases unserved by more official powers that be. [Robert Parker] wrote dialogue that at once informed, amused and gave a sense of character; and he conjured characters a reader wanted to spend more time with—especially Spenser, a fixed point in a footloose world, take him or leave him. A pragmatist whose ethics were situational. A tough and decent type who did what needed to be done in the service of a moral cause, affirming the worth of the individual regardless of race, sexual orientation, social status, age or occupation. He made timeless points that need to be remade every generation, in a society ever able to find ways to betray the public and private trust.”
(Obituary by Tom Nolan in the Wall Street Journal)

“As Juke [on a 1974 Lily Tomlin special], Richard Pryor gave one of his relatively few great performances in a project that he had not written or directed. He made use of the poignancy that marks all of his great comedic and dramatic performances, and of the vulnerability—the pathos cradling his sharp wit—that had seduced people into loving him in the first place.... The concert films are excellent examples of what the Village Voice critic Carrie Rickey once described as Pryor’s ability to “scare us into laughing at his demons—our demons—exorcising them through mass hyperventilation.”... Taken together, the concert films show the full panorama of Pryor’s moods: brilliant, boring, insecure, demanding, misogynist, racist, playful, and utterly empathetic.... Pryor embodied the voice of injured humanity. A satirist of his own experience, he revealed what could be considered family secrets—secrets about his past, and about blacks in general, and about his relationship to the black and white worlds he did and did not belong to.”
(Hilton Als profile of Richard Pryor in The New Yorker

“So Wonder Woman counts among one of the very few superhero genre characters that are legitimately a gift to young women. She is not a character to be marketed to young men. Marston assured the company the boys would read as well, but she's custom designed for young women. For god's sake, she's a princess who talks to animals. Her entire supporting cast, with the exception of one blockheaded love interest, was women. She is a character made with little girls in mind.
The bondage urban legend always struck me as a mean-spirited attempt to rob us of that. To strip her of all innocent and generous beginnings in favor of something uber-sexualized. To say that we weren't worth our own superhero princess, she had to be secretly aimed at young men. That she was really meant for boys. It's a way to steal Wonder Woman, and claim she wasn't ever stolen.
To be honest, that's why I've always felt they had trouble with her. She is a female-oriented character that they keep marketing to a widely male audience.” (Ragnell on her blog Written World”

“I think that's a big part of it — she COULD tear someone's head off, she COULD destroy a country if she chose. But she would consider that a failure as a warrior for peace. The death of an enemy is not victory to her. I love that stuff. I think it's a far better blueprint for the future than most of the action hero stuff out there right now.
But there are a million reasons. I love that she's the DC universe's premiere badass. I love that she was giving messages of the power of womanhood in the 40's, you know, decades before Buffy or Xena or Lara Croft. And there's a part of me that loves the pegasi and the princess-ness of it all, and all the trappings of Paradise Island. She's just brilliantly conceived. And I like her with a dry sense of humor, while we're at it. The sisterhood aspect of the Amazons is tremendously compelling to me. Who wouldn't love to have that many sisters who loved you AND carried bladed weapons?”
(Gail Simone, current writer on Wonder Wonan, in an interview at After Ellen)

“If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.”
(Saint Francis)

“The largest single survey to date of serial killers found: 36 percent admitted to committing animal cruelty as children; 46 percent admitted to committing animal cruelty as adolescents; 36 percent admitted to committing animal cruelty as adults.”
(Human Society of the United States)

“When John Paul II appointed Cardinal Ratzinger head of the department that watches over theological orthodoxy (the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF), it was in full confidence that he would curb the proliferating dissidents, not least the liberation theologians of South America who argued that sin could often mean not wrongdoing by individual moral agents, but the injustice of social and political structures leading to poverty and oppression. He soon earned himself the sobriquet "the Pope's Rottweiler". Theologians guilty of unorthodoxy were summoned to his inquisitorial office: some were deprived of their teaching licences, and others were excommunicated.
... Benedict... continues to think of the abuse as a spiritual lapse, rather than a psychological, social and criminal problem. Priestly pedophile abuse, in his view, is a failure of priesthood, a failure of holiness, asceticism and piety. ... The cause of the crisis, he said, had been secularism, and the temptations secularism has posed to the holiness of priests. The innocent majority of priests in Ireland... are infuriated by Benedict's implied exculpation of the Vatican and the papacy.”
(John Cornwell in The New Statesman)

“Scientists suspect that small inherited predispositions are either enhanced or suppressed by experience, and computer models show that tiny discrepancies at the start can become enormous over time, through feedback loopings of positive reinforcement. Evidence is also emerging that certain physical setpoints affect temperament globally. Notable among such setpoints is the relative rate at which one’s nervous system processes sensory information.
“There are low information processors who don’t attend much to their environment and bulldoze through life,” said David Sloan Wilson of the State University of New York at Binghamton. “Then there are the sensitive ones who are always taking things in, which can be good because information is valuable, but it can also be overwhelming.”
Studies of highly sensitive people show their delicacy is “domain general,” Dr. Wilson said. Not only are they “exceptionally moved by symphonies” and find graphic depictions of violence “too hard to bear,” but they are also sensitive to drugs like caffeine, and their skin is easily irritated by the wrong soap, sunscreen and fabric. Highly sensitive pigs squeal a lot; highly sensitive people feel a lot. Sure, it’s painful at times. But just switch on some Bach and I’ll squeal my thanks for thin skin.”
(Natalie Angierin The New York Times)

“Most TV comics trade in brand-name jokes or jokes that play off physical stereotypes. They don’t question their culture so much as pander to its insatiable hunger for distraction. But [Bill] Hicks’ mischievous flights of fantasy bring the audience back to reality with a thump. Hicks is a kind of ventriloquist of his contradictory nature, letting voices and sound effects act out both his angst and his appetites.... He started writing and performing his jokes as an alienated thirteen-year-old in Houston in 1975, and, by his own count, for the last five years he has been performing about two hundred and sixty-five days a year, sometimes doing as many as three two-hour gigs a night. Few contemporary comics or actors have such an opportunity to get their education in public.”
(Profile of the late Bill Hicks by John Lahr in The New Yorker)