Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday evening tunes: RIP Rod McKuen

It's arguably a bit thick for NPR's Scott Simon to call Rod McKuen's lyric works the cheeseburger to poetry's haute cuisine, although perhaps his point is fair: he (McKuen) was widely mocked, and also extremely popular (again, McKuen).

McKuen died last week at 81. He left behind a resume with over 30 books, close to 70 vocal and spoken-word albums, and over a dozen soundtracks on it. That's a lot of cheeseburgers. Somebody was buying.

Here's the title track from one of his soundtracks:

I'll even confess I wasn't a huge McKuen fan myself, although the sheer output has to be respected. Mostly I like him because of the fact that most people haven't a clue who his most vocal critics even were.  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Good news, everyone! I feel a very tiny disturbance in the Force

I never understood the cult of Andrew Sullivan. Not then, not now. Smart guy, somewhat interesting, but set loose a ferret in any decent college-town wine bar and you can probably flush out a half-dozen Andrews, most of them at least as capable of running a journalistic institution into the ground as he was. I guess it's a Beltway thing.

Whatever, he's packed up his blog and moved on, and I imagine the cult now stands staring at those points of light in the nighttime sky, wondering which one is him.

Well, the people who wish him good riddance are better reading, anyway.

My own distaste for him was locked in place five days after the attacks of September 11:
The middle part of the country—the great red zone that voted for Bush—is clearly ready for war. The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead—and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column.
Just five days after the attack. I watched some of the reasonably talented minds of my generation freak out and never come back. (Dennis Miller, please pick up the white courtesy phone.) And, a few years later, an apology unworthy of the name dishwater.

Point to an issue outside the Beltway where Sullivan left his mark, without using the words "fifth column," "Stephen Glass," "Ruth Shalit," "Bell Curve," "October Surprise," or "death panel." Go on. Try.

UPDATE: Robert Farley at LGM brings up a good point: more oxygen out there for all other blogs. Although p3 takes a less Highlander-esqe view of the process.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday morning toons: Playing catch-up

I had made a semi-serious resolution to hit the ground running on p3 posting in 2015, but when Spawn of Otis, the router, went more or less belly-up last week, I ended up just hitting the ground. So we begin again.

What's happened in the last couple of weeks?

John Boehner has decided that insulting the White House doesn't stop at the shore line.

Congressional Republicans got upset that Obama suckered them into setting up a possibly ad-libbed punchline during the SOTU.

And the Republicans, under that name or not, fielded about a half-dozen responses to the SOTU.

Republicans made their annual discovery that Martin Luther King would have agreed with them today about nearly everything if only he hadn't been assassinated for championing civil rights and opposing the Viet Nam war way back when. (And, once again, why did we create a memorial to the man that shows him encased in carbonite?)

Jeb and Mitt are eyeing the same seat at the table. And a professional grifter, failed cable host, failed governor, and failed VP candidate says, sure – she's willing to consider running for president in 2016.

Which might be a good thing, since the GOP is otherwise doing its level best to drive women away in 2015 four-door leather-upholstered Droves.

The Academy Awards reached back to the good old days when Hattie McDaniel had walk back to her seat at the Negros-only table after she accepted her award. But on the upside, Larry Wilmore's show premiered last week.

Louisiana governor Bobby "Bobby" Jindal saw no point in apologizing for or retracting his idiotic claim that Birmingham, England, is a Muslim no-go zone. Even though it's, you know, not. Jindal's defense was that it would be really bad if it were, so we should all hide under our beds just to be on the safe side.

And remember when rats had to take the rap for the the spread of the plague? Well, now Mickey Mouse is a disease vector thanks to anti-vaxxer idiots.

Oh yeah. And footballs. Something about footballs. Speaking of which, any artist who drew some connection between the Patriots' underinflated footballs and anything to do with Obama – who, I remind you, this blog is not a huge fan of – probably got passed over this week. For the definitive, albeit non-illustrated treatment of that theme, see Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Also, see Comic Strip of the Day for his explication of the distinction that ruled out a lot of SOTU toons today – especially from Obama-dislikers – from the get-go. Eric Allie makes the point, too.

Today's toons were selected from among the week's offerings at McClatchy DC, Cartoon Movement, Go Comics, Politico's Cartoon Gallery, Daryl Cagle's Political Cartoons,, and other fine sources of toony goodness.

p3 Best of Show: Chan Lowe.

p3 Legion of Merit: Jack Ohman.

p3 "Done Before and Probably Would Have Gotten Part of a p3 Certificate of Harmonic Toon Convergence Last Week, But We Always Like His Drafting" Award: Pat Oliphant.

p3 World Toon Review: Ingrid Rice (Canada), Miguel Villalba Sanchez (Spain), and Joen Yunus (Indonesia).

Ann Telnaes uses the week to ask: Is this really where you the government to . . . uhm . . . intrude?

Mark Fiore looks askance at the sort of thing he knows he should encourage out of cartoonists' self-interest.

Tom Tomorrow gets what may be the synoptic last word around here on the Charlie Hebdo murders.

Keith Knight explains why there's no hyphen in "post racial."

Tom the Dancing Bug saves it until the final panel.

Red Meat's Ted Johnson teaches us all a lesson about self-reliance around the house. Yeesh.

The Comic Strip Curmudgeon looks at his favorite gag: hate!

Comic Strip of the Day apparently had the same moment of awareness about the possibilities of life, somewhere in the late 1950s, that I did.

And that's how the game is played! We always stand by Roger Rabbit's verdict: Goofy was a GEE-nius! On the cusp of the Patriots scandal last week and the Super Bowl next week, p3 proudly presents "How to Play Football," directed by Jack Kinney and animated by Art Babbit (both uncredited), in 1944. Goofy is voiced by Oregon's own Pinto Colvig (and the narrator is probably John McLeish -- both also uncredited).

The Big, And Getting Bigger Since We Welcomed Back The Departed, Oregon Toon Block:

Ex-Oregonian Jack Ohman looks at the road ahead.

Very Likely Ex-Oregonian Jen Sorensen looks at what happens to people who hold complex opinions.

Matt Bors looks at the thing you get instead of seventy-two virgins.

Jesse Springer looks at the good news and bad news for Oregon workers.

Test your toon captioning superpowers at The New Yorker's weekly caption-the-cartoon contest. (Rules here.) And you can browse The New Yorker's cartoon gallery here.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday evening tunes: And when I touch you I feel happy inside

On this day in 1964, the Beatles hit their first US number one with this little ditty:

It's a good reminder that 1960s television could be just as ineffable in Great Britain as it was here.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Backdated Saturday morning tunes: Happy birthday

More wifi problems last week than I really want to think about. Anyway:

Celebrating MLK Day on Monday, plus the release last week of "Selma," which I haven't seen yet.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Reading: Quid pro quo? Really?

I've finished Rick Perlstein's The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, and if I thought the Nixonian beginning depressed and angered me (and it did), it got worse once the rise of Reagan was spelled out. 

(Ford, the actual sitting president between the two, comes off as a hapless fellow who would tack whatever direction the prevailing wind required, with little success. Perlstein uses the trope "damned if he does, damned if he doesn't" more than once to describe Ford's luckless efforts to navigate between the Charybdis of Watergate, Nixon's pardon, a continuing Soviet menace, and a tanking economy, on one side, and the Scilla of Reagan's telegenic refusal to admit that there was one single problem in America that optimism – plus a major rightward slant on the economy and foreign policy – couldn't fix, on the other.)

Perlstein's take on Reagan, and his attractiveness, is simple – like Reagan himself: He learned early in his not-terribly-happy childhood to recast his troubles as optimistic, heroic, counterfactual adventures – with himself as the hero, always mindful of how he looked to the crowd. Most of us recall his misrememberings of the iffy rescue stories from his years a lifeguard, or his stories while president of his Army career or the details of who died where in the WWII European Theater. But Perlstein documents a good number more of them, and they form a disturbing pattern.

Here's just one, from his days as the president of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1950s.

One month later he [Reagan, then president of the SAG] would deliver something else: A legal document, signed by him in his capacity as union president, granting MCA exclusive right to ignore a crucial Screen Actors Guild rule: a ban on agencies producing TV shows. It was a conflict of interest, because agents had the obligation to get their clients paid as much as possible, and producers had an interest in having them paid the least. But Lew Wasserman saw television as his next gold mine, and he wanted in.

There were 1,126 times more televisions in American homes than had been in 1942. Studio bosses feared the infernal machines like the plague (for a time Jack Warner banned them as set dressing in Warner Bros. Films). Hollywood actors came to fear them, too. "Thousands of hours of entertainment must be available to the television public," the Saturday Evening Post reported early in 1952, "and any guess as to where it will come from is as good as another." TV production was almost exclusively done in New York, live, instead of Los Angeles, where shows were shot on film. If TV shows were filmed, producers worried that actors would demand payment every time a show was rerun – what was known as a "reuse" payment; producers adamantly refused to even entertain the idea of reuse payments. In Los Angeles, these were perilous times: If actors held the line and continued to demand them, and movies continued to lose market share to TV, Hollywood as an institution might shrivel at an alarming rate.

Within this matrix, Wasserman spied a bonanza business opportunity.

He set up a TV production subsidiary in Los Angeles called Review – this was, on its face, against SAG rules. Wasserman, however, convinced his favorite client to sell the SAG on the idea of granting MCA a "blanket waiver" of that rule. Wasserman and his lawyer Laurence Beilenson sold the idea to Jack Dales by arguing that the acting game in Los Angeles would die without it – that TV production would stay in New York. But the argument didn't really make sense. For if letting one agency have a blanket waiver, as a monopoly, might open the floodgates to Hollywood TV production, wouldn't help Los Angeles all the more to let all agencies enjoy the same right?

It made more sense when you considered the sweetener MCA added to the deal: a secret quid pro quo. Revue would give SAG what the studios adamantly refused to grant: reuse fees.How secret was that part of the deal? It may have even been kept from Reagan, who seemed quite in earnest when, asked at a 1962 hearing on MCA's alleged monopoly power, said there was no quid pro quo. At that, a letter from Beilenson to Wasserman recollecting the secret terms – that Revue was willing to sign a contract giving the guild members reuse fees when no one else was willing to do so – was read out. Reagan was asked the question again. He replied, guilelessly, "It's quite conceivable then if he says it in this letter." By that time, Review was so gigantic that MCA had a direct hand in 45 percent of all network shows.

Maybe Reagan didn't know the deal was dirty. Maybe he just convinced himself of his friend and benefactor's incorruptible character. As usual, in those he believed innocent, innocence was all his eyes saw. It was his gift.

As a side bar, and something of a giggle, here's Reagan putting his thang down, street cred-wise, at the 1980 debate against Jimmy Carter and John Anderson:
But, if we're talking about how much we think about the working people and so forth, I'm the only fellow who ever ran for this job who was six times President of his own union and still has a lifetime membership in that union.
Reagan, who went from a Roosevelt Democrat to a studio stooge within a decade, sold out his SAG union while he still carried their card in his wallet, and once he was elected president he fed the union movement – famously starting with the air traffic controllers, after which his supporters showed their irony-free gratitude by naming an airport after him – into the shredder. And the unions believed him. They believed him. Go fig.

In any case, here's the lovable, avuncular, doddering old Dutch in 1987, near the end of his second term in the Oval Office, as the Iran Contra scandal was blowing up somewhere near his face. You'll see the pattern:

"A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not."

His heart and his best intentions. Yeah. It's all of a piece. Remember that the next time you read someone celebrating the Age of Reagan, with that whole City-on-a-Hill Morning-in-America fantasy. What Reagan himself – and his loyalists a generation later – always liked most about him was his ability to have no clue about the shifty business happening right under his nose, let alone what he'd been party to in the past. He was the plucky hero, no matter what.

No wonder most people outside his inner circle couldn't tell simply by watching when Reagan's Alzheimer's finally set in.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday evening toons: But then, has there been a good week for cartoonists lately?

(Updated below.)

I remember reading once that Buddhism is the only major religion that embraces humor – often of the slapstick variety – as a method of instruction in its principles. As one such story goes, a master was seated under a tree when a pupil, whom he had not seen in several years, approached and addressed him. "Master," said the pupil, "since the last time I was in your presence, I have traveled far and wide. I have met and talked with people of all walks and stations of life – kings and princes, farmers and merchants, old and young, paupers and thieves. And not once did I strike any of them with my staff."

To which the master replied, "That proves your staff is too short."

(Rim shot!)

I really don't know if it's the only religion with a sense of humor. Louis Untermeyer edited an anthology on humor which teed up a few stories from the Old Testiment which he evidently thought were knee-slappers, but they left me with kind of a dry taste in my mouth. Most people I know have at least a handful of "a rabbi, a priest, and a minister are walking down the street" jokes, although I confess I'm not aware of any in which the Protestant gets the punchline. (If you know of any, please share.) Are some religions better at making – and taking – a joke?

I am saddened and angered at the murder of the artists and staff at Charlie Hebdo, by assassins who – let's put this plainly – cannot take a joke. They obviously don't represent most Muslims, or Islam. And only someone spoiling for another war in the Middle East fought by someone else's family members thinks otherwise. But, to repeat, no sense of humor.

As for the question of who represents whom, a lot of people this week proclaimed they were Charlie. In fact, pointless NYTimes columnist David Brooks says we are all Charlie Hebdo, except for those of us who are not.

If pressed, I'd prefer to go with #JeSuisAhmed, the cop who died defending the French satirists although, despite my preference for free speech over the right to shoot people who offend your religion, I know I'm still too much a bystander to play the "I am Spartacus" card.

But, as more than one artists points out this week, the American answer to turbulent (or any other sort of) political/editorial cartoonist is too often simply to give them their severance package (if they have one coming) and let them hope for the best in syndication. (See the p3 Iron Cross awards, below.) In point of fact, that's why Tom Tomorrow, Keith Knight, Tom the Dancing Bug, Mark Fiore, and Berke Breathed became regulars here at p3, although they didn't really need the insignificant boost: They were regulars at before they got handed the mitten around 2010 in favor of the new editorial policy more tilted toward click bait.

Most of the cartoonists I follow played off the pen/sword trope (generally without giving credit to Bulwer Lytton). There were so many working the same small cluster of themes that the p3 Certificate for Harmonic Toon Convergence has been suspended this week. So most of them didn't make the cut, unless they did something surprising or unusual with the theme (for example, Pat Bagley). For an unfiltered roll call of Charlie Hebdo-themed cartoons, start with Cagle Toons. There are more, and the links are below.

And as the more locally-minded may have noticed, the Republican majorities used their first day in power to go after choice, dignity in retirement, and any attempt to stop Wall Street thimble-rigging. We'll get to that, too.

And we'll even note the awkward fact that a broken-window strike by the NYPD may be the best thing that's happened to the city in years, except for the shake-down revenue the city is currently doing without.

Today's toons were carefully selected from the week's offerings at McClatchy DC, Cartoon Movement, Go Comics, Politico's Cartoon Gallery, Daryl Cagle's Political Cartoons,, The Nib, and other fine sources of cartoon goodness.

p3 Best of Show: Jeff Danziger.

p3 Legion of Merit: Jen Sorenson.

p3 Iron Cross: Clay Jones and Chris Britt.

p3 Medal for Taking Something Terribly Important But Wonky and Putting It Into a Metaphor That Most People Will Get: Tom Toles.

p3 World Toon Review: I'm going to draft behind CNN International and on this one. (This might also be a good time to scroll down to the Comic Strip of the Day link, below. You can always scroll back up here when you're done.) Update:  Also too, here's Yastreblyansky's review, and his French is much better than mine. I bet he's never ever been served a deep-fried telephone directory in a French restaurant.)

Ann Telnaes relishes the thought of retaliation.

Mark Fiore meditates on free speech as the answer to terrorism.

Tom Tomorrow warns: Don't make Officer Baby mad!

Keith Knight muses upon the various senses of whip.

Tom the Dancing Bug asks a fair question: What if America had had cable news in 1860? The answer isn't good.

Red Meat's Ted Johnson contemplates the complex interplay of light and shadow.

The Comic Strip Curmudgeon feels like something of a scold.

Comic Strip of the Day explains the stylistic and rhetorical differences between European and American political cartoons, and finishes up with a wonderful defense of the indefensible. Heh.

Fifty-fifty! Heh! Bluto grabs the treasure map and gets a head start on Popeye. That's probably most of what you need to know about "Dizzy Divers," directed in 1935 by Dave Fleischer (and, uncredited, Willard Bowsky). Uncredited voice work by Billy Costello (Popeye), Gus Wickie (Bluto) and Bonnie Poe (The Slender One). Watch for the diving helmet custom-fitted for Popeye's chin. In spectacular 2-D and gorgeous monochrome.

The Big, And Getting Bigger Since We Threw Out The Rulebook and Welcomed Back The Departed, Oregon Toon Block:

Ex-Oregonian Jack Ohman looks at the last word.

Likely Ex-Oregonian Jen Sorensen goes all one-hand/other-hand.

Matt Bors looks at the NYPD teaching us a lesson.

Test your toon captioning powers at The New Yorker's weekly caption-the-cartoon contest. (Rules here.) And you can browse The New Yorker's cartoon gallery here.