Wednesday, September 20, 2017

As a matter of fact, the sky IS falling!

Cartoonist Walt Kelly was the man who came up with the slogan, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” It is a pithy way of referring to people causing an ecological disaster, and trashing the planet. I don’t usually care much for bumper stickers as philosophy, but that one is an exception. He was correct, probably even beyond his wildest imaginings. He died in 1973, so he did not get to see what an enemy we really are to ourselves.

“Chicken Little” is a story Kelly did for a book, Uncle Pogo’s So-So Stories, in 1953. It is original to the book, and has all Kelly’s piquant humor. Kelly was just making a funny story out of an old tale. But to me, Chicken Little was right: the sky IS falling! Chicken Little just got off to a bad start with a false warning, and then his credibility was crushed. The sky is falling (metaphorically), because our continued disrespect and abuse of our planet has caused it to turn on us in ways the planet wind, flood and fire.

We have been hearing about climate change and global warming for several years now, and yet we have been slow to react. Some of it has to do with outright denial. Some influential people — whose fortunes were made on pumping stuff into the atmosphere that is causing us troubles now — continue to say that there is no problem; it is all just cyclical stuff, they say...Earth will make the necessary corrections and things will go back to the way they were, they say.

I’d say if there is even a 50-50 chance the top climatologists in the world are correct (and I believe the chance is actually 100%; after all, since they are the experts), then we should have been busy doing something about it for a long time, now. When the president of the United States, protecting his fellow million-and-billionaire buddies and their dirty industries says “It’s a hoax,” and 1/3 of the American population believe him, then he begins dismantling government agencies that have traditionally helped with efforts to take the crap out of the air, we know we are in serious trouble.

I scanned the story from a secondary source, from the humor anthology, Houseful of Laughter, edited by Bennett Cerf.

Copyright © 1963 by Random House.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Intersection of Religion and Politics

Illustration by Par Holman. Copyright © 2017 Par Holman

I read that a few days ago some evangelical types did a laying-on-of-hands for Donald Trump, praying for him. Trying to jump start his spiritual battery, I suppose. Trump is not exactly what I would call a religious type, but in this case he probably figured what-the-hell. What did he have to lose? Presidents, no matter if religious, find that catering to the faithful among the citizens is good politics.

In that way we mix religion with State.

On a more personal note, the adage of keeping out of trouble by avoiding the topics of religion and politics in conversation is true. It has caused a major rift in my wife’s family, some of whom are speaking, some not. My wife’s brothers are, like me, anti-Trump and unreligious. My wife’s sister and her husband, as well as some of their children, are evangelicals and pro-Trump. Like most families you find both kinds at the family reunions, except in this case there are no family reunions. The only mixing we have done with that side of the family was at a wedding several months ago, and we decided to handle it with smiles. We were comfortable, the other side of the family was not.

The pro-Trump brother-in-law wrote one of my anti-Trump brothers-in-law, publishing it on Facebook for the world to see, and criticized him for acting like he thought people who voted for Trump were ignorant and stupid.

Okay. I am guilty of those feelings, too. How else can I be, when the parade of idiocy passes in front of my eyes every day as Trump comes up with one outrage after another? Why would I think anyone who would vote for Trump was ignoring common sense and decades of stories about the man and his childish behavior?

The morning after the 2016 election one of the members of the family’s pro-Trump faction posted on Facebook, “When Trump won, God won.” That person is not on my Facebook page, so I heard about it second hand. Despite knowing their evangelical gusto and spread-the-gospel zeal, I could not see how they equated Trump with God. I believe that Trump could be the poster child for what not to do to lead a religious lifestyle. But then, maybe I should not be surprised. I live in Utah, where the state is not only solid Republican, but the lawmakers are almost all Latter-day Saints. Despite their core religious beliefs, they come in all types, and some of them make Trump’s chicanery seem childish. Not for nothing does Utah have the reputation for being tops in having the faithful suckered by con men.

As churches, evangelicals are spread out over Utah, but they are a minority in the larger Christian community.

Back to Trump. The guy has a reputation for being crooked in so many areas that he reminds me of the types that Jesus supposedly ran out of the temple. Why is it that some of the poorest people in this country are putting their faith in Trump, whose business acumen is mainly how to borrow money, declare bankruptcy, hire out his name for shoddy products (Trump Steaks, Trump University), and stiff contractors when they have completed their work? As mentioned before, Trump has more lawsuits against him than any other real estate mogul. He is not a religious icon, he is just this side of criminal, and maybe if we knew more about him we might see him to be more criminal than saint.

One of the things the Facebook letter said to my brother-in-law was that “liberals” are a sad and unhappy bunch. Well, maybe some are. I am only sad because Trump is president, and for some reason the Democrats could not get it together enough to beat the Republicans, losing the House, Senate and presidency. Other than that I am not unhappy, because karma, or judgment from god notwithstanding, things do tend to even out. Had Trump not run for president he could have enjoyed without much scrutiny his life of opulence and pleasure on the backs of little people. But now that he is in the white hot spotlight, everyone is focused in on him and his family of ne’er do wells. I go back at least 30 years in reading stories about Trump. He gloried in his reputation as a philanderer.  He took pleasure in his reputation as a business shark. I guess what the guy who wrote the Facebook letter to my brother-in-law missed out on is that Trump will never be presidential. There is nothing that will restrain him from being his own worst enemy.

Remember the Spider-Man credo? “With great power comes great responsibility.” Great power also comes with the eyes of the world fixed on the powerful. Everything that person does is under constant scrutiny.

So what to do about those religious people, like those in my wife’s family, who are still imbuing him with attributes he does not have, i.e., conscience, fair play,..a soul (even if I do not believe such a thing exists)? Nothing I can say to them will shake their faith or make them think less of him. It actually has the opposite effect. Because liberals like me, my family and my brothers-in-law don’t like their idol it gives them further fuel for their paranoid conspiracy theories, that the “left” along with the “fake news” is out to get him in some sort of witch hunt.

 I guess the best thing to do is sit back and watch as all of the shady acts of Trump’s life come back to get him in the end. Might be sooner, might be later, but as my religious neighbors might say, good Lord willin', it will get him.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

L. Frank Baum, father of the Wizard of Oz

Lyman Frank Baum created a whole world in his Oz series for children. Published originally in 1900, the original Oz book has gone through countless printings, and the 1939 movie based on it is considered one of the greatest movies ever made. This article, by Daniel Mannix, which appeared in the December 1964 issue of American Heritage, is a tribute to both the man and his creation.

Copyright © 1964 American Heritage

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The hungry, haunted house

Haunted house stories in fiction can be very entertaining, even if you don’t believe in ghosts and wandering spirits or demons.

I don’t know if Robert Bloch believed in the supernatural. But he was a writer who wrote all kinds of fictional weird tales, including stories of hauntings. He made his living writing stories like “The Hungry House.” I am presenting the scans from its original appearance in the magazine, Imagination, April, 1951. So, whether you believe in ghosts or!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Hollywood Rule: Between facts and legend, show the legend

I watched The Revenant again recently. This time I felt the need to look up what is known of the mountain man, Hugh Glass, an attack by a grizzly bear, and the truth of his quest for revenge on men who left him to die. During my second viewing I thought the story seemed too good to be true, more Hollywood than fact.

Such is actually the case. Or what little is known of it. Glass’s encounter with the bear happened in the wilderness in 1823, which was a long way from any newspapers or traditional ways of telling the story. The historical accounts I was able to find don’t mention the son of Glass, killed by the slimy Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy), as shown in the movie version.

This cartoonist’s version of the Glass story, taken from an old pulp magazine (sorry, I don’t know which one), has Glass going after the men who left him to die, but then forgiving them. In the movie he exacts a gory and violent revenge, which makes a lot better cinema, but impugns Glass’s real-life character.

Click on it to make it big.

This article, "A Difficult Man to Kill" from True West magazine, tells what is known of the facts of the story.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What DON’T we know about Donald Trump?

Copyright  © 2017 Par Holman

Since the election of Donald Trump this past November this blog has been mostly about my outrage. I have found out that to a lot of other people, not just me, there have been feelings of depression and anxiety. Depression that we have four years (at least) to look at this man's face, and anxiety that we don’t know what he will do.

In most of my posts I reiterate my feeling that what we do know about Trump makes us wonder about what we don’t know. Personally, I want see more of his taxes. I was interested in the one example we have, released by the White House ahead of Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC. The taxes showed that in 2005 Trump had earned about $158 million, but paid taxes of $38 million. That seems fair and right to me. A statement he made after that revelation was not challenged by any of the TV people who make a living talking about Trump, that Trump wanted to change the tax codes to prevent that from happening again. I am surprised the news media (what Trump calls "fake news" if it doesn’t agree with him) didn’t pick up on that. Trump would like to change the tax laws to be more in favor of the rich. As he attempts to do just that, we will have to see how it all shakes out. I hope there are enough members of the Congress and Senate to block new laws that just shift more of the tax burden on middle class families.

Recent revelations about another rich man, Fox News broadcaster Bill O’Reilly, paying millions to women suing him for sexual harassment brings back my oft-repeated question about Trump. How much has he paid women to keep quiet about his own sexual proclivities? He is a self-confessed adulterer, and has bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy,” not to mention being caught on tape describing his days as owner of the Miss Universe and Miss Teen USA pageants. He was able to walk into the dressing room where young women were in various forms of undress, and brag there wasn’t anything they could do about it. He was the boss! He has also been sued by several women for groping and unwanted sexual attention, but it seems as soon as those stories appear they disappear. The women allow themselves to be identified. Trump would like everyone to believe they are lying. But I believe the stories fit the image we have already of Trump.

Another big nine-day wonder of a story had to do with Trump paying Russian prostitutes to urinate on the hotel room bed that Barack and Michelle Obama had slept in while guests in Russia. Again fitting Trump’s image it could be true, but I believe the news media has dropped it because its origin is hard to pin down. Of course Trump denies it, but then he denies everything negative about him. In this case he could be right. I believe we will probably have to wait until the various investigations about the Trump dealings with the Russians are completed. And I am only about 50% certain those investigations will be unbiased, actually looking for the truth rather than a whitewash.

I still think, as the cartoon above shows, that Trump has proverbial skeletons in the proverbial closet. A guy doesn’t get through life defrauding contractors, denying certain races access to his rental properties, groping women, having a couple of ex-wives who say nothing about him because of non-disclosure agreements, without having a lot of things someone knows about him that have not been made public.

I also read that Trump has had over 3500 lawsuits, both those brought against him, and suits he has brought. He is sued for not living up to a contract or for egregious behavior. He has more lawsuits than the next five most successful realtors in New York combined.

Timothy O’Brien, who wrote a book a few years ago that claimed Trump was worth about 150 to 250 million, rather than the billions he claims, was sued. Trump lost that one. Trump also uses the threats of suits to shut down what people say about him. For Trump image is everything, and when people point out that his image is tarnished beyond hope of re-plating or polishing he turns to his lawyers. That's the sure sign of a bully: pick a fight, then get someone else to go to battle for him.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Faked-out by fake news

After all the recent talk and accusations about fake news, I was reminded of an incident years ago, seeing the result of fake news in person. I recently went through the online archives of Weekly World News, a sometimes satiric supermarket tabloid no longer published, so I could show you the actual issue that caused a grocery store checkout-line uproar.

Over 20 years ago I was waiting to buy my groceries in a local supermarket, when a little old lady ahead of me in line became very concerned. She was looking at the cover of the Weekly World News issue of July 11, 1995. She exclaimed to the checker, “Oh no! They are going to take away my Social Security! What will I do?” There was anguish in her voice. Just moments before I had seen the same headline, but it did not mean the same thing to me as it did to the woman. The checker told her, “That’s not a true story...that magazine is trying to be funny.” The woman said something that registered with me, so that I still remember it. She said, "But they can’t publish it if it isn’t true!”

Weekly World News was something I sometimes noticed because of ridiculous stories about UFOs landing, aliens taking over the White House, Jesus coming back, and the the silly Bat Boy. I had heard the woman’s assertion before that something has to be true to be published, and as a Mad fan, knew that satire was a protected area of free speech. But when satire doesn’t look like satire, then to a gullible mind the story must be true.

I wonder if she went home and had a sleepless night, fretting about losing her monthly government stipend.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Nowadays, reading the article by “Nick Mann,” I can see how someone could be suckered into thinking it was true. It comes off as a fairly straight news story, not as outrageous as most Weekly World News stories. It is essentially how some people fall for screwball Internet stories about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a Washington Pizzeria. To many of us that claim is so ridiculous on its face that we would just dismiss it as being in that Weekly World News category. But to some, like a man who invaded the actual pizzeria and fired a shot into the ceiling so he could free the sex slaves, the distinction between fantasy and reality isn’t so finely tuned.

I think we will hear more in the future about fake news, because now it is proliferating. If the president of the United States cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality, then we are in for more outbursts like that of Trump’s tweeted beliefs that he had his “wires tapped” by his predecessor. We also have a clear indication that fake news is not only created internally, but also used by groups from Russia trying to destabilize us, and doing a pretty good job at it.

If you read the Weekly World News article, in the first paragraph it states that “Social Security will be abolished during a trumped-up financial crisis.” The irony of the current president’s name being the same as a word that is defined as to “fabricate, devise (1690s)”, and “deceive, cheat (1510s)” is just too incredible not to mention. Like the story that uses it, it seems almost too apt not to be true.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Allow me my own alternative fact...

This cartoon by Liam Francis Walsh, which appeared in the February 22, 2016 issue of The New Yorker, is both brilliant and funny. Who doesn’t remember those terrors in the night, worrying that if you put your feet on the floor, something under your bed would grab you? I was lucky with both my dad and mom who were there to reassure me there was nothing lurking in my bedroom...nothing to grab me and eat me, anyway. My imagination was very powerful.

Copyright 2016 The New Yorker

Based on current events, seeing the cartoon again the other day gave me a completely different spin. Just 7 weeks into the Trump presidency, I see the monster as Trump, carrying off innocent citizens who have done nothing wrong, and the dad peering under the bed being representative of those Trump fans who refuse to see the monster in him.

After all, we had example after example in nearly two years of campaigning that a belligerent Trump has only a passing acquaintance with truth. He believes that when something, no matter how outrageous, comes out of his mouth and gets reported, that makes it true. Then when the fact checkers get through with him, he just blames the news media for being “fake.” (Dictionary makers take heed: there is now a whole new definition of the word “fake.”) Trump gets his information from people online or on cable TV that we think of as total screwballs. That may be unprecedented in modern history.

I have so many questions about Trump, most of them unanswered for what I think are legal reasons: people who know the worst things about Trump are probably silenced by having to sign non-disclosure agreements. I am sure his ex-wives have signed them, and I wouldn’t doubt that even his children and current spouse have signed them. We know nothing of Trump’s medical history. Sometimes I wonder if he is on drugs, or exhibiting signs of dementia. Is there some requirement that a president take a physical? A quick check shows that no, there is not.

There are so many things we are able to observe about Trump which make him seem the most unlikely and unqualified person in America to be its president. Yet he still has millions of fans who think he is doing just great.

With all of that weighing on my mind at the moment maybe you'll understand why I looked at the cartoon and saw an “alternative fact” for its meaning.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

We think we know way more than we actually do

The New Yorker for February 27, 2017, has an article, “That's what you think” by Elizabeth Kolbert. It is why humans think the way we do. Hint: it has to do with evolution, and fitting into society.  One of the parts of the article especially  intrigued me. Students were given a questionaire, asking them to describe how a toilet works.
The assignment, according to the author, “revealed to students their own ignorance . . . (Toilets, it turns out, are more complicated than they appear.)

“Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown, and Stanley Ferbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, are also cognitive scientists. They, too, believe sociability is the key to how the human functions or, perhaps more pertinently, malfunctions. They begin their book, The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, with a look at toilets. . . [they] see this effect, which they call the ‘the illusion of explanatory depth,’ just about everywhere. People believe they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We've been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.”
That is fascinating, because I realized  many years ago what they are saying. The article did not mention cars, because I think I know a lot about cars, but I understand I know the functional, not the mechanical.  I can drive a car, maneuver in traffic, brake, read speed limit signs, traffic semaphores, and after 56 years of driving I have developed a sort of sixth sense of what other drivers are doing or are about to do. But if the car breaks down I need someone else’s expertise. All of the extra senses in the world won’t get a car running if the timing belt is broken, or the starter motor goes out. But then, unlike the toilet, which depends on gravity and some very easy to understand principles of plumbing, cars nowadays are full of computerized parts. Even the car experts need external help to figure out what’s wrong. I think most people understand they don’t know enough about modern cars to fix more shade tree mechanics, for instance.

But the part about the toilet struck me, because I thought I knew what made a toilet work. When I looked it up online I was surprised at how simple it is, but someone had to think of it first. That person was most likely a genius in their time. “How Toilets Work”.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

New Yorker: Eating a dog

(You all know how to click on a picture to make it bigger.)

Years ago, watching the PBS series, The Last Place on Earth, the story of the first explorers to reach the South Pole, I remember feeling revulsion when they ate their dogs to stay alive. I sometimes project myself into a situation if I am watching in a movie or on television. I thought I would rather starve than eat a dog.

Dogs and cats are sacred to Americans. Most of us, anyway. I know one guy who objects to spaying and neutering animals because we'll need to eat them when we are in the midst of the apocalypse. I excuse him; he is what I call quirky.

Because of our feelings for domestic animals, a cartoon like this from the December 14, 1940 New Yorker, would probably not be published today. It would provoke outrage. Carl Rose is the cartoonist behind this eye-opener. He’s an artist who has been mostly forgotten,* but he was an award-winner, and did illustration work as well as gag cartoons.

My guess on how this dog cartoon came about is when he (or the editor, who may have assigned it to him) read the article in the November 25, 1940 issue of Time. His imagination ran free on how a food editor might experience what a dog tastes like. It’s appalling, but funny in a sick sort of way. Still, no boycotts of me, please. I am just showing it as an example of what we can’t show today. (That makes no sense, I know.)

*Hairy Green Eyeball has a couple of collections of Carl Rose’s work, including a fictional cartoon history of a heroic war dog.