Thursday, March 5, 2015

A quantum of umbrage: Boiled eggs, 60-watt light bulbs, and the lonely death of Swiftian irony

It is allowed on all hands, that the primitive way of breaking eggs, before we eat them, was upon the larger end; but his present majesty’s grandfather, while he was a boy, going to eat an egg, and breaking it according to the ancient practice, happened to cut one of his fingers. Whereupon the emperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resented this law, that our histories tell us, there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor lost his life, and another his crown.

Jonathan Swift,
(1726), Chapter IV
One of the things that amazed and amused me when, years ago, I left Indiana (the state where I was born but not the state that I'm from) to live first on the east coast (Philadelphia) and later and longer on the west coast (Portland and thereabouts), was the vehement reaction of many non-midwesterners to Miracle Whip. A reaction not simply to its taste, although that's certainly a part of it, but often to its very existence.

(For those who haven't taken the plunge, Miracle Whip looks similar to ordinary off-the-grocer's-shelf mayonnaise and is typically marketed in a similar-shaped jar on the same grocery aisle. Without knowing the recipe specifics beyond oil, vinegar, and eggs, I would generally say that they have the same texture but Miracle Whip is somewhat sweeter and generic mayonnaise is slightly off-white in color. I suppose the best analogy, culturally and gustatorially speaking, would be that Miracle Whip is to generic mayonnaise as sweet pickles are to dill pickles.)

I bring this up because I stumbled upon an amusing video on YouTube, in which pairs of west-coasters were invited to sample various mainstays of Indiana cuisine: Sweet pickles, fried cornmeal mush (one fellow makes his happy peace with that one by renaming it "Indiana Tortilla Sticks") sugar cream pie, yet another variety of sweet pickle with which I am unfamiliar, and a (suspiciously un-Hoosier looking) pork tenderloin sandwich (the meat is too thick, it doesn't stick out the edge of the bun enough, the breading is too dark, and what's all that healthy vegetable stuff doing on it?).

The video is the product of a real estate enterprise and appears intended to soften up young prospective home-buyers from California on the idea that moving to Indiana wouldn't necessarily be the worst possible thing that could happen to them. (There are similar videos for Ohio and Michigan.) I imagine the logic is that young buyers, priced completely out of the California homeowners' market, might find it easier to bite the bullet and buy a starter home in the Rust Belt – assuming they could deal with the local dietary customs.

At this point, I must make a confession. Among my favorite Facebook friends are some who can be trolled into making utterly predictable responses at the drop of a hat, or the click of a Post button, given the right topic or the right way of framing it. They simply can't resist. I don't do it often, but sometimes I put things out there just for grins and giggles, and note the time. I posted the Indiana Food Taste Test video, with this status line:
Interesting, but they ducked the most important theological debate of our age: Mayonnaise versus Miracle Whip. Nations have gone to war over this.
Yes, it was click-bait. I admit it. But I held the hope that the mention of both theology and war on such a silly culinary topic was such an obvious Swiftian nudge-nudge-wink-wink, that most people who responded, getting the joke, would take it up in much the same spirit. (So I suppose I thought that made it good click-bait.) Nevertheless, I noted the time I posted it. No, I'm not entirely proud of this, but you probably have amusements you'd rather other people didn't know about, too.

It took eleven minutes – or slightly less time than it takes to make two soft-boiled eggs with yolks that are just beginning to set – for someone to denounce Miracle Whip as not only not a food, but perhaps not even a food product.

This claim, as with many theological arguments, is really founded on an ontological category error, i.e.: Miracle Whip resembles generic mayonnaise, but it isn't, so it shouldn't exist. One might as well say the same thing about ranch dressing and bleu cheese dressing, or Bosc pears and 60-watt light bulbs.

I just find that odd. Even in Indiana, everyone knows the difference between the two products, and in a lifetime of eating Indiana food I don't believe I've ever been served Miracle Whip on a restaurant sandwich. You only end up ingesting it if you intended to.

Sitting at my elbow as I write this is a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. My taste for it is probably a function of time and class and culture, as much so as with some of the other foods under discussion. (Plus, I imagine, a soupçon of simple brand-selection laziness.) And over the years I have gotten the stink-eye from many of my craft-beer enthusiast friends when I order a PBR (the idea that I might not want a hint of blueberry finish in my beer never seems worth serious discussion). The same often happens when I mention to my Mayonnaise Orthodox friends that I have eaten Miracle Whip (it tastes far better on a peanut butter sandwich than generic mayonnaise ever will, if you want to know) and have lived to tell the tale – as well as every suspect item on that video's menu, plus chicken livers, and beef liver and onions. And tuna casserole, and marshmallow fruit salad.

But I won't touch gizzards or calamari. And I have watched the look of creeping horror on non-Hoosier friends' faces when they asked the local server "is the fish fresh?" and the server nodded brightly, "yes – fresh frozen!" – leaving them to imagine the unlucky diner who got the fish that was frozen after it was no longer fresh.

Twelve hours later on Facebook, I'm still getting declarations of preferences on white spreadable condiments, but nothing about Indiana, California, real estate prices, or anything else except unironic responses to the throwaway joke in the status message (except two: my sister from Indiana put in a good word for sugar cream pie, and David Neiwart showed he clearly got the drift by chipping in with another regional delicacy that makes non-locals go "Ewww!"). I strongly suspect most readers made it through the set-up message and never went any further. This serves me right for playing the click-bait game, I suppose.

People, this is simple. If you don't like it, don't buy it. If you don't want it, don't eat it. No need to choose up sides in a war.

Spend your time productively, arguing which Darren was better.

(Postscript: As I was writing this last night, a currently-turning-vegan friend stopped by to chat and when I mentioned what I was working on, she told me about this. The website has the following endorsement:

“I preferred the taste of their Just Mayo to 
Hellmann’s, my ‘must have’ brand. In a blind test.”
Andrew Zimmern
Travel Channel Host & Celebrity Chef

Let the battle begin!)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sunday morning toons: Either they didn't get the point, or they refused to get the point

First, I mourn the death of Leonard Nimoy, but you had to do something better than a "Live Long and Prosper" reference, or Spock giving the Vulcan hand-greeting to Saint Peter, to make the cut today.

And while I'm being an angry old man, I find it puzzling that artists like Mike Lester, Henry Payne, Chip Bok, and Steve Breen, who must rely on some (presumably not-insubstantial) part of their living from internet distribution and syndication, oppose the FCC's 3-2 party-line ruling this week protecting net neutrality. Can they really cut off their own noses to spite Obama's face (at least now that it's safe to do so)? Do they worry that their work will be less available now? As artists who depend on social media, you really have to hate All Things Obama a lot to do anything but take this quietly as a win and move along. I included the links just for irony's sake.

Still it sounds like good news that the FCC has ruled that the big internet-access companies can't charge you extra for top-speed access to p3. We're all pleased about that around here, since it's widely understood that fluctuations in our traffic could decide the corporate fate Comcast, Verizon, and Sprint.

Today's toons were selected from fake Bill O'Reilly dispatches covering 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 (tie): Chan Lowe, John Darkow, and Nick Anderson.

p3 Legion of Merit: Tim Eagan.

p3 World Toon Review: Terry Mosher (Canada), Ingrid Rice (also too Canada), Petar Pismestrovic (Austria), and Tjeerd Royaards (Netherlands).

Ann Telnaes presents the Giuliani Physical Test for Patriotism. Hint: It favors some parts of the body more than others.

Mark Fiore comes across with one of his best: America the Rudyful.

Tom Tomorrow says, Think fast! Or not at all, which is apparently an equally valid option.

Keith Knight looks at the trials of Boston.

Tom the Dancing Bug goes beyond a famous 1978 SNL/Steve Martin sketch (although apparently not famous enough to get milked for the SNL40 celebration a couple of weeks ago) to look at the tough life of a scientist back in the day.

Red Meat's Mister Wally savors the seaside.

The Comic Strip Curmudgeon celebrates a ridiculous Spider-Man denoument, but it also gets points for reminding me of a wonderfully silly three-part Mission: Impossible story from 1970 called "The Falcon," in which Nimoy, as Paris the Great (a magician/master of disguise who replaced Martin Landau's Rollin Hand on the IMF team), performed a magic cabinet stunt for a royal court that involved Paris wearing a latex mask of Noel Harrison's character, over which he wore another latex mask of himself. It was complicated, not least of all the part about understanding why the double-layered Paris didn't look like his head was the size of a basketball. And that is my Nimoy tribute for today.

Actually, no it's not. This is. Because this image always makes me laugh. Michael J. Fox once told Johnny Carson that he knew he'd "made it" when Mort Drucker drew his face.

Comic Strip of the Day explores deep, dark fears.

Chief, don't you think that's a dangerous mission? The first of seventeen Superman animated shorts from the 1940s didn't actually have a title, but it's known as "The Mad Scientist." Directed by Dave Fleischer in 1941, it featured Bud Collyer as Clark/Superman (he went on to voice the Man of Steel in the subsequent radio series all the way to the dreadful 1970s mess "Superfriends") and Joanne Alexander as Lois, plus Jack "Popeye" Mercer as the Mad Scientist and Jackson Beck as Perry White, plus musical direction by Sammy Timberg (listen for the following trombones mixed into the Superman theme as the Daily Planet building starts to topple and then is set right again!) – all uncredited. The beautiful rotoscope animation made the few moments of weird loopy trajectory of Lois Lane's plane stick out like a sore thumb, but the German expressionist/film noir coloring and framing worked so well you quickly forgot those minor snags. The look of the series of theatrical shorts, especially the first half-dozen or so, was heavily influential on Batman: The Animated Series a half-century later. I first saw "The Mad Scientist" – and discovered the existence of that series of classic Superman toons – as the tee-up to a campus screening of "Harold and Maude" in the late 1970s. It was a memorable evening. And it appears that there's no existing print of "The Mad Scientist" that doesn't have at least a little gap after Superman saves the Planet building but before the Electrothanasia Ray hits him.

The Big, And Getting Bigger Since We Bent the Rules and Welcomed Back The Departed, Oregon Toon Block:11

Ex-Oregonian Jack Ohman looks at the risks we run when the congressional Republicans shut down the Department of Homeland Security. I never thought DHS was a good idea, but if we're going to have it – and all the once-separate-but-important agencies now under its umbrella – let's at least fund the damned thing. The irony is that the Tea Party caucus in the House, who drove funding for DHS into the ditch simply to get back at Obama – are in some ways the heirs to the NeoCon 9-11 exploiters who spent more time over thirteen years ago developing the opportunistic backronym for the USA PATRIOT Act than they spent reading the bill before they voted on it.

Maybe or Maybe Not Ex-Oregonian Jen Sorensen looks at that flamey stuff that comes out of pundits' mouths.

Matt Bors wonders if there might be a pattern here.

Jesse Springer marks the end of the honeymoon..

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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday afternoon tunes: Sail on, silver girl

On this day in 1970, Simon and Garfunkel began a six-week run at the top of the singles chart with this song.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A quantum of umbrage: A synoptic history of the principle of the separation of church and state

(This timeline was originally published in shorter form in 2009, driven by the thought, somewhat naive in retrospect, that the process of theocratic overreach in the US was probably already at or near its zenith. Now it appears that p3 must stand ready for further revisions from time to time, as the exigencies of Republican electoral politics require it. We welcome the task.)

James Madison, 1791: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Thomas Jefferson, 1802: The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment guarantees Americans a wall of separation between church and state.

Dwight Eisenhower, 1954: The separation of church and state surely won't be hurt by adding "under God" to The Pledge of Allegiance in the name of anti-Communism, will it?

John F. Kennedy, 1960: The separation of church and state is absolute. My church will not dictate my policy decisions.

Mitt Romney, 2008: The separation of church and state is relative. My church will dictate my policy decisions, but only to the extent that I will discriminate against the same people Christian conservatives would already be discriminating against anyway.

Bart Stupack, 2009: The separation of church and state is a fairy tale. My church will show up at the Capitol steps in a limo to dictate policy.

Rick Santorum, 2012: The separation of church and state is an abomination. "Earlier in my political career, I had the opportunity to read the speech [by JFK to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960], and I almost threw up."

Sally Quinn, 2012: The separation of church and state is impossible. “This is a religious country. Part of claiming your citizenship is claiming a belief in God, even if you are not Christian.” Agnostics, atheists, and other nonbelievers need not apply.

Rick Santorum (again), 2014: The very notion of the separation of church and state is "a Communist idea that has no place in America."

Fifty-seven percent of surveyed Republicans, 2015: The separation of church and state is sacreligious, since the U.S. Constitution is a document inspired by Our Lord Jesus Christ, so it counts as Holy Scripture.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Overheard (Part 2)

Person sitting nearby, talking on a phone:
I think writing The Great American Novel is great, but I'm not sure about Transformers 4.
I'm inclined to agree.  Who wouldn't?


Just a few seats down from me:
Thinking is not a good look for you.
I talked this over with someone later. Perhaps, the friend suggested, I misheard. Perhaps they said, "I found a good book for you."

Yeah, maybe.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday morning toons: Dregs

Okay, fine.

We're letting in one last Brian Williams toon, but only for 11% of its panels, and only because we maintain a soft spot for the artist. But we're not wasting pixels or links on "job fair" jokes imagining that American "boots on the ground" will somehow get us through our third Middle East war in 25 years with a different, better conclusion. Same with polar-vortex-proves-climate-change-is-a-hoax cartoons. And we're spending little time on Rudy the Rictus, and even less on his fellow hate-monger-who's-working-to-stay-relevant Franklin Graham.

But there's little point in denying that Joe Biden took a weird turn this week.

Today's toons were selected, between breaks to check on friends and family back in the mega-snow zone, from 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 cartoon goodness.

p3 Best of Show: Nick Anderson.

p3 Legion of Merit: Jeff Danziger.

p3 Certificate of Harmonic Toon Convergence (Part 1): Steve Benson and Clay Bennett.

p3 Certificate of Harmonic Toon Convergence (Part 2): Matt Davies, Clay Jones, and Jack Ohman.

p3 Certificate of Harmonic Toon Convergence (Part 3): Gary Varvel, Cam Cardow, Randy Bish, and Michael Ramirez.

p3 Award for Best Adaptation from Another Medium: Steve Kelley.

p3 World Toon Review: Patrick Chappatte (Switzerland), Ingrid Rice (Canada), Petar Pismestrovic (Austria), and Alex Falcó Chang (Cuba).

Ann Telnaes makes a perfectly reasonable request.

Mark Fiore presents America: Inventors of Eternity!

Tom Tomorrow covers well-trodden ground until panel seven.

Keith Knight discovers – and rediscovers! – his badge of honor.

Tom the Dancing Bug documents a tragedy.

Red Meat's Ted Johnson engages in a little pillow talk with the missus.

The Comic Strip Curmudgeon wrestles with a TMI episode of Shoe.

Comic Strip of the Day casts a doubtful eye upon literary legacies.

Watch me move! Winsor McCay's "Little Nemo" (1911) is one of ten animated shorts that remain, complete or partially so, from the days when he largely invented animated cartoons by hand (a poor but honest choice of words to describe those pre-xerography days). McCay was always more interested in the theoretical and artistic possibilities of the medium, rather than the commercial, so he never patented his animation techniques, nor did he even copyright all of his work. It's a miracle they even exist for us to see. After promoting his art for many years on the vaudeville circuit, he gave a set of the original films – on nitrate stock, which was susceptible to fire, chemical decomposition, and lord knows what else – to a friend who kept them in his garage, unattended, until the late 1940s. (They were painstakingly restored over the course of several years after their rediscovery, and are now in the Library of Congress.) Early theater audiences weren't entirely sure what to make of comic strips that moved (it would take Disney, a decade later, to set down the story-telling conventions that would govern animation through its golden age), which is why the film begins with a group of clubbing New York actors and artists (including George McManus, who created the classic strip "Bringing Up Father," starring Jiggs and his wife Maggie) and McCay betting that he can in one month make 4000 drawings move.

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

Ex-Oregonian Jack Ohman looks at the threat level.

Maybe, Possibly, Ex-Oregonian Jen Sorensen feels for Mother Earth: "I'm just a maid around here!"

Matt Bors illustrates one of several reasons I fear for the future of my niece and nephew.

Jesse Springer marks Oregonians turning a page (an Oregonian editorial joke?) this week to greet their new governor, while taking a shot at a largely pointless distinction many of her fans like to celebrate.

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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saturday afternoon tunes: We'll cry if we want to

Leslie Gore died this week, at age 68, of lung cancer.

She didn't smoke.

At sixteen – sixteen! – she recorded "It's My Party," produced by Quincy Jones, and she had many other charting hits, including "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows," written by Marvin Hamlish, and the anthem "You Don't Own Me," which spent three weeks at #2 because that was when the Beatles released "I Want To Hold Your Hand."