A happy fellow
. . .

Leaves from an old notebook

The world of Big Boys and Royal Crests and Pheasant Lanes drains into a tiny graveyard clogged with leaves and empty spring water plastic bottles.
An artificial flower with holes in the leaves. "Hey, this silk's got worms!"
The wet arm goes numb. The wet days go blank. Large dark leaves which seem to have dropped onto tightly bunched smaller lighter ones are instead straight-stitched in place by thin branches.
At the bank, adults indulge in slapstick; on the train, children sit sullenly with strangers. Dead leaves jam themselves into the window corner: "Please take us away from this terrible place!"
The bartender at Doctor Bombays said, "It's been a scary day. A huge guy came in this afternoon, really mean looking, bald, about 6' 5", with this beat-up leather jacket, no shirt. I think uh oh. He looks around real mad. Then he orders a Heineken. He takes it, takes a gulp, and paces back and forth really fast. Then he comes back and slams the bottle down as hard as he could exactly where you're sitting. Everyone looks, right? Then he walks out really fast. So Julie comes over to check the bottle, there's beer splashed all over the counter. She picks it up, there's about this much left in it. I'm like, uh, Julie, I don't think you want to pick that up just yet. Sure enough, about five minutes later the guy comes back in, looking really mad, grabs the bottle and starts pacing again. He takes another swig and slams it back down and leaves again. I can tell you, I didn't touch that bottle for the rest of the afternoon." (My theory is the guy really wanted a Heineken Light but was embarrassed to mention it.)

. . .

How Musil Can Change Your Life!

Mixed feelings are more productive in fiction than in conversation. Even writers with definite or self-definitive prejudices will induce muddle in pursuit of a story. (And then, reversing the process, their biographers become disillusioned by the bigoted troll.) Those whose second thoughts resecond, rethird, refourth and so on to Reichian volume and density may be lured into the hunt merely by the blessed prospect of something captured.

You'd better bag the game, though. Otherwise all you've achieved is another unsatisfying conversation.

. . .

Movie Comments : The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

"First time as tragedy; second time as farce; third time as decoration."
"Not so much Ernst Lubitsch adapting someone-named-Laszlo as Chuck Jones adapting Edward Gorey."

. . .

Movie Comment : Senza Pietá (1948)

Like Odets scripts and Cassavetes movies, most of the Neo-Realist canon looks simultaneously contrived and lazy, coasting on rhetorical conceit. Alberto Lattuada was a real director, though, complete with whistle and megaphone, and co-screenwriter/assistant-director Federico Fellini was no realist.

Re-doing Carmen as a noir and Carmen as an innocent victim is a sweet idea, although it leaves the lead little to do but be draggled she's sometimes as much a prop as the sister in Night of the Living Dead. But John Kitzmiller plays fall-guy with the proper mix of dopiness and gravitas, and Giulietta Masina provides occasional shots of oomph in a transition from Gloria Grahame (in a supporting role) to Joan Blondell (in a supporting role).1 Linking it to the other occupation movie we'd seen that day, Lavorno's evil crimelord is embodied by the manager of the Hotel Majestic.

Interracial love and an unflattering view-from-below of the American occupation explains why this didn't get distribution at the time. What keeps it out of sight now? Inertia, most likely.

1   As noted by Joan Blondell scholar, Juliet Clark.


Ray, that really happened.

I know; I saw it with my own eyes!

. . .

Some come through

For about five years, when I heard or read something about the web's destructive aspects I thought of a shy young self-publishing cartoonist who'd self-censored all her accurately perplexed autobiographical stories after some fool complained that they weren't funny. Of course shy young artists have been self-censoring forever, but the gatekeeper-to-gate ratio crashes "Before the Law" limits if you're tuned to every fool on the internet rather than, say, just the fool who happens to be your father or your graduate advisor.

The medium of comics, like the medium of silent film, naturally drifts between crude farce and complex emotional engagement. Let that child boogie-woogie. It's in her, and it's got to come out.

. . .

And then all that is spirit melts into currency

"It's supposed to be a carnival of tough," Dean told me. He noted that the company's unofficial slogan is "Iron Man meets Burning Man," and that Mudders go home with orange headbands, which they can wear to signal membership in an in-group. "People want to be challenged, but if you can mix that with something that's part of a shared experience being part of a wider tribe it gives you a sense of identity."
- "In Cold Mud" by Lizzie Widdicombe, The New Yorker January 27, 2014

Soul-healing and soul-saving were privatized decades ago. But what of communal virtues? How best can they be rationalized?

This, this is the glorious Geist-shtep my middle age has witnessed. Burning Man sold spiritual-aesthetic community in delicious caffeine-enhanced concentrate without the boredom and picayune pecksniffery and earning-potential-waste of churchgoing or pilgrimage. And Tough Mudder sells an indelible (yet easily repeatable) sense of shared competency-unto-death without the boredom and life-risk and earning-potential-waste of the military or Peace Corps. Because god-and-country knows there's nothing more important than efficient self-growth.

(Of course I beat a dead horse of a different color on another track entirely: I reflexively sabotage "sense of community" as soon as I feel it creeping through my leg hair and "feeling tough" makes me feel ill. And of course any species which relied soley on specimans like myself would be just as doomed as one which relies solely on plutocrats and their Roman show-Senate of MBAs and entrepreneurship. In this species? They also serve who only get in the way.)

. . .

Another "True Life" M. K. Brown Romance

Unlike most reviewers of Stranger than Life, I grew up playing with monkeys fell in love with M. K. Brown on sight: on sight of a tiny filler topping the editorial page of the first National Lampoon I bought.

Well, Arthur, we are sure sorry to see you go but know it is for the best

After a belly-punching guffaw, what did we see, peering close, glasses off (we being, as we know, highly myopic)?

The grotesque made mundane; the mundane made grotesque. Across an invisible wall of mid-American reticence a line of family (barely readable barely shoved together lumps of clay) faces off a stout and sporty bird-man cradled by their slump of resignation, or rather launched out of that cradle.

On the artifact's own terms, easy confidence in a continuity of vision, improvisation, and realization, with elucidation left to look out for itself.

I was fifteen then; I'm fifty-five now and still likely to announce my commute with "Well, mother, I'm off to the zoo."

I bought back issues of the Lampoon as I could afford them, and for their scraps of Brown and Shary Flenniken bought new issues as the Lampoon began its post-Michael-O'Donoghue post-Henry-Beard post-Michael-Gross dissipation into YA-Penthouse. I bought so-so picture books when they had Brown's name on the cover; I might have bought Twisted Sisters without Brown's name on the cover but wouldn't have bought it so reflexively.

She's at the center of my sense of what comics do. She's my Jack Kirby. Naturally I recommend immediate purchase of her first and only collection; naturally I resent it not being two hundred pages longer and several inches taller and wider.

NEXT: What to do with those leftover oysters!

. . .
Glacial Calamity by M. K. Brown and Ed Bluestone

A "True Life" M. K. Brown Romance with Ed Bluestone

Ed Bluestone was a stand-up comic from East Orange, NJ, who provided occasional pieces, aphorisms ("The sooner the animals are extinct, the sooner we'll find their money"), and comics scripts to the Lampoon. Most of them concerned death, although he also got off some racist and sacrilegious corkers.

His script about the degradation and death of Adlai Stevenson and his script about the thwarted last wish of a dying child were professionally executed by mainstream cartoonists to full cold-blooded effect. Anthropomorphism called for a different approach, though. "Mark Trail" beavers can't talk (they just can't); Donald-Duck cartooniness would miss the point. The nearest thing the magazine had to Walt Kelly was Vaughn Bodé, who was already fully preoccupied with mortality on his own terms.

Which I suppose is how Bluestone's animal gags ended up with M. K. Brown. Nothing of them but doth change into something funny-strange.

He's fading fast. You've got to remove that tumor, doctor. I'm winded. Let me go and you won't regret it, honey.

. . .

Yet Another "True Life" M. K. Brown Romance

The sui generis lacks blood relations, but convergent evolution remains a possibility. Any reader of M. K. Brown's "The Sad Pony" would have started at Kate Beaton's much later exercises in cheery grotesque pathos.

Admittedly, "any reader" might just have been me.

He grew fatter... and fatter...

. . .

And Another "True Life" M. K. Brown Romance

(part 5 of 7)

"The Sad Pony" was the most surprising Stranger than Life exclusion. The saddest was "The Magic Orange," if only because my own copy's so damaged by the years it spent on my wall as a motivational poster.

It motivated as magic's limiting case. Given only a glove and a sphere to exposit, Brown still Chymically Weds giddy enthusiasm to shabby resignation.

The Magic Orange

What I love most about the comics I love most is their sense of a whole world: "Anything which could happen in this world has a place in this world." (A whole world which is theirs, that is, not mine. Mine, by definition, is not whole.)

These worlds I love live in comics I love, not (for the most part) in the touch of the cartoonist. Although I attend the Church of Herriman at least thrice weekly, my rebirth could not have been induced by Baron Bean, the family downstairs from the Family Upstairs, or Tad-along sports spots. I medidade eklusidly upon the Kat Testamint, for the foundational miracle of the Church was Kat's effect on Herriman's art. Shari Flenniken and Vaughn Bodé, Jaime Hernandez, Aline Kominsky, Eddie Campbell, and so on, work upon me with the art of their their stories, certain characteristic stories, not with single panels or interstitials or commercial illustrations or "Batman" one-offs.

Whereas 1970s M. K. Brown delivered a world equally vividly in gag panel, narrative discourse, or execution of another writer's scripts. Her planet-producing-and-devouring virtues inhered in performance, and her characteristic story was one of composition.

Which sounds a lot like how one is supposed to appreciate (and how I did eventually learn to experience) "high art." It's hard to picture Piero della Francesca as a National Lampoon regular, but Philip Guston's not much of a stretch, and I find it very easy to picture "The Magic Orange" on a gallery wall: I'm used to seeing it on walls. Contrary to idiot opinion over the decades, Brown didn't rely on chemical stimulation to draw. But it might assist her audience.

. . .

Still Another "True Life" M. K. Brown Romance

I only once saw Mary Kay Brown in the flesh, in a panel discussion/interview at where was it? SFAI? SFMOMA? CCAC? anyway, at some venue with a very odd notion of the comics community. The panel consisted of maybe four of MAD magazine's Usual Gang of Idiots, and Brown.

I remember the guys as old fussbudgets who treated Brown like she was a biker gang. I remember Brown as instantly likable, assured, and unassuming. What I wish I could remember more clearly was her answer to a question about how her obvious traditional-realism studio chops had gone so very, very awry. It might have been as direct as "What drugs were you on?"

As I poorly remember, she partly credited ex-husband B. Kliban's advice to skip preliminary sketches from life, and instead draw loosely from memory and follow the line. If she didn't say exactly that, she said something I remembered as that thereafter.

How to Appear Normal - Lesson #1 Keep Your Hands Busy

This would have been in the early 1990s, not long after Twisted Sisters introduced me to Brown's 1980s work.

In the 1970s, she was Sun-Records Elvis, a force of nature, "no man could tame her," finding direction everywhere she happened to bound and footing wherever she happened to land.

She never became fat-Vegas Elvis, but she RCA-ified into something more controlled, more readable. She contextualized her lava-lamp illuminations in a couple of very welcome How-to-Read-M.-K.-Brown primers, "White Girl Dreams" and "I Can't Work Today." Otherwise, faces and figures were snatched from the fondue and set along Mort-Drucker-ish lines. Sets and costumes were borrowed from the New Yorker warehouse. She rubber-stamped White Girl. Gags stayed odd.

. . .

Finally Another "True Life" M. K. Brown Romance

Remember me? I'm the one who loves you

Returning to 1974, what do we see, peering close?

A hunter or explorer, whose bionic rifle looks about to pup. He has not encountered his intended prey or discovery. Any unsought attention points the other way. But predation seems too strong a word for the confident joy beaming from the beast's face? parasite? protective mimicry?

It could suggest a family visit or a singles bar. It could suggest an allegory of critic and art, or artist and work, or fan and artist. It insists only on its own (possibly unwelcome) presence: assured and unassuming.

In Philadelphia five or six years later I heard the song on an oldies station. It made me happy.

. . .

Protest Songs

October 21, 1880.— Haslemere. Our last visit (this time) to Aldworth. Snow on the ground. We all drive up.

Tennyson repeated some lines of his own from an old idyll never published, they were something like this

The rich wed richer, and the poor the poor,
The mount of gold accumulating still,
The gulf of want enlarging, deepening, till
The one into the other sink at last
With all confusion.

‘That’s not quite the thing —“all confusion.” Oh, I’ve written thousands of lines that went up the chimney.’

After dinner Tennyson called on Hallam to sing ‘John Brown,’ which he accordingly began in a strong bass voice, T. joining in (the first time I ever heard him try any musical performance), and sometimes thumping with his fists on the table

John Brown’s body lies mouldering in the grave,
But his soul is marching on!

He urged Hallam to go on, saying, ‘I like it, I like it,’ but Hallam thought the noise too great, and drew off. The soul marching on delighted Tennyson.

- A Diary by William Allingham (1907)

. . .
Popular memory of 60s TV shows fading as fast as memory of 40s radio shows did during my youth. Heartening.
- Jack Womack, Twitter

I feel about the Long Tail the way Oliver felt about Green Acres.


the Long Tail of the Shaggy Dog?

Clay Shirky, slamming door: "We didn't mean that shaggy."

'Well, kids, they were sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit'
I feel about 40's radio shows the way Fibber felt about Molly

I feel about them the way Gildersleeve felt about the closet.

I live where the shadows are Herrimanical where the coyotes do five-part harmonies and there's only three of em also the adobe walls and a crazy cat, and bricks here and there
Big John and Sparky have ascended into the Van Allen Belt

I have few memories from pre-pubescence. One of the most vivid is the mix of admiration and betrayal I felt when Big John & Sparky survived landing on the surface of the sun.

. . .

Couch Platos

It belongs to the puzzling aspects of the allegory of the cave that Plato depicts its inhabitants as frozen, chained before a screen, without any possibility of doing anything or communicating with one another. Indeed, the two politically most significant words designating human activity, talk and action (lexis and praxis), are conspicuously absent from the whole story. The only occupation of the cave dwellers is looking at the screen; they obviously love seeing for its own sake, independent from all practical needs (cf. Aristotle Metaph. 980 a 22-25). The cave dwellers, in other words, are depicted as ordinary men, but also in that one quality that they share with philosophers: they are represented by Plato as potential philosophers, occupied in darkness and ignorance with the one thing the philosopher is concerned with in brightness and full knowledge. [...] he does not tell us why he cannot persuade his fellow citizens, who anyhow are already glued to the screen and thereby in a certain way ready to receive “higher things,” as Hegel called them, to follow his example and choose the way out of the cave.

- from “Philosophy and Politics” by Hannah Arendt,
February 1954 (published 1990)
Are YOU ready for televsion?

Glancing to the left, I could now see the actors’ trembling shadows, getting bigger as they proceeded toward us along the passageway; but I had to look at the monitor to see their intense expressions and detailed clothing. It was like Plato’s allegory of the cave: television, like philosophy, liberates us from un-seeing.

- from “Ottomania” by Elif Batuman,
The New Yorker February 17, 2014


All I ever wanted was a way to talk back to the screen. Now I have that. Why am I not content? Maybe I am content and don't know it? Maybe that wasn't what I wanted after all. I once met Jerry Mander when I was hitchhiking.
That really happened.

Lead author of The Great International Paper Airplane Book!

I used to be able to find good advice from your blog posts.

You used to be very unusual.

We sent away for a screen to cover the screen and special coloring pens. The show would tell us when and what to color. My life hasn't changed a whole lot since then.

. . .

Educated and Uneducated Fools

"Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God"
by Ara Norenzayan, Will M. Gervais, & Kali H. Trzesniewski, PLoS ONE 7.5 (2012)

"Cognitive biases explain religious belief, paranormal belief, and belief in life's purpose"
by Aiyana K. Willard & Ara Norenzayan, Cognition 129 (2013)

"That's All" by Sister Rosetta Thorpe

"Mole in a Hole" by Richard & Linda Thompson

Many, maybe most, of the most understanding, generous, and actively good people I've known express (sheepishly, apologetically) some intuition of "a god" or "a soul." Which is why I haven't been gung ho for atheist proselytizers: I don't feel threatened by personal-belief-in-god(s) so much as by proselytizers.

Like other social psychology studies, these two rely on completely unrepresentative sample populations. However, as social psychologists have shown, we credit the accuracy of reports which confirm our prejudices. Therefore I judge them fine studies.

But also trouble from the get-go. You see, while the authors are professionally committed to secular causality, and presumably also willing to endorse Theory of Mind, they exhibit no opinion whatsoever as regards mind-body dualism and the existence of divinities. They aim to explain belief and disbelief by something other than those propositions' self-evident truth or error.

Which grossly flatters neither of the posited parties. Which means the ball's up for grabs.

And so I wished the papers' authors and editors had kept the likelihood of misreading foremost in mind. I appreciate their not using autism as headline bait in their title; still, they could have kicked off that starter-step more smartly.

Mostly they could have more forcefully distinguished "religion" from "belief in a personal god." A sense that there's something-bigger-than-Phi-il is just one of many nutrients bolted down the maw of the institution. It's neither sufficient nor necessary, and it doesn't link "mentalizing" to "religion-as-we-know-it-best." There's never been a Great Awakening of Unitarian Universalism; bible-belt airwaves don't thunder with embezzlements and threats from the Society of Friends; neither are lynch mobs and heathen burners celebrated for their empathy. And, on the supposed other side of the supposed great divide, although biological evolution isn't "just a theory," it can like the gospels provide fuel for "just another religion" whose salient points are blustering teleology, intolerance, and greed.

Oh, the researchers mention that "living in an area with greater religious attendance increased the odds of believing in God, largely independently of the influence of the cognitive biases"; they mention that applied analytical thinking decreases the odds of believing in God even among extremely helpful people. But with shit like this you gotta mention it every single paragraph, you gotta mention it like the warning on an Academy screener video, you gotta mention it till the rafters ring.

As is, the orthodox have exhibited their usual interpretive care. A SkepticInk member proposed that unequal access to religious feelings is, in itself, a knockout argument against God's existence. A Turkish authority explained the need to indoctrinate autistic children in Islam: "Researchers in the USA and Canada say atheism is a different form of autism." And an all-American troll drew his own mind-reading conclusions from the Turkish authority:

If u choose to leave me message, I will not even read ur comments let alone reply back because It's pointless to argue with a person who has limited cognitive ability, especially a person whose not even aware of it bait me into an immature, endless illogical argument. I don't wanna pick of the handicapped or as we say now in the era of political correctness..mentally challenged..So, I'm ready 4 all of your thumbs down, angry comments, general insults, personal attacks with no substance& illogical fueled bratty tirades. You can't handle the truth cause literally, you can't cause ur literally a cognitive misfit. I always knew there was something wrong with atheists and this proves it but I know atheists are goin2 try 2 downplay and discredit this study anyway because they don't like the results. That's typical..Well. you know what, it works both ways. They can't have their cake and eat it 2, even though it's their nature..

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .