Image Inconsistency in Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and BullwinkleAs regular readers know, I am a huge fan of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. I learned how to be a real man from Rocky — voiced by the beautiful and talented June Foray. And Bullwinkle is the prototype of all my close friends. (Oh, I’m kidding!) But most of all, I learned my philosophy of life, and I am very serious about this: it is much better to be lucky than smart. Most people throughout the world understand this philosophy, but Americans are strangely ignorant about it. They foolishly believe (despite all evidence including that from their own lives) that the world rewards talent and hard work. (Of course it does — as long as you are lucky.)

But all the time growing up, there was one thing that bothered me: animation inconsistencies. The show was produced in the United States. But all the animation was done in Mexico — an early example of outsourcing. And as is often the case in such situations, communication was not great. And it resulted in sequences that were clearly done at different times with little knowledge of each other. As a kid, the part that really bugged me was Rocky’s jump into the tub of water.

It starts with an image of a pool of water and the camera tilts up the ladder to a diving board where we see our plucky hero. But you can see it is very large pool — much wider than it is deep. We watch Rocky as he flies through the air. Then the image cuts to Bullwinkle, who is leaning against what is clearly a different water container — a tub now, not a pool. And this is very important because Bullwinkle could never have moved that pool around. See what I mean:

Bullwinkle tub

But there is another one that has bothered me a lot more as an adult. In the opening of “Aesop and Son” the titular characters are brunets. But once the story starts, they are blonds. As a brunet, I find it vaguely offensive. I’m sure the title sequence was created first. You can just imagine some executive saying, “Can’t we make those characters look more American?!” And by “American” he meant, “Someone who would fit right in at a a meeting of the Aryan Brotherhood.”

Aesop and Son

This is all due to the fact that The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show was made on a shoestring. And that is part of its charm. The animation is clunky. The writing is idiosyncratic. And they go together. Some of the visuals are inconsistent and some of the puns are unforgivable. “Parole out the barrel”?!

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Was It Really G K Chesterton Who Said…

G K ChestertonI’ve been having a bit of a problem about G K Chesterton.

He was a great English writer around the turn of the 20th century. He is probably best known for his Father Brown mysteries. But he was more of what we think of as a public intellectual. He wrote about a great many things. And he influenced generations of writers. As diverse a collection as C S Lewis, Marshall McLuhan, and Neil Gaiman were all profoundly influenced by him.

I tend to think of him as a conservative thinker. But at this point, that phrase — “conservative thinker” — seems mostly a contradiction. But there was a time when this was not necessarily the case. It is, after all, possible to respect tradition and yet be open to change. I don’t think he was incorrect when he wrote, “He is a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of a conservative” — although I’m aware that a lot of conservatives think this without cause. Chesterton, however, was a close friend of George Bernard Shaw. The two of them apparently had wide ranging discussions during which they rarely agreed. I’m sure they disagreed about religion (Shaw was an atheist of my variety and he was a Christian) and religion (Shaw was a socialist and he wasn’t even keen on democracy).

But my problem has nothing to do with Chesterton’s beliefs. He is a highly quotable guy. In fact, in my copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, Chesterton appears on three pages with 30 different quotations. But the following one attributed to him in the pilot episode of Ripping Yarns is not there:

It is hard to nail down the quote, because even the director in this skit (Terry Jones) isn’t consistent. But I assume that this is the quote, “The follies of men’s youth are in retrospect glorious compared to the follies of old age.” It’s a great quote. I want to use it. But I think that it wasn’t Chesterton. And even in the skit, Michael Palin says, “I think it was…” So maybe they just figured that Chesterton had the kind of intellectual oomph they were looking for.

But I can’t seem to find the quotation anywhere except by people who got it from Ripping Yarns. Is it possible that Palin and Jones wrote it? The sentiment sounds eternal — like it is found somewhere in the Old Testament. At the same time, the sentence structure is lovely. But I don’t like feeling ignorant on this point. So if anyone knows anything, please let me know.

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Keynes the Boogeyman of Conservatives

John CochraneI was really depressed when I saw John Cochrane’s OpEd in The Wall Street Journal Monday, An Autopsy for the Keynesians. It wasn’t because it was totally wrong. But it is that. Ask Paul Krugman, Commies Like Me. Or Dean Baker, John Cochrane Versus the Keynesians, #23,127. Or Brad DeLong, If You Had Told Me Twenty Years Ago That the People The Wall Street Journal Put on Its Op-Ed Page Would Only Get Less Hinged as Time Passed… Or Noah Smith, Commie Commie Commie Commie Commie K-Keynesian. Or Frances Coppola, The Gullible Economist. Or Barkley Rosser, More Piling On Cochrane. I’m used to Cochrane writing absolutely stupid things.

What depressed me was that his article was so entirely typical of what we get from conservative economists who have done good work in the past. Or at least I think they’ve done good work in the past. People who know about such things certainly seem to think so. I don’t much pay attention to Cochrane. I’m much more focused on Greg Mankiw — probably because I better understand his economic work. But none of it matters because when they start talking policy, all their knowledge goes out the window. Earlier this year, Mankiw was arguing that of course the rich deserve everything they can because Robert Downey Jr starred in Iron Man 3. More recently, Cochrane was making the argument that inequality doesn’t matter because… single motherhood or something. When these jokers make policy arguments, they aren’t doing economics. They are simply pushing extremely tired arguments in favor the aristocracy that have been made for hundreds of years.

What bothers me is that none of these people ever pays a professional price for being out pushing the interests of the power elite. People will still look back on work they did in their 20s or 30s and note how professional it was. Sure, the economics blogs will attack them if they are pushing their vile apologetics in a venue that has a high enough profile. But there won’t be any good dinner parties they will miss because of this behavior. In fact, it will likely be the opposite. And no one will snub them at a conference and no one will fire them and no one will refuse to publish their books.

Of even greater concern is that these people will be eagerly sought in the next Republican administration. We know that of Mankiw. And we also know that his policy beliefs are entirely dependent upon who is in the White House. So if President Cruz calls him for economic advice, I’m know that Mankiw will be a Keynesian. And I’m sure that Cochrane will do the same thing. Because regardless of what he may rant around in The Wall Street Journal, he will do what they all do when it comes to practical matters: he will turn to Keynes.

So we are left with a situation where writing total blather in major newspapers makes these guys much more likely to go into government. And once there, they will be forced to grapple with actual practical economics. They will, of course, push the usual supply side nonsense loved by conservatives everywhere. But they will also have to admit that, yes, Keynes was right — not that they will say so in public. Because when it comes to the conservative audience — most especially including the politicians — Keynes isn’t an economist to be argued about; he’s the boogeyman.

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The Fanatical Type

Eric HofferThough there are obvious differences between the fanatical Christian, the fanatical Mohammedan, the fanatical nationalist, the fanatical Communist and the fanatical Nazi, it is yet true that the fanaticism which animates them may be viewed and treated as one. The same is true of the force which drives them on to expansion and world dominion. There is a certain uniformity in all types of dedication, of faith, of pursuit of power, of unity and of self-sacrifice. There are vast differences in the contents of holy causes and doctrines, but a certain uniformity in the factors which make them effective. He who, like Pascal, finds precise reasons for the effectiveness of Christian doctrine has also found the reasons for the effectiveness of Communist, Nazi and nationalist doctrine. However different the holy causes people die for, they perhaps die basically for the same thing.

—Eric Hoffer
The True Believer

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Elisha Cook

Elisha Cook JrOn this day in 1903, the great character actor Elisha Cook was born. Actually, he’s a junior, but given that his father wasn’t in the entertainment business, I see no reason why we need to make note of that. I don’t think anyone would ever say, “Elisha Cook? You mean the San Francisco pharmacist?!” Still, it is a nice act of honor for the son to have performed.

Cook is best known for his knowledge of drug side effects. His son was best known for the part of the young thug Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon. But I liked him in roles where he played nice guys. There was always something fundamentally decent in what he displayed on screen. That’s even true of Wilmer, who ultimately comes off as a lost soul — more a victim than a victimizer.

Cook was also known for his courteous service and quick prescription fulfillment. His son was known for his roles in The Big Sleep, Shane, The Killing, House on Haunted Hill, and Rosemary’s Baby. This is a typical part in the film Born to Kill. Here he tries to kill an old woman and has a very bad time of it. “You can depend on me, glamour girl!”

Happy birthday Elisha Cook, whenever his birthday was. And happy birthday to his son, who was born on this day!

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Darrell Issa’s Christmas Present

Darrell IssaJust in time for Thanksgiving, Darrell Issa released his final report on Benghazi — after two years of claiming that there was a big White House conspiracy to kill brave Americans and then to cover it up for political gain. The report’s findings: nothing whatsoever. It didn’t come as a surprise. I’d been saying the same thing since almost the start of the supposed scandal. It was just Republicans — as usual — looking for anything to complain about because they have literally nothing to add to any policy discussion.

And now, just in time for Christmas, Darrell Issa released his final report on the IRS targeting of tax-exempt, supposed social welfare groups — after coming up on two years of claiming that there was a big White House conspiracy to abuse conservative groups. The report’s findings (pdf): nothing whatsoever. Was the White House sending commands to the IRS to attack Obama’s enemies? No. Was the IRS targeting conservative groups and not liberal groups? No. Of course, we knew this back at the beginning. Michael Hiltzik explains it, Issa’s Big Dud: No White House Connection to IRS “Scandal”:

The evidence set forth in the report, which was issued by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s GOP majority without sharing it first with the Democratic minority, instead depicts an IRS struggling to apply complicated rules for nonprofits engaging in political activity, all without guidance from Congress.

This is how Darrell Issa works. He makes loads of allegations very loudly as he makes the rounds to all the conservative media outlets. Then, he releases a report that says, “There is no evidence to back up anything I’ve been saying.” And since no one important is paying attention when he releases his reports, he wins. He’s been able to poison the political environment and make the Democrats look bad. No one is able to say quite what happened regarding Benghazi or IRS, but they will know that something happened and that the Democrats must have been up to something.

So let’s be clear: the only Benghazi scandal was that Republicans used the deaths of four Americans to push their own agenda and blacken the reputation of the United States government. And the only IRS scandal was that Republicans used a minor bureaucratic problem to push their own agenda and blacken the reputation of the United States government. In the process, the Republicans managed to force the IRS to grant 501(c)4 tax status to a number of conservative groups that absolutely should not have qualified.

Darrell Issa is the James O’Keefe of Congress. The question is what stunt he will come up with next. Sadly, the question is not whether the media will continue to fall for his tricks. We know the answer to that: yes. It doesn’t matter how much Issa manipulates the media and is shown to be completely wrong, they will come running when he calls. And when you wonder what has become of our democracy, all you need do is look around at all the “objective” journalists and see how they act as nothing but propagandists to anyone who claims to be telling “one side” of a story.

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Christmas Music Doesn’t Have to Suck

Christmas MusicI had wanted to put together some music for Christmas. But you know: music that doesn’t suck. This is a lot harder a chore than it sounds like. The truth is that most traditional Christmas music really is terrible. And I don’t say that out of some desire to be iconoclastic. Part of it is just that I really do have a low opinion of Perry Como. But I will admit that most of it is simply the fact that I’m just really, really bored with it.

Another problem is that most Christmas music is not organic. At some point in a star’s career, someone who worries about money says, “It’s time to release a Christmas album.” The star doesn’t understand why at first, but as soon as it is explained, he is on board. Everyone likes free money!

But despite the fact that most Christmas music is primarily about money (Fitting!) and tired, there are some songs that I like. Let’s start with a classic, “Blue Christmas” by Elvis. I just like his affected singing. Plus, it’s just a love song with some clever lyrics:

“Santa Baby” is a silly song. But Eartha Kitt is wonderful:

You know, there was a kind of “new wave” music that didn’t suck. Mostly, it was when they didn’t take themselves seriously and didn’t use synths. That’s why Tom Tom Club was better than the first Talking Heads album. And that why one of the most enduring Christmas songs is The Waitresses’ “I Know What Boys Like” “Christmas Wrapping”:

I’m sure there are others, but I don’t have time for a bunch of research or reflection. Ultimately, I think the best thing for Christmas is just to put on some great music regardless. But thus far this holiday season, I’ve been forced to turn off Bill Evans and Jacques Brel. But personally, I think that Mozart is very festive:

I hope you have a merry Christmas, even if the music sucks all day long!

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Avoiding Christmas Conflict

Christmas DinnerAre you wondering how you are going to get through this holiday season without killing your family members? Last year, I offered up a little advice, Pigeons and Politics. It was a little serious guidance from my years of both having reasonable political discussions and having ones that came to blows. Ultimately, the best thing to do is to avoid everything except maybe, “How about them Ravens?!” That is unfortunately as far as I can go. One of the best moments in The Birdcage was where Armand says, “How do you feel about that call today?” to Albert as they practice not being gay. Albert responds, “How do you think I feel? Betrayed, bewildered… wrong response?” But the truth is that Armand doesn’t know anymore than Albert.

Luckily, The Onion offered up some helpful advice, Avoiding Family Conflict During the Holiday Season. Much of it is just amusing like, “Try to end thousands of years of entrenched prejudices before flying home and talking about current events.” Or: “Avoid anything that could trigger fights, like a history of family depression.” Or even: “Change name. Start new life.”

That last one is part of a broader category of actually useful advice. For example, “Split potentially huge family blowouts into smaller, more manageable bickering matches over the course of the holiday season.” Or: “Ensure each family member has their own table at which to eat dinner.” But most of all, there is this rather too detailed plan for the day:

If you become frustrated during the festivities, consider going for a walk to the end of the driveway, continuing on for half an hour, reaching the town limits, entering a train station, buying the first available ticket, arriving in a town called Rockport, heading to the edge of the ocean, and just screaming.

Some of them, however, are just hysterically funny (not that the last one wasn’t). Consider, “Take the time to consider things from your brother-in-law’s point of view so you can fully appreciate how f**king stupid his perspective is.” Or: “Make yourself appear larger than you are around your father-in-law by standing up on your hind legs and puffing out your chest.” But my favorite sounds like something I’ve experienced, “Encourage family members to seek personal space when they need it by telling them the front door’s right f**king there anytime they want to use it.”

I hope this helps to make your holiday experience better. And if not: there’s always the train.

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The Reason for the Season Is a Myth

The Human BibleThe idea is that the canonical and non-canonical gospels are none of them biographies in the modern sense. Some were simply collections of sayings attributed to Jesus or stories about Jesus, some of them allegorical, some legendary, few historical. Others were attempts to write for Jesus the sort of literary and edifying biography then written about certain great Greco-Roman figures like Pytha­goras and Apollonius of Tyana. But these, too, were far from what the modern scholar would consider to be historical.

Thus the work of the student of the historical Jesus is rather like looking for a historical needle in a legendary haystack. There is little to find, and it is not easy to find even that. Even so, some scholars have done a passable job reconstructing possible versions of the historical Jesus. Some paint him as a peasant revolutionist, violent or non-violent. Others make him a magician. Some an apocalyptic prophet, others a wandering sage.

And of course some of these Jesus-constructs are combinable. Each is a “historical Jesus” in that each is a viable product of the science of historical reconstruction. The trouble is, there is really no way of knowing how close to the real thing any of these reconstructions has come. And there never will be until someone smarter than us New Testament scholars invents a time machine.

The “historical Jesus” in the sense of “Jesus as he really was,” must remain, I am convinced, unknown to us. Thus it is fair, though admittedly a bit clever, to say that whether or not there was a historical Jesus, there is no longer. That is, even assum­ing Jesus of Nazareth to have been a historical character who actually lived, we have no access to him and never will.

—Robert M Price
The Christ Myth and the Christian Goddess

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Rod Serling

Rod SerlingOn this day in 1924, the great writer and television producer Rod Serling was born. He served in the Pacific during World War II and after returning home, he went to Antioch College where he received his bachelor’s degree in literature. During his time there, he became involved in radio and so he began working in it. Soon, he moved to into television. Probably most notable during this career was the production of his teleplay, Requiem for a Heavyweight.

In 1959, Serling got to produce the series that he was best known for, The Twilight Zone. As great as Serling was as a writer, just important to the success of the show was his decision to work with Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson. All three of them are among the best television writers ever — regardless of genre. And the shows hold up remarkably well even today.

Since it is Christmas, I have to embed what is by far the best Christmas show ever made, “Night of the Meek.” It was the ninth episode of the second season of The Twilight Zone. And it does a better job than anything else in summing up what I think Christmas is all about. Of course, I feel an extremely strong kinship with Henry Corwin (played by Art Carney). It’s beautiful:

After The Twilight Zone, Serling created Night Gallery. I still think it was a fine show — in many ways as good as The Twilight Zone. But Serling didn’t stay in charge of the series for very long and it rather quickly got terrible. But at first, it was great. And it was quite good for while. Here is the pilot:

Serling had heart trouble when he was only 50 years old. It quickly led to his death. I’m sure if he had lived at a later time, things would have gone better for him — and for us. Still, it is amazing how much great work he produced in his short lifetime. He really was a kind of Christmas present for our culture 90 years ago.

Happy birthday Rod Serling!

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