Category Archives: The Pencil Today

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Law & Disorder

Any time a high profile or landmark legal case plays out, we learn at least a little bit about our holy land.

We learned a lot last night.

Here’s what we know: It is now perfectly acceptable for a person who is carrying a deadly weapon to track and confront another person whom the first person doesn’t like the looks of. Then, when the second person objects and a scuffle ensues, the first person may kill the second person.

This is part of what we consider to be civilization today.

The Conclusion: Suicide

Here is Robert Zimmerman, Jr., telling CNN’s Piers Morgan how he’d feel if the roles of his brother and Trayvon Martin were reversed (all sic):

“If Trayvon were my brother and he was the one who was armed, legally armed, and able to carry that firearm in a legal way, and [George] blindsided him by breaking his nose and pummeling his head into concrete and continuing to punch him, I would find, and the jury has found, that unfortunately he had the greater hand in his own demise, which was causing, by his own hand, his death. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality.”


Bobby Zimmerman: Positively Retreat View Circle

So, acknowledging that Zimmerman frere is not a professional orator and he is trying to lay out a theoretical, emotionally fraught scenario, we can decode his response to conclude that:

1) The Trayvon death was “unfortunate”

2) He killed himself


Laws & Order

I think you’ll get a kick out of this. It’s a selected list of eponymous laws, principles, rules, and effects.


Sutton’s Law Willie Sutton, American bank robber: When asked why he robbed banks, he said, “Because that’s where the money is.” Ergo the law is Go where the money is.

Lewis’s Law Helen Lewis, British journalist: “The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.”

Humphrey’s Law (aka hyper-reflection) George Humphrey, British psychologist: “No man skilled at a trade needs to put his constant attention on the routine work. If he does, the job is apt to be spoiled.”

Shirky Principle Clay Shirky, American writer and Internet expert: “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”

Parkinson’s Law C. Northcote Parkinson, British naval historian: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Corollary: “Expenditure rises to meet income.”

Shermer’s Law Michael Shermer, American writer, skeptic: “Any sufficiently advanced alien intelligence is indistinguishable from God.”

Littlewood’s Law John E. Littlewood, Cambridge University professor: An individual can expect miracles to occur at the rate of one per month; in other words, in a large enough sample size, anything can happen.

Dunbar’s Law Robin Dunbar, British anthropologist: The theoretical limit to the number of people one can maintain stable social relationships with is approximately 150.

Peter Principle Laurence J. Peter, Canadian author and “hierarchiologist”: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

Hofstadter’s Law Douglas Hofstadter, IU Distinguished Professor of cognitive and computer sciences: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s law.”

Hanlon’s Razor Robert J. Hanlon(?), unknown: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

Godwin’s Law, (aka) Playing the Hitler card Mike Godwin, American author and internet attorney: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

Brooks’ Law Fred Brooks, American software engineer and computer scientist: “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”

Poe’s Law Nathan Poe, American Internet forum commenter: “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of extremism or fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.”

Corollary: “It is impossible for an act of Fundamentalism to be made that someone won’t mistake for a parody.”

Sayre’s Law William Stanley Sayre, Columbia University professor of political science: “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue.”

Corollary: “That is why academic politics are so bitter.”

Segal’s Law Unknown origin: “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”


Does Anybody Really Know…?

Hawthone Effect After a study conducted at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works factory: Subjects being studied for a specific behavior improve their behavior because they are being studied.

Dunning-Kruger Effect David Dunning & Justin Kruger, researchers at Cornell University: The erroneous belief in unskilled people that their abilities in a specific area are greater than average; this comes about because they don’t know enough to know they are not proficient.


Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, Ian Betteridge, Brit tech journalist: “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no.’”


Occam’s Razor William of Ockham, British Franciscan friar and philosopher: The simplest explanation for a phenomenon is preferable.

Kranzberg’s 1st Law of Technology Melvin Krnazberg, American professor of history at case Western Reserve University: “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.”

Clarke’s Three Laws Arthur C. Clarke, British science fiction author and inventor:

1st Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2nd Law: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

3rd Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Newton’s Laws of Motion Isaac Newton, British physicist and mathematician:

1st Law: A body remains at rest, or keeps moving in a straight line (at a constant velocity), unless it is acted upon by a net outside force.

2nd Law: The acceleration of an object of constant mass is proprtional to the net force acting upon it.

3rd Law: Whenever one body exerts a force upon a second body, the second body exerts an equal and opposite force upon the first body.

Hubble’s Law Edwin Hubble, American astronomer: All galaxies are speeding away from all observers at a rate proportional to their distances from the observers; in other words, the farther away a galaxy is, the faster it is speeding away from you.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (more accurately, Indeterminacy Principle) Werner Heisenberg, German theoretical physicist: Certain pairs of quantities (e.g. position and momentum) cannot both be measured for precision in subatomic particles; one can measure for either one or the other.

Orgel’s Second Rule Leslie Orgel, British chemist and evolutionary biologist: “Evolution is cleverer than you are.”

That’s it. Go in peace.

Don’t Take Your Guns To Town

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Woe Is Them

So, the Me Party-ists will form a conga line before the House Appropriations Committee beginning today to tell the world how mean and rotten the feds have been to them.

The poor things had to fill out extra forms in order to receive tax exempt status for their efforts to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and heal the sick. It’s tyranny, I tell you! Hitler was a wuss compared to the Kenyan freedom-hater whose name we shall not even breathe [and it’s probably phony anyway.]

Tea Party Anti-Tax Rally

Social Service

See what I’m doing here? Just trying to be as full of horseshit as the Tea Party-ists and their fellow mollycoddlers and squealers.

Natch, and WND are shrieking to high heaven that the Muslim, commie, fag, abortionist who currently occupies the White House illegally is trying to crush the Tea Party and other saintly patriots not via guns or imprisonment but — worse, far worse — through red tape. Oh, the humanity!

Alright, people, looks like I have to say this again. Those right wing conservative groups were trying to game the system by applying for tax exempt status. They are not — repeat, not! — social service organizations.

In fact, their raison d’être is not to feed the hungry, house the homeless, or heal the sick. Quite the contrary. According to the Tea Punks and their philosophical patron saint Ayn Rand, the hungry, the homeless, and the sick deserve to be that way. Rick Santorum and Paul Ryan and Rand Paul are leaders — successes — not because they were born on third base but because they hit a triple.


Rand: “Me. Me. Me. Me. But, On The Other Hand, Me.”

The sooner this holy land rids itself of the lamprey eels that are the hungry, homeless, and sick, the better we’ll all be.

Why do you think these Radical Right-ists are four-square in favor of slashing funds for social service agencies? The only honest social service agency is the one that recognizes that the mud people and the undesirables have no place in this great free market heaven that once was and will be again.

Tax exempt, huh? Like I’m gonna pay with my tax dollars for them to spread their hork-ish, self-centered, whitey-jive without a fight.

If You’re Unhappy, I’m Happy

Not that the excessive self-love of the Me Party-ists is anything new in these great United States. I was thumbing through Bill Bryson’s neat book, Made in America, last night and came upon this passage:

By 1990, America’s sense of declining economic prowess generated a volume of disquiet that sometimes verged on the irrational. When a professor of economics at Yale polled his students as to which they would prefer, a situation in which America had 1 percent economic growth while Japan experienced 1.5 percent growth, or one in which America suffered a 1 percent downturn but Japan fell by even more, 1.5 percent, the majority voted for the latter. They preferred America to be poorer if Japan were poorer still, rather than a situation in which both became more prosperous.

Honestly, they’d rather suffer as long as the dirty Japs were suffering, too? That’s not schadenfreude; that’s lunacy.

Hiroshima Aftermath

This Ought To Make Those Students Happy

It’s also telling that the poll’s respondents were students in an economics course, meaning they were most likely business students. As in future leaders who, for their very own benefit, will lay off tens of thousands, sully the air and the water, sabotage the success of others, and, overall, commit countless crimes against humanity.

Future Tea Party-ists, in other words.

Living For The City

For a brief, precious moment, we actually gave a damn about the problems of other people. How quaint!

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As If You Didn’t Know

Y’wanna know how weird I am? Okay, I’ll tell you. I woke up this morning with Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park” playing incessantly in my head.

Richard Harris

Rock Star?

As earworms go, this one isn’t all that bad. In fact, it put me in a real sweet mood for a glorious Sunday.

MP was perhaps the most pretentious pop song ever to hit the charts. Let’s see, now, there was “Stairway to Heaven,” — oh wait, did that chart? Lemme check. Ah, ixnay, babies. S to H never was released as a single in the USA, ergo, it never charted. Anyways, pretentious pop songs:

  • “Atlantis” by Donovan [Even his natural British accent seems contrived on this platter.]
  • “In the Year 2525” by Zager & Evans [And crushingly depressing to boot.]
  • “Nights in White Satin” [Or, for that matter, anything by the Moody Blues.]
  • “Lady” by Styx [Makes me embarrassed to be a Chicagoan.]


Styx Even Looks Pretentious

  • “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas [Perhaps the most influential pop song ever released. The argument can be made that its very existence kick-started the entire punk music genre; it was as if everyone from the Sex Pistols to Patti Smith was striving to atone for what had happened to pop music.]
  • “Ebony and Ivory” by Stevie Wonder & Paul McCartney [Like adding heaping spoonsful of sugar to honey.]
  • “We Are the World” by USA for Africa [Of course, because we’re Americans!]
  • “The Wind Beneath My Wings” or “From a Distance” by Bette Midler [Ick. Double ick.]
  • “We Built This City” by the Starship [Just goes to show how horribly hallucinogenics can mangle your mind.]
  • “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion [I once asked a gorgeous dame out on a date. During said date, I asked her what she had on her CD carousel. She replied Phil Collins, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion. I silently vowed at that moment never to go out with her again.]
  • “Born This Way” by Lady Gag [I know, I know, it’s Gaga, just go with me here.]

You knew this was coming: Here’s “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris.

Need I add that just because a song is pretentious does not necessarily mean I have to hate it? Although I hate every single one of the aforementioned blowhard ditties, save for “Nights in White Satin” and, natch, MP.

You Have The Right To An Attorney….

I hate like hell to have to say this: The new Arrested Development episodes are deadly boring.

As you know, I consider AD to be perhaps the best sitcom ever aired on broadcast television [or even cable TV.] That is, the original AD.

The Ron Howard executively-produced opus [did you know the plural of opus is opera?] lasted a scant three seasons on Fox TV, running from November, 2003, to February, 2006. The show was impeccable, from its madcap characters to its scathing wit and topical observations to its fantastical situ’s. Pretty much every single episode elicited at least two loud guffaws from me.

From Arrested Development


The thing is, it’s no tragedy that AD I only latest three seasons. That seems to be the max for any sitcom. After the third season virtually every sitcom becomes a shadow of itself. M*A*S*H, for instance, became a useful emetic even sooner than that. And, of course, Happy Days [which was never, ever good in the first place] inspired the now-ubiquitous term of dismissal, “jump the shark.”

From Happy Days

Fonzie Jumps The Shark

For some reason, Howard, et al, decided to resurrect AD, with spanking new episodes released last week on Netflix. The Loved One has been gobbling them up voraciously for seven days now [and loudly guffawing, I might add]. Me? Meh.

It’s as though the show’s writers are trying to be too clever by a factor of three. There’s less relationship comedy than wacky situation snickering. And Howard, who serves as narrator, seems to have as many lines as all the cast members put together, an indication that the situations are increasingly and needlessly complex. If you have to explain the joke, it’s bound to fail.

Anyway, too bad. But hell, if it makes TLO titter, then who am I to carp?

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The World In Black & White

Really? Really?

An almost painfully precious brown child acts all cutesy-poo in the service of selling Cheerios®, causing hundreds of thousands or even millions of folks to involuntarily emit a collective Aw-w-w-w! While at that very moment hundreds or even thousands of chimpanzees with drivers licenses are compelled to bang away at their keyboards decrying the mutt-ification of their holy land.

Yeah, it happened. This week. In the year 2013.

See, the brown child is the fictional issue of a white mom and black pop. It’s the first time a major advertiser has portrayed an interracial couple and its mixed-bag spawn so, natch, the defenders of the purity of this holy land must act.

Like the dicks they are.

From YouTube

From the Ad’s YouTube Comments Section

Oh well, maybe there’ll always be some subset of devolved anthropoids willing to shriek out their vitriolic psychoses on the interwebs over such ungodly romance and repro-sex. The vast majority of white America some 50 years ago would have lost control of their anal sphincters had they viewed such a commercial plopped in the middle of Petticoat Junction. Now, though, those with miscegenation-induced soiled drawers number something less than that of suburban moms sporting tramp stamps.

Tramp Stamp

The world, thankfully [okay, sorta thankfully], has changed.

Funny, isn’t it: There are still people who believe the Earth is flat. And that brown children are evidence that humanity’s on a fast track to hell.


It’s also funny how the meanings of words change. Remember when the word bad was re-jiggered to mean good?

[If you do, you are indeed the oldest of farts.]

Michael Jackson

Oops, Bad Example

The computer geek world has seen its share of examples of contranyms and other redefinition types. Here are two:

◗ App — Originally a contraction for application. That is, a computer program. So Aldus PageMaker way back in 1986 was referred to as an app. Which is funny because, for MacIntosh computers at least, PageMaker took up four entire 3¼” diskettes, the equivalent today, I suppose, of a program requiring a bajillion flash drives.

Which is ironic because today app means applet, a teensy-tiny little sub-program that is dependent upon a larger application to work.

◗ Hacker/Hacking — A hacker, many revolutions around the sun ago, was anyone who was knowledgeable and competent in computer programming and languages. So, both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were — swear to god — hackers. Even today, some professional computer geeks still tell each other that they’ll get right on that hacking job as soon as they finish billing that sunglasses kiosk in the mall for building their new site.



Which brings me to the single most egregious example of contranym-ism, this from the world of politics:

◗ Special interests — When I was young, young, young and just becoming familiar with the heroes and villains of the geo-political universe [i.e. Daniel Ellsberg and Henry Kissinger, respectively] special interests were big, evil, bloated corporations who threw money around Washington so that pols could make laws allowing them to spew cyanide into forest streams and belch black smoke into our pristine air. Now, of course, special interests are women, non-whites, homosexuals, and other souls looking to destroy the rights of the rest of us to loathe, shun, and oppress our fellow countrymen with impunity.

Like I sez, the world, she’s a changin’.


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I Am The Lord, Thy God

Writing fiction is fun. It’s heady, too, inasmuch as I, the author, get to play god.

[And, to be quite frank, I think I do a better job at being god than god, whom most people refer to as God but I refuse to.]


An Amateur

I’ve been god for a while now, creating a fictional world inhabited by the Dudek family on the Northwest Side of the city of Chicago in the the late 1960s and early ’70s. My serial e-novel, “Black Comedy,” is a mix of made-up stories framed within actual historical events. Some characters are real, Mayor Richard J. Daley, for instance, and Abbie Hoffman. Others are thinly veiled stand-ins for real people — Cook County State’s Attorney Eddie Halloran comes to mind.

The tale is also a way for me to make sense of a lot of terribly confusing events and relationships I experienced or witnessed and read about those four decades ago. I was just entering my teens back then. The world and my city, for all intents and purposes, were going crazy. My family was, too, and I delve into that bedlam as well.

All in all, writing “Black Comedy” is cheaper and more satisfying than weekly or even twice-weekly sessions with a shrink. Believe me, I’ve gone that route and, yes, progress was made, breakthroughs occurred, and tears — many, many tears — shed. But whatever mistaken perceptions I’ve carried in my heart all these years and then commit to electrons on an LCD screen are by no means as potentially catastrophic as those boners committed by skull jockeys. For instance, I went to one shrink some 20 years ago who, within a scant few minutes of meeting me, said, “Oh, you were sexually abused as a child, no doubt about it.”

Peanuts/Charles Schulz

It’s Obvious

Eek. For the next few years I viewed my parents and older sibs through narrowed eyes until I finally came to the conclusion that I didn’t remember ever being sexually abused.

So, if I’m wrong about Eddie Halloran being a brawling drunkard, no one’s any the worse for wear because Eddie Halloran never existed except in my mind. But, trust me, Eddie Halloran was a brawling drunkard.

Anyway, I came upon a neat quote from New York Times book reviewer Bill Scheft, who was parsing Davy Rothbart’s My Heart Is an Idiot last fall. Scheft’s line can be used to describe what I do in “Black Comedy” quite nicely, thank you.

Book Cover

He wrote of Rothbart’s genre, which some are having a hard time distinguishing between fiction and non-fiction:

It should be called something else, other than non-fiction. “Re-enactmention,” perhaps. Wherein a predominantly true story is made more complicated in the service of art.

Yep, that’s “Black Comedy,” except for the part about it being predominantly true. BC is predominantly false, a conceit, a fairy tale. But it’s all true as far as I’m concerned. Pretty much like all our memories.

It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Lunatic Fringe

Maybe I, along with the rest of us, should just ignore the mentally ill.

No, I don’t mean those poor souls who roam our streets homeless and muttering to themselves. Which is what we’re doing already anyway. Ignoring them, that is, unless they get too pushy in asking us for spare change and then, all of a sudden, we pound our fists and demand something be done.

I’m talking about right wing talk radio hosts.

I know, I know, it’s like complaining that toddlers refuse to use the toilet facilities and shower and dress themselves everyday, the selfish little imps. I mean, whaddya expect from those who lack the mental capacity to do anything other than what they do?

Still, I ask you, how can I ignore this [via Wonkette] about some survivors of the Washington state bridge collapse last week:

Where this thing dropped seemed to me not to be very far, I mean easy to get over to the banks where you can get onto dry land. Some of them waited in their cars for an hour for help to arrive…. What has happened in our entire evolution of the past 30 years that we’ve gone from guys who were standing on the street jumping into ice water to save a woman and here we have people who are 25 feet from shore, if they weren’t injured, couldn’t make that swim or ten people couldn’t create a human chain. Or it took an hour to get some kind of boat.

The host, a man named Tony Katz who is syndicated on the All Patriots Media Network, had been spewing chunks about how pussified the American male is these days because people whose cars fell into the the Skagit River when the Interstate 5 bridge collapsed, did the sissy-girl thing and — ugh! — waited for help to arrive.

Honestly, is that where the right wing fringe is now?

You know, like JFK should have just picked up the pieces of his skull and brain and held them in place on his head while he walked to Parkland Hospital instead of just dying, the liberal queer.

JFK Assassination

Walk It Off, You Girl

Natch, those who found themselves plopped into a chilly river must be the gonad-less progeny of the Barack-ification of this holy land.

Can’t these people just stick with phony scandal-mongering anymore?

I wonder, reader, can you find the iron will within to ignore these deep thinkers? I don’t know if I can.

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Bye Bye, Bachmann

So, Michele Bachmann is quitting the House of Representatives after her current term expires in January, 2015.


Which is a shame because now who are we going to gasp about and wring our hands over when we read the political news section of the Daily Screamer? Oh wait, there still are plenty of neo-Right hatters mad enough to make the sane among us feel smug and superior for the next few years. For instance, little Rickey Santorum still prowls the land sans straightjacket.

None of them is quite like Michele Bachmann, though. In fact, Bachmann is the poster chick for the delusional world the Tea Party-ists and their fellow basket-weavers inhabit.

Starting with her personal life, Bachmann illustrates as no one before or since the propensity of that certain segment of the pop. that longs for good old days that never existed and who, when confronted with facts and figgers, simply says Who needs facts and figgers?

She’s married, after all to  a mincing, prancing, Jello mold of a man who chooses to spend much of his life in the company of gay men for the purported purpose of “transforming” them into rugged coxswains who become instantly tumescent over the latest Victoria’s Secret catalog. Marcus Bachmann is about as straight as the character John Belushi played in the early days of SNL, you know, the seaman who brought the young boy to his cabin to demonstrate to him the joys of being a manly man?

If Michele Bachmann believes that her hubby dreams of seeing her naked every night, she’ll believe anything. Death panels, for example.

Marcus & Michele Bachmann


Even more than Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann is the comic relief of the hijacked Republican party. And while her platform and philosophies and miscellaneous public utterances initially scare the bejesus out of anyone with a shred of psychological stability, it’s comforting to realize that the vast majority of people — even in this madcap holy land — recognize her as a circus clown.

Let’s take a look at some of the most whacked-out pronouncements, positions, and opinions Bachmann has gifted us with during her four terms as Congressbeing from Minnesota’s Sixth District:

◗ Alzheimers could be cured within 10 years if it weren’t for “overzealous regulators, excessive taxation and greedy litigators.”

◗ The human papilloma virus vaccine causes mental retardation

◗ 9/11 and the Banghazi consulate attack were acts of “judgment” on America, courtesy of god

◗ “[I]f you’re involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it’s bondage. Personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement.”

◗ Democratic presidents seem to be somehow responsible for various flu outbreaks

◗ Planned Parenthood is the “LensCrafters of big abortion.”

◗ The Affordable health Care Act must be repealed “before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”

◗ God has been throwing earthquakes and hurricanes at the USA because government spending is too high

◗ Glenn Beck could solve the national debt problem

◗ “Be submissive wives; you are to be submissive to your husbands.”

◗ “The big thing we are working on now is the global warming hoax. It’s all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”

Terry Schiavo “was healthy… she was not terminally ill.”

◗ Teachers soon may be able to tell their students that the man who wrote the music for “The Lion KIng” was gay and that people who are gay are better at what they do than straight people

◗ “Does the federal government really need to know our phone numbers?”

◗ The greenhouse effect is a hoax because “there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is harmful.”

◗ Gay marriage “is probably the biggest issue that will impact our state and our nation in the last, at least, thirty years.”

◗ “I believe that there is a very strong chance that we will see that young people will be put into mandatory service. And the real concern is that there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward….”

◗ The minimum wage causes all American unemployment

◗ “We’re running out of rich people in this country.”

◗ The Obama Administration is “turning our country into a nation of slaves.”

◗ “We now have a total gangster government.”

◗ Musician Melissa Etheridge may have contracted breast cancer because she is a lesbian

◗ The Founding fathers worked “tirelessly” to end slavery

◗ “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us having a revolution every now and then is a good thing.”

◗ “… [I]f gay marriage goes through…, K-12 little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal, natural and perhaps they should try it.”

◗ She spied on a gay rights rally by hiding behind some bushes in 2005

BTW: Bachmann sits on the House Intelligence Committee. So don’t tell me Washington pols don’t have a sense of humor.


Oh, and here’s her most beautiful oral gaffe: When she announced that she was running for prez in 2011, she boasted that she was originally from Waterloo, Iowa, the birthplace of John Wayne. Oops. Waterloo, Iowa is actually the birthplace of noted serial killer (and, interestingly enough, another compulsively secret homosexual) John Wayne Gacy.

Yup, I’m gonna miss her.

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With The Help Of Almighty God

The only appropriate way to celebrate Memorial Day is with glumness and the deep realization that millions of lives have been lost and families shattered because two parties couldn’t figure out a nice way to play with each other.

That is, if “celebrate” is the proper term for remembering people who’ve gotten their brains blown out for the following reasons:

  • Freedom
  • Loyalty
  • Patriotism
  • Hatred
  • Control of natural resources
  • God
  • Big business

Even as a kid, I couldn’t understand why we seemed so joyous on the day we were purportedly honoring those who killed and were killed.

Denver Post Image

Watching The Memorial Day Parade (Denver Post Image)

It always seemed to me that the only sane way to view war and those who participated in it was to say, Man, that was the shittiest thing we’ve ever had to do and I hope we never have to do it again. Rather, of course, than saying Hip hip hooray! We beat the Japs!

Don’t get me wrong. By all accounts, we had to beat the Japs as well as other bad actors. Then again, we’ve killed millions of innocent and harmless souls because our generals lied to our leaders, our leaders lied to us, and we lied to ourselves.



And for that, we throw ourselves a holiday?

I suppose we’ll get ourselves tangled in another big war sooner rather than later. It’s what we do. I can only hope it’s for a good cause, although I wouldn’t be willing to bet this month’s mortgage payment on it. So, when we do take up arms again, let’s march into battle with Mark Twain’s War Prayer on our lips:

O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of their guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.



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Yankee Doodle Anti-Union Boy

Yankee Doodle Dandy was a union buster.

How perfect is that? How deliciously, ironically, tellingly perfect.

George M. Cohan was the composer and lyricist of that patriotic anthem, which still brings tears to the eyes of those who buy into the American myth. James Cagney sang and hoofed to the song in the 1942 eponymous biopic on Cohan. Funny thing is, that’s not even the actual name of the song, which is fitting because it’s all a load of bullshit in any case.

Movie Lobby Card

The song’s name, in case you’re interested, is “The Yankee Doodle Boy.”

Ever since Cohan’s lilt hit it big in his 1904 play Little Johnny Jones, the showbiz maestro has himself been identified as the archetypal YDD.

Cohan embodied all those self-aggrandizing traits we of this holy land like to bathe ourselves in. Hard work, ambition, stick-to-it-iveness, a refusal to take no for an answer, and — very, very most importantly — he was able to make himself wealthy beyond belief.

And you know how the vast majority of folks like to make themselves wealthy, don’t you? (That is, besides being born to a loaded sugar daddy-o or marrying same.) The rich get rich by making sure the money tree shakes out over them and them alone and if anyone else tries to catch some of those fluttering bucks, well, sorry about your kneecaps, kid, but keep your mitts off my green.

Money Tree

Hands Off!

The Broadway money tree made George M. Cohan fabulously wealthy. No argument here that he earned his dough. Only that he was loathe to let pesky sorts like actors earn theirs.

Cohan, it turns out, was a harsh and vociferous opponent of the nascent Actors Equity Association. See, pre-Equity, stage actors were lucky ever to get paid at all, they often had to supply their own costumes and pay their transportation and rooming costs for traveling shows. Acting as a profession was screaming for unionization. Equity came into being in 1913 and six years later felt strong enough to stage its first big strike. Cohan fought it, and them, tooth and nail.

“I’d rather be an elevator operator” than work on stage as a member of the union, Cohan famously said.

Not that Cohan was against forming associations whose members would benefit from an equitable sharing of the wealth. He helped form ASCAP, The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, a group dedicated to ensuring that high school kids performing the likes of Little Johnny Jones would fork over the pennies they made from it to their rightful recipients — the likes of George Michael Cohan.

Yankee Doodle Dandy, indeed.

Natch, even a century later, we celebrate the Fourth of July by watching Cagney-as-Cohan on TCM and singing Cohan’s songs in the park as fireworks light the night sky. We don’t, I needn’t remind you, sing hosannas to Samuel Gompers, John L. Lewis, Walter Reuther, and A. Philip Randolph. And if you don’t know who they are, get cracking and look them up. They’ve done a lot more for you than George M. Cohan ever did.


A. Philip Randolph

You’re a Grand Old Flag, my ass.

[ED: Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the founding of Actors Equity. Go to a play and celebrate why dontcha?]


Your Daily Hot Air

Leaves Of Grass

If there’s one thing you should expect from me (besides smart-assed-ness, irreverence, and a consistent nudge toward insurrection — okay, four things) it’s the truth. At least as I see it. And as long as I don’t feel the need to lie to you. So, basically, you can expect the truth a good 63 percent of the time. I doubt if you could do better.,

Anyway, here’s a truth: It’s too beautiful out and I’m too smitten with spring fever to throw a full post at you, so there.


Springtime… (Oops, Wrong Image)


Springtime (Better)

So go out rather than stay cooped up reading my hot air.

Wait, Before You Go….

Lots of Pencillistas have been asking me how they can read “Black Comedy” from the beginning — that is, without scrolling and searching like a madman/woman for Episode 1 buried somewhere back in the mists of Pencil prehistory.

It’s easy, folks. First (as any obsessive/compulsive interwebs junkie would know) all you have to do today is click on the link in the first graf of this entry:

Spelling It Out


Simple, nay?

Alright, let’s say you’re stuck in a hotel room at midnight in some hellish place (Pyongyang? Indianapolis?) with nothing to do and you want to start reading “Black Comedy” ab ovo (just go to your Cassell’s New Latin Dictionary — what, you want me to do everything for you?).

All you’ve got to do is click on the Black Comedy tab in the page menu bar near the top of this site.

The Pencil

See? II

They’ll both bring you here:


See? III

Savvy now? You get a complete episode list. Simply select the episode you need to go to, click on the read it now link, and QED (ibid.), you’re home free, digging my literary brilliance and ignoring the booms of primitive nuclear weapons being tested (Pyongyang) or the deafening roar of nothing happening (Indy).

Are we all clear on this now? Good. Let’s go out and frolic in the May-ness.

Your Daily Hot Air

Book ‘Em

So, should Monroe County schoolkids continue to use all those icky, old fashioned, fuddy-duddy books fer learnin’ anymore?

School Books

Old Hat

Or should they leap ahead light years into the future [yeah, yeah, I know, light years aren’t time spans, just roll with me here] and feed their brains through the use of Kindles and iPads and other tomorrow-y devices?

That’s what the bosses at the Monroe County Community Schools Corporation are pondering this summer. And as they ponder, school librarians throughout the county are chewing their fingernails, unsure that their jobs will even be there for them next fall or sometime in the too-near future.

See, school library budgets have been suspended as the sachems mull the issue. In an era of promiscuous budget cuts and a general unwillingness to spend dough on silly things like culture, arts, and education, school librarians have to be wondering if the spigot has been turned off permanently.

The MCCSC leadership just may pop for electronic readers for area students, the idea being, hey, all we have to do is lay out some cash for an e-book copy and then let every student in the system have it.


The New Librarian

Oops! Not so fast, administration-beings. Do you think the savvy titans of the e-publishing industry would let organizations like schools get away with paying for one item and and duping it countless times? Uh uh.

Listen, the only e-publishing dope around here is me (read my serial e-novel, “Black Comedy,” right here, for free, every Monday and Thursday — and now, back to our show). By all rights I would be living in a luxury fortress on top of a hill had I the business smarts to monetize my literary brilliance. Needless to say, big outfits that service community school corporations know how to squeeze every penny out of them.

Now, what if the MCCSC deep thinkers decide, aw hell, everybody’s got a smart phone, a laptop, an electronic notebook, et and cetera, so let’s just spring for several thou copies of the needed e-books and be done with it all.

Again, not so fast. Not everybody has a device. Those who don’t most likely can’t afford one, so once again, the poor get screwed.

Meanwhile, school librarians still worry about their continued employment.

And Now For Today’s Lesson

Jay Ward Productions

Here are a few things we know if we judge our holy land by what goes on in our 21st Century schools:

  • Kids should shut up and behave
  • Discussions of solutions to real world problems like teen pregnancy do not belong in the classroom
  • Skills like learning to balance a checkbook, reading a contract, making an informed decision about a candidate for office, or even setting up a household budget have little or no value
  • Books aren’t terribly important
  • If a boy can score a touchdown or dunk a basketball, he is a superior human being
  • If a girl isn’t “sexy” in some weird Miley Cyrus/Barbie Doll way, she doesn’t exist
  • If she somehow acts in accordance with that “sexiness,” she is a slut
  • No matter how young you are, don’t do anything that can be construed by the most puritanical potential future employer as inappropriate
  • A person only has worth if he or she is buying lots of stuff

Jay Ward Productions

Be ready for a standardized test tomorrow.

The Book I Read

From the landmark first album by the Talking Heads.

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