culture politics

Richard Nixon, Laugh In, and political campaigns

Here’s a great piece talking about the impact of Nixon’s “Sock it to me?” utterance on Laugh In. I had no idea that the writing for Laugh In was so supportive of the Nixon administration, and conversely, I didn’t know how much Nixon hated the Smothers Brothers. This blog piece has some great clips in it, including the above mentioned gag. There is also a bit of Nixon playing piano on the Jack Parr show, and a clip of some of the ending jokes from laugh in. I’ve only ever seen bits and pieces of Laugh In. I’m sure that a lot of it would look dated now, but it does look like they had a good time…



The Comedy Writer That Helped Elect Richard M. Nixon – WFMU’s Beware of the Blog: “”

(Via .)

culture free market

Income inequality again

A friend of mine posted a link to a NYT opinion page entitled “Our banana republic,” and in it the author says:

Our Banana Republic – “In my reporting, I regularly travel to banana republics notorious for their inequality. In some of these plutocracies, the richest 1 percent of the population gobbles up 20 percent of the national pie. But guess what? You no longer need to travel to distant and dangerous countries to observe such rapacious inequality. We now have it right here at home”


Did you see what he did there? There are plutocracies that have big income disparities, we have big income disparities, therefore the rich here are just as bad as the rich there. True, he doesn’t come out and say it, but it is a clear inference he wants readers to make.

Now if he had gone on to explain how our government is funneling taxpayer money into the pockets of our top 1% and that these thieves should be brought to justice, I’d be sympathetic but skeptical. I do think that happens, and I do think those folks and the politicians that enable it should be held accountable, but I don’t think it’s as widespread as it is in those plutocracies. I am interested in hearing any evidence about that though…

No, the author didn’t make that argument. What he did was to point out the recent income disparity here in the US, infer that the people making a ton of money are somehow bad people, and then bring up “evidence” that when some people get rich, the people below them wreck themselves trying to catch up and suffer higher divorce rates. Seriously, he essentially says that the people not making as much in the top 1% mess themselves up, and the rich are to blame. I’m assuming that the author’s solution is to narrow the discrepancy to avoid those bad things. I’m also assuming his suggested cure is to either take the money away or prevent people from making that much money to begin with.

It reeks of the worst social engineering hubris I can imagine. Some people do not cope well when they see others doing better than them and so we are morally justified to take money away from folks because some others don’t like it. Give me a break. Taking money from people should be the last option, not the first. I’ve covered this ground before but I’ll say it again, just because some people make (much) more money than others does not mean there is a problem. If, like those plutocracies, the top 1% is actually stealing from everyone else, then fine, let’s go get the rich. Well how else are they getting that rich Isaac? Glad you asked, another blog post to follow…

culture sports

A gender role/culture question

When did women start liking professional sports? I distinctly remember high school and earlier when it was strictly a guy thing. There’s no question that there is a lot more female fans than ever before, and it seems to be across most sports. I also know that the various leagues marketed sports to women, but did anyone notice the cultural shift? I know that there are still fewer female sports fans then male, but the ranks have grown considerably over the years. Ladies, any observations about you or your friends becoming sports fans?

art culture

The only actress I’ve ever dreamed of

I saw “Pandora’s Box” in film school. It was the longest silent film I had ever seen, and it was amazing. The thing that made that film, the thing that absolutely cemented it in film history was Louise Brooks. I don’t think that there has been another actress so striking, so unforgettable, and so heart breaking since.


“Pandora’s Box” was shocking, even to a college student, especially when we thought that all movies from back then were staid and rather conservative. Sex was front and center, as was violence. She managed to combine desirability, innocence, and danger all in one character. She ensnared every man and woman she came in contact with and destroyed them.



It turns out that one of the reasons that Louise Brooks could play the part so well was that she was essentially playing herself. Her hedonism made her notorious back then. In her later years she talked about the many lovers she had and her love of going to lesbian bars in Berlin. She left  lovers and husbands with broken hearts in her wake. Luckily for her, life did not imitate art, her character of Lulu in Pandora’s box ended up being killed by a sexual predator while Louise Brooks lived to her 70’s and reinvented herself as a writer. The rap on her when she was in films was that she couldn’t act, that she didn’t “do” anything. Film acting was still developing, actors still a tendency to use really big, stage inspired actions. Brooks was quite a bit more restrained, and her style led the way to modern film acting.


If you ever get a chance, please check out “Pandora’s Box.” It will change your attitude towards silent films and what was possible. Louise Brooks’s career was cut short by her self destructive habits and her constant diva antics, but she has become the icon of the 20’s and 30’s. They don’t make them like that anymore…



culture freedom

It’s sexual because we think it’s sexual…

Saudi Arabia is the home of many ludicrous laws based on the premise that it might ignite sexual desire. Any number of things are disallowed or forbidden outright all in the name of keeping people’s morals in compliance of a designated morality. I ran across this news article that was about women smoking water pipes in Gaza. Most telling is the quote from an official “It is inappropriate for a woman to sit cross-legged and smoke in public. It harms the image of our people,.” Later, the article goes on to say that women smoking water pipes are frowned upon because of the “sexual connotations.” It’s a wonder that they allow them to eat… I’m not going to get into why it’s OK for a man to do it…

The thing is, unless someone told you that there were sexual connotations with smoking a water pipe or crossing your legs, you would never think that there was. I have long held that the crackdown on anything that might possibly have a sexual connotation actually puts sex into the forefront of people’s minds. When you live in a place that thinks that water pipes, wet hair, or even the opposite sex immediately brings sex to mind, I think you are pretty sexually repressed. When I was in Yemen, people there would comment on how sexual our culture is. That’s true enough, but all of our sexual connotations were about, you know, sex. We don’t wig out if someone goes into public with wet hair, eats a banana, or God forbid, talk to a member of the opposite sex. We can do normal things without thinking about sex because we are allowed to think about sex on its own terms. I honestly believe that the cultures that try to enforce laws like that are the most sexually obsessed people on the planet.


The Associated Press: Some Gaza women smolder over Hamas’ water-pipe ban: “”

(Via .)

christianity culture religion

Son of Sam and redemption

A friend of mine posted this article on her facebook profile with the comment “Sad proof that people will look anywhere for answers to life’s questions…” The article is a NYT piece about David Berkowitz, a.k.a the Son of sam, and his transformation over the years from a crazed serial killer to someone that is almost completely different.

I’m not sure what Jen’s issue was with the article, but I found it quite compelling. He found Jesus a while back and has since tried to reach out and share some of what he has found. He is also trying to act as a cautionary tale to younger folks. There are some skeptics out there, the article got some statements from some of the folks that tracked him down and helped prosecute him. They are having a hard time believing that someone that was like that could be anything else. In Berkowitz’s defense, he has written to the governor and expressed his opinion that he should never get parole and he doesn’t make any money from his appearances or writings. He also spends his days as a mobility guide and as an assistant to mentally ill prisoners. It certainly looks like he’s on the up and up. If he’s not, he has managed to fool a lot of people without any obvious gain for himself.

I find this story interesting on several levels. First off, this is a perfect example of why capital punishment just is not a good thing. Even serial killers are redeemable. Those of you that say, “Sure, he’s a nice guy now, but he should PAY for what he did!” I hope you can hear the vengeance speaking. Does killing him make up for 7 lives? Does it change anything? No and no. Locking him up, protecting everyone else from him was the right thing to do. In the meantime he has changed considerably.

The idea of redemption is a tough one for both atheists and Christians. On the one hand, many people that don’t believe in God do believe in people’s ability to change and get better… unless of course the guy is a monster, then he should probably die. Similarly, Christians hold life sacred, unless of course you do something really bad, then “God’s laws” say that you should die. It is people like David Berkowitz that really show us where we stand when it comes to the value of a human life. I have a binary view on that, in my mind you either value life, or don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I would be sorely tempted to kneecap Stalin or Pol Pot but I like to think that I would manage to not kill them if I had the chance.


I am heartened to see evangelicals paying attention to Berkowitz, there are too many of them that scream “An eye for an eye” instead of “Turn the other cheek.”  I’m going to do another post on the religious aspects of this but suffice it to say that I think this is the kind of effect Christianity should have on people. Some may sneer at his evangelical beliefs, I myself refer to that type of Christianity as “comic book religion” in my less charitable moments. But as my friend Dana pointed out, “Anything that makes someone not a serial killer is a good thing.” Simplistic or not, Berkowitz’s beliefs have changed him, and they have the potential to change others. Does that forgive him for what he did? Well, no. Forgiveness can’t be earned, it can only be asked for. I will leave it up to you as to whether he should be forgiven, I am happy to see him asking at all.

Image Makeover From Admirers of ‘Son of Sam’ – “”

culture freedom

Memorial Day

A big thank you to all of you that served and especially the ones that didn’t come back. I have a special place in my heart reserved for the men that fought and died for us and who did not feel they had a choice.A month or so ago, my friend David came to town and we visited the Vietnam memorial and the WWII memorial. There was a stark contrast between those wars, and the willingness of people to serve in them. As I walked along the wall that is the Vietnam memorial, I wondered how many of them were there willingly. Thank God the draft is over. Those of us that grew up after Vietnam are freer than the ones that grew up before or during. Your sacrifice is not forgotten.


In addition to remembering the bravery of the soldiers that fought and died for us, we should also remember the additional burden of the ones that were forced into dying for us. Memorial day should be a day to remember bravery, but it should mostly be a remembrance of sacrifice. 

art culture

"The film major that didn’t like films"

That’s what I become known as back in college. It’s mostly true, I don’t particularly like the idea of watching films in general anymore. The thing is, I wasn’t always that way. I did, after all, pursue a film degree. I started thinking about this again after a co-worker and I chatted about films. Her reaction brought up my curiosity about my dislike of films again.

I let it go and didn’t think of it much until yesterday. While reading a book that was set in Nazi Germany, one of my most shocking and indelible film-related memories came back to me in a flash. I think it was during freshman year, in the film theory 101 class (whatever it was called). We watched part of “Triumph of the Will.” For those of you not familiar with it, it is a “documentary” of the 1934 Nuremberg congress/rally for the Nazi party. Why were we watching it? Leni Riefenstahl had created a masterpiece, that’s why. Triumph of the Will is generally seen as one of the most influential films ever made. Hitler was the official producer and it is as emotionally manipulative as he was.

I have to tell you, seeing all of those people being whipped into a frenzy over Hitler was soul destroying. Thank God that sound design wasn’t all that advanced back then, the recording of those thousands of people yelling “SEIG HEIL! SEIG HEIL! SEIG HEIL!” was chilling enough as it was. I think I may have shed a tear watching it, it was that horrific.

We then spent the rest of the class discussing the effective techniques used in the film and all of the films it had inspired. The one that stands out in my mind was the professor’s off hand comment, “Does anyone remember the award scene from Star Wars?” It was a pretty good appropriation of the techniques in Triumph of the Will.

Looking back, I think that sunk in over the following weeks and months and it colored my perceptions of films. That whole semester was really about film techniques, about viewer manipulation. I don’t view films in general as Nazi propaganda films, but I do think an association was made in my mind. I remember recoiling against the emotional manipulation in that film and I think I become hypersensitive to other films doing the same thing.

Thinking about this, it is now hardly surprising that I find the idea of sitting down to watch a film distasteful. I think I’ve actually mellowed a bit since my college days, but I still prefer a good book or even audio to films.

art culture

I don’t read fiction… um… well…

For the longest time, I’ve been telling people that I’ve essentially given up on fiction. And it’s mostly true, the vast majority of movies do not interest me in the slightest, and the idea of picking up a novel rarely seems like a worthwhile thing. It has been nonfiction for me for quite a while. Econ, language, audio, computers, photography, optics, etc. have captured my attention for quite a while.

I do have favorite novels, and they are all of the highest pedigree of course. Orwell, Borges, Heller, Vonnegut, Dickens, Rand, Nabakov, Salanger, etc. all line my shelves. So why is it that my one weakness for fiction involves Dr. Who?

It’s true, I continue to devour all things in the Who universe. I’ve seen all of the TV shows save the second doctor. That spans from about 1965 (I think) to this past summer. That’s a lot of shows. A lot of them are pretty bad too, but I watched them. I have found the audio plays from Big Finish to actually be of a more consistent quality. There are a ton of those too. I have listened to 107 of those now.

Today, I learned that the BBC has some ebook versions of some Doctor Who novels on it’s site. I read one tonight. Sigh, it looks like I’ll be reading more of them in the future…

I plan on continuing to acquire more Big Finish Doctor Who plays (and related audio plays like the Bernice Summerfield stories, the companion Chronicles, and the Galifrey stories) and now it looks like I’ll be adding various books to the collection too. God help me.

So what is it that appeals to me so much? I wish I knew. It is fun, but I don’t know why I am able to throw myself into these and not be able to tolerate most other fiction. This is hardly great literature, but I can’t get enough. Luckily for me, the is a vast quantity of stuff out there, I’ll never run out.

I noticed how incongruous this is for me just tonight. I’ll be puzzling over this for a little while, probably while listening to “Assassin in the Limelight,” my newest audio drama….


Roman Polanski, I don’t get it

So Roman Polanski was arrested by Swiss authorities while he was on the way to some awards ceremony. There has been an outstanding warrent for his arrest in the US for decades. I had head about it, but I never really knew the details, I figured it was one of those sordid Hollywood things that was morally ambiguous on both sides.

Well since his arrest, I’ve read some of the details, and frankly I’m shocked that it has taken this long to get him in jail. It turns out that what he was arrested for taking a 13 year old girl someplace, getting her drunk, drugging her with quaaludes and then anally raping her. Here’s the kicker, he has already been convicted. He plead guilty, he skipped out on sentencing. Why a violent criminal was released before sentencing is beyond me.

The French culture minister is shocked that Polanski was picked up after all these years, and on the way for an award too! Polanski is also upset that this has been done “to” him. Everything about this crime reeks of excess and privilege, the “outrage” seems to be all about someone of his stature being treated as a common criminal. He’s a rapist, he drugged a 13 year old in order to rape her. He plead guilty to it. He has had plenty of freedom, it’s abut time he gets some jail time for his crime. Let’s all hope that the extradition from Switzerland goes smoothly.