Tuesday, August 19, 2014

They're here!

Rod Serling pitched the idea of "The Twilight Zone" (I'm not going to call it "the original") in part because of his suspicion that science-fiction and fantasy offered a way to explore social and moral themes that even Golden Age television couldn't or wouldn't handle right. History has judged him kindly on that decision.

On the other hand, here's something I discovered by accident while doing some digging on Sinclair Lewis' 1935 satire/jeremiad It Can't Happen Here, in which Lewis imagines how fascism might take hold in America.
Inspired by the book, director–producer Kenneth Johnson wrote an adaptation titled Storm Warnings in 1982. The script was presented to NBC for production as a television miniseries, but NBC executives rejected the initial version, claiming it was too cerebral for the average American viewer. To make the script more marketable, the American fascists were re-cast as man-eating extraterrestrials, taking the story into the realm of science fiction. The revised story became the miniseries V, which premiered May 3, 1983.
So. Nothing "too cerebral."

Mission accomplished, NBC.

Funny, though – I don't remember the right-wing commentariat ever pitching a hissy that "American fascists were re-cast as man-eating extraterrestrials" constituted further proof, as if any could possibly be necessary, that the American entertainment industry has always in thrall to its liberal hippie overlords.

Perhaps it was too, you know, cerebral.

(Also, I find it interesting to read that the American fascist parts were "re-cast" as man-eating extraterrestrials, rather than rewritten as man-eating ETs. It suggests the almost-Calvin-and-Hobbesian picture of a big folder down in Central Casting labeled Flesh-Eating Other Worlders – perhaps it's filed between Child Stars and Ingénues – all of whom are SAG members with résumés with head shots.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

The unforgiving minute: Everybody gets pinched, but you did it right.

Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog is teasing out an interesting theory about the effects of his indictment on Texas Governor Rick Perry's presidential plans:
Incessantly trolling liberals was working for him. Tacking hard to the right on immigration was working for him. Being a martyr to evil liberalism might work for him, too.
Will indictment help Perry's chances in 2016 – at least in the GOP primaries?

I've recently begun to think that the Republican party, in its current form, has moved beyond win-at-any-cost; now even winning seems to lose some of its fizz for them unless they win dirty. Going there is no longer a tactical last resort; it's become both proof of one's willingness to play "hardball" against the enemy, and evidence that one buys into the post-Reagan ideology that government-created laws are part of the problem (or the post-Nixon article of faith that, if the President does it, it isn't illegal).

Both working historian Rick Perlstein and working journalist Charlie Pierce agree that there's a strain of Republicanism that judges its candidates by how underhanded – if not flat-out felonious – they're willing to get. Once that happens, something like Perry getting indicted for putting the screws to a Democratic-led ethics investigation of his own administration's shady doings becomes less of a political embarrassment to be covered over and more of a sacred rite of passage to be celebrated:

Perhaps we should change his nickname from "Governor Goodhair" to "Governor Goodfella." I like to think Molly Ivins would approve.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday morning toons: Suicide and death-by-cop. That's pretty much it.

(Couple of updates below. See: Certificate of Harmonic Toon Convergence, Part 1 and Part 2)

A lot of things happened this week other than the death of Robin Williams and the death-by-cop of Michael Brown in Ferguson MO and the subsequent police overreacton to community displeasure with same – including the Obama/Clinton hug and the ebola break-out – but there's not much trace of any of the latter in the tooniverse. So that's where most of today's review ends up.

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

p3 Best of Show: Jeff Danziger.

p3 Certificate of Harmonic Toon Convergence (Part 1): Rick McKee, Bill Day, Dave Granlund, J. D. Crowe, Steve Kelley, Milt Priggee, Lalo Alcaraz, Jeff Koterba, Steve Nease, Joel Pett, and Nick Anderson – and probably others. (For his theory on why it was almost inevitable that there would so many certificate recipients this week, consult Comic Strip of the Day. And double props to CSotD for the deeply pitched allusion what I'm pretty certain, but upon reflection not 100% certain, is the deeply pitched allusion in his title. Hint: The alternate title might well be "Robin Catches a Cold.")

p3 Award for Best Adaptation from Another Medium, plus Certificate of Harmonic Toon Convergence (Part 2): John Darkow, Dave Granlund, Taylor Jones, and Mike Luckovich. (Update #2: This meme is not just an instance of harmonic toon convergence; it's apparently a full-blown thing.)

p3 World Toon Review: Paul Zanetti (Australia), Ramses Morales Izquierdo (Cuba), Petar Pismestrovic, Part 1 (Austria), and Petar Pismestrovic, Part 2 (Austria).

Ann Telnaes feels the warmth.

Mark Fiore reminds us that, even if you find (like we at p3 do) that Obama has lived nowhere near up to his original hype, America still dodged a pretty big bullet in 2008. Had McCain been allowed to pick the awful-but-still-a-Village-favorite Joe Lieberman as his running mate instead of the ticket-killing Sarah Palin, much of the Middle East (except Israel) might today be a smooth sheet of radioactive glass.

Tom Tomorrow shares some "folk" wisdom.

Keith Knight previews the next Broadway hit you (and your kids!) will be humming the theme from.

Tom the Dancing Bug presents Pinocchio: The True Story!

Red Meat's Ted Johnson comforts his son.

The Comic Strip Curmudgeon bids adieu (one hopes) to one of the least-valuable Shark Week tie-ins going out there.

Comic Strip of the Day talks some shit, and reminds me why I miss the days when good TV shows also had good theme songs – some, but not all, even with lyrics.

I've been double-crosked! Yeah, Popeye gets double-crossed by Bluto in "Shaving Muggs," directed in 1953 by Seymour Kneitel, but the story, credited to Larz Bourne, is pretty much a scene-by-scene recycling of "A Clean Shaven Man," directed in 1936 by Dave Fleischer (with an uncredited assist by – guess who? – Seymour Kneitel and no writer's credit), except that the earlier version had a great title song and gave the final gag to Thimble Theater regular George W. Geezil the cobbler/pawnbroker rather than to some unnamed admiral. (p3 featured "Clean Shaven Man" in 2009, if you're inclined to compare.) The uncredited voice work on "Shaving Muggs" was done by Frank Mercer (Popeye), Jackson Beck (Bluto), and Mae Questel (the Slender One).

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

Ex-Oregonian Jack Ohman imagines a historical mash-up. And he could have three or four more Amendments in there, too, but we're not going to fuss.

Theoretically Ex-Oregonian Jen Sorensen could have scored just with panel #2 today, but she's so generous she gave us three more!

Matt Bors left me relieved: I wasn't the only one put off by the word "folks."

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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday afternoon tunes: A big day -- feel the power?

Lots of musical milestones land on this date: In 1896, gold was discovered in the Yukon Territory, which gave Johnny Horton another hit record 64 years later. In 1955, Elvis released his first #1 hit, and Paul Robeson lost his legal appeal against the US State Department's refusal to issue him a passport because he refused to recant some of his pro-Soviet statements. In 1958, Madonna was born. In 1969, it was the last day second day (oops!) of Woodstock.  In 1974, the Ramones played their first gig at CBGB's. And on this date in 1977, Elvis was found dead.

Ah, but on this date in 1984, a jury in LA cleared auto executive John DeLorean of drug-dealing charges, which cleared the way for this:

Which, in turn, paved the way for this:

(Quick! Who had the oscillating overthurster, and who had the flux capacitor?)

Also, on this day in 2012, three members of Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in jail for making anti-Putin statements at a performance during his election campaign.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A quantum of umbrage: A day late and a dollar short

But the Public Editor of the NYTimes admitted this morning that Ann Coulter's publicist, right-wing author Craig Shirley, played them like a violin.

Margaret Sullivan's post had this headline:
Was an Accusation of Plagiarism Really a Political Attack?
A fair-minded but less-thorough public editor might simply have typed "Yes," and headed off for the gym.

(And that editor might also have noticed that, by being phrased as a question, the headline subtly reproduces the very "cover-the-controversy" ethos that her post itself decries.)

But anyway, after laying out the facts of the case, Sullivan concluded:
There’s a problem here. An article about polarized reaction to a high-profile book is, of course, fair game. But the attention given to the plagiarism accusation is not.

Yes, the claim was “out there” but so are smears of all kinds as well as claims that the earth is flat and that climate change is unfounded. This one comes from the author of a book on the same subject with an opposing political orientation. By taking it seriously, The Times conferred a legitimacy on the accusation it would not otherwise have had.

And while it is true that Mr. Perlstein and his publisher were given plenty of opportunity to respond, that doesn’t help much. It’s as if The Times is saying: “Here’s an accusation; here’s a denial; and, heck, we don’t really know. We’re staying out of it.” Readers frequently complain to me about this he said, she said false equivalency — and for good reason.

So I’m with the critics. The Times article amplified a damaging accusation of plagiarism without establishing its validity and doing so in a way that is transparent to the reader.
Digby identifies the defense served up by the reporter of the original Times article and her editors as an invocation of Cokie's Law, by which, if a tabloid or partisan internet source makes a scurrilous claim, the "respectable" media are then allowed to repeat it in the guise of "reporting on the controversy." The fact that Sullivan seizes upon the phrase "out there" strongly suggests that she's well aware of Cokie's Law, although she's too polite to invoke the name of one of the highest-ranking Villagers in such a context.

In a few years, historian Rick Perlstein will publish the fourth and final book in his history of modern American conservatism ("The Invisible Bridge" is the third.) By then it will probably take a Google search to remember the name of the Times reporter who mainstreamed Shirley's swift boat-style attack on Perlstein. But we can confidently predict the second paragraph of any published report or review of that book.

It will feature the phrases "marred by controversy" and "allegations of plagiarism." The final sentence of the paragraph will discharge the writer's ethical responsibility by mentioning that the "controversy" was a right-wing character assassination job, and the "allegations" were baseless, but it won't matter. Yes, Perlstein will be respected, and his books will sell and be read. But the "p-word" will, however unjustly, be tied to his ass like a tin can.

Because, you know, it's "out there" now.

Thanks, Times.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunday morning toons: No statute of limitations

Hence the death last week of former Reagan press secretary James Brady, from injuries suffered 33 years ago when John Hinkley Jr. opened fire on President Reagan and his entourage, was ruled a homicide. Whether the US Attorney's office will charge the already-institutionalized Hinkley with the crime is anyone's guess.

Brady went on to become one of the nation's leading lobbyists for restrictions on availability of handguns and assault weapons. And good for him – don't get me wrong. He deserved that Presidential Medal of Freedom. But it just reminds me of something that's always stuck in my craw: Why does it seem that Republicans' opposition to regulation, and their conviction that government is the problem, only gets a reconsideration – and then, in the narrowest sense possible – when disaster strikes them or their family directly? Gordon Smith, I'm looking at you.

Still, mustn't dwell too much on that (or on the 40th anniversary of Nixon's resignation); that would be, as President Obama says, looking backward, not forward. (See Ted Rall's piece, below.)

And come to that, I'm not sure I'm really in the mood this sunny afternoon to dwell on Russia, Ukraine, Ebola, the US southern border, or the Russian hackers who probably now know almost about me as Google and Facebook. Still, let's see what is going on out there today.

Today's toons were selected with careful consideration, once the late-breakfast dishes were cleared away, from the week's offerings at McClatchy DC, Cartoon Movement, Go Comics, Politico's Cartoon Gallery, Daryl Cagle's Political Cartoons, About.com, and other fine sources of cartoon goodness.

p3 Best of Show: Ted Rall.

p3 Legion of Merit: Adam Zyglis.

p3 Award for Best Adaptation from Another Medium (tie): Taylor Jones and John Darkow.

p3 World Toon Review: Patrick Chappatte (Switzerland) and Rachel Gold (Austria).

Ann Telnaes considers those two words that always seem to mean trouble.

Mark Fiore sent his Congress to camp, and all he got was this lousy t-shirt. Not even a braided lanyard.

Keith Knight has a mostly-harmless case of mistaken identity.

Tom the Dancing Bug has the next infomercial on your late-night cable schedule. (And a p3 Certificate of Harmonic Toon Convergence to TtDB and Brian McFadden.)

Red Meat's Ted Johnson has got it all taken care of.

The Comic Strip Curmudgeon looks over a Six Chicks gag panel without ever noticing its indebtedness to this classic Douglas Adams bit. (Note Peter Davison – aka the Fifth Doctor – showing his Hoffmanesque ability to disappear into his role as Dish of the Day.)

Comic Strip of the Day looks at comic strips after Lynn Johnston, plus Dick Tracy going to the 1940s and Mandrake the Magician going to war (since he was already in the 1940s anyway).

Weekly animation: And, inspired by Comic Strip of the Day's ruminations on Dick Tracy, here's "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery," directed in 1946 by Bob Clampett and (uncredited) Michael Sassanoff, from a story by Warren Foster, with musical direction by Carl Stalling. Stalling is on a roll in this one: he lifts from Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse," "The Arkansas Traveler," and Suppe's "Poet and Peasant Overture" even before Daffy has a chance to read his mail. Also uncredited, Portland's own Mel Blanc as Duck Twacy, Wolf Man, Rubber Head, Neon Noodle, 88 Keys – and the pig. You'll see.

Since the web content interface for Blogger (owned by Google) makes it difficult to embed videos from anyplace other than YouTube (by a remarkable coincidence, also owned by Google), please click here to watch "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery" at VideoMotion.

The Big, And Getting Bigger Since We Began Cheating by Welcoming Back The Departed, Oregon Toon Block:

Ex-Oregonian Jack Ohman starts somewhere around the New York Minute, and works his way from there down to the infinetesimal.

Allegedly Ex-Oregonian Jen Sorensen asks: Do you know your First Amendment rights?

Matt Bors salutes a legacy of the post-9/11 panic. And this problem was already out of control eight years ago.

Jesse Springer looks at what you can get for $3.2 million – already on its way to a cable or dish channel near you!


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

Saturday Sunday morning afternoon tunes: Well, yeah, Watergate did bother us, and forty-years later, my conscience is doing just fine

Yesterday went seriously awry, so we're just now getting around to the weekend tune.

Forty years ago yesterday, one lie fed seamlessly into another: Richard Nixon, who told he was not a crook (but he was) resigned from office to escape impeachment and was replaced by Gerald Ford, who told us our long national nightmare was over (but it wasn't).

You can take your pick of I-Hate-Nixon songs from back in the day. Me, I think we don't get enough Zappa around here.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Good news everyone! Perlstein's at his tipping point

I've been following the release of The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, the third book in historian Rick Perlstein's four-book history of the modern conservative movement. (I was working my way through the first two some four years ago.)

Perhaps because the right-wing smear-merchants have honed their skill set since 2010, or perhaps because they could look the other way when the truth about Goldwater and Nixon got laid out in almost quotidian detail but they're not going to sit idly by and watch anyone reduce Saint Ronnie to human scale again, the rightwing defenders of the faith are after Perlstein with everything they've got, at a level of acrimony that the first two books never excited.

It's reminiscent of the toxic gifts of Karl Rove when he was at his peak, because they're attacking Perlstein from the side of his greatest strength: They're questioning the fundamentals of his scholarship by accusing him, wildly improbably, of plagiarism. (A handy guideline established during the Clinton era: If Republicans accuse their enemies of doing something, it's a safe bet they've already been doing it themselves. We continue.)

The claim is preposterous. But then so was the swift-boating of John Kerry in 2004, and look how well that succeeded. Still, for a variety of reasons – The attackers' claims are more specific and more easily refuted with the documentation at hand? This sort of organized smear-campaign just looks and sounds (and smells) too familiar even to most of the mainstream media who will greatly the commercial and critical fate of The Invisible Bridge? – the attempts to drag the book and its author down are getting a fair amount of play, but they're not being taken very seriously, despite the aid and comfort lent by a disgraceful on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand review from The New York Times (you can easily find the link yourself).

Readers can disagree in good faith about the wisdom and utility of removing citations from the physical book itself and putting them online (Me? I'm evidently in the minority: I don't want to have to read it with my wifi tablet at my elbow, but I will.), but one thing is clear: The source notes are there, online, searchable, and click-throughable. Hence Perlstein, who seems to have been caught by surprise by this hatchet job (again, thanks so much, NYTimes.) can avail himself of the classic defense in such a case: The truth. (Plus the fundamentals of copyright law.)

You can read Slate's David Weigel's account of the general story here and the exchange of hostile and threatening letters (from Perlstein's chief attacker, currently Ann Coulter's publicist) and bemused but firm replies (from Perlstein's attornies) here.

I just want to point out one bit of data and note a historical parallel.

First, the conservative attackers can whine all they want, but Mammon is going to smile on Perlstein.

Second, there is some precedent, going back to 2003, for the situation Perlstein finds himself in, and it invites optimism:
Al Franken got the glad tidings while vacationing in Italy. He had fallen asleep reading "The Tipping Point" and mulling marketing ideas for his forthcoming "Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," when a friend staying in the villa walked into his bedroom and woke him up. "Al!" he said. "You're being sued by Fox!" After a second-and-a-half of considering this, Franken responded: "Good!" Then he fell back asleep.

If Fox's intention was to break a large, undercooked ostrich egg on its corporate face while pouring streams of golden ducats into Franken's pockets, it carried out its plan to perfection. As everyone who pays attention to such matters knows by now, a judge laughed its copyright-infringement lawsuit (Fox claimed it trademarked the phrase "fair and balanced") out of court -- even adding insult to injury by warning the right-wing media behemoth that its ownership of the phrase it claimed to have spent $61 million developing was extremely dubious. And sales of Franken's book soared sky-high on the publicity, hitting #1 on Amazon's list Thursday.
Here's wishing Rick Perlstein a good night's sleep.

Remember when your doctor's communication with you was privileged?

Remember when cell phones were the size of bricks and were called "cell phones?"

In the wake of the Newtown CT school shooting in late 2012 (yes, it has been that long; you could be forgiven for losing track because of all the changes that haven't happened), this blog adopted the p3 motto: May the First Amendment always triumph over the Second.

And this is one of its corrolaries: If the only way your ideas can get any traction is by shutting down public discussion of any alternative, then your ideas probably aren't very good in the first place.

It hasn't been a great year for the motto. Most recently there was this:

Several years ago, the American Medical Association advised doctors to ask their patients about firearms and “educate patients to the dangers of firearms to children” in the name of public health. But doctors in Florida may be suppressed from giving this medical advice, now that a federal appeals court upheld a Florida law that became known as the “physician gag rule” because it punishes doctors for talking about guns.

The ruling could have major implications as policymakers examine gun violence as a public health issue. The National Rifle Association-backed law it upheld imposes severe limits on when doctors can ask their patients about guns or keep records in their patients’ charts about firearm safety. Doctors who are found to have violated the provision risk sanctions or loss of their license.

(Have you noticed that, when something like this happens, you just naturally assume it's either Arizona or Florida? But I digress)

The public health consequences of this gag order on physicians are obvious. Asking about guns in the home is surely as relevant to child safety as asking if there's a safety latch on the cabinet under the sink where the rat poison and bleach are.

Guns and reproductive health: two things that right-wingers don't want doctors talking about. And yet, when it comes to little Johnnies packing on the sidewalk, suddenly they're all about the importance of free and open exchange of ideas. Go figure.

Tbogg has unearthed the logic behind the many right-wing responses to child gun deaths that take the form, again and again, of opposing any restrictions (or even public information) on guns:
There is only one 2nd Amendment, but you can always have another kid.
It's a variant of the Kaspar Gutman principle.