From Shorpy


The cold is starting to make everyone slightly murderous. You realize that it’s now late March, and everything feels and looks like the worst part of January - endless snow, hatpin winds, ice everywhere - the dog cannot get to the yard because there’s a pack of ice at the bottom of the stairs, and his legs, already inclined to go every which way, cross up and fold like a busted cot. Today on the way to do his work in the snow he slipped, and when he fell it actually shot the offal right out Tube #1, and while that was certainly the end objective, literally, it would be humiliating if he was aware of such things. I laughed. You can always laugh at dogs. They’re probably relieved because that sound means there aren’t any words that concern them.

But we soldier on, as Napoleon’s troops said on the way back from Moscow.

I would be content to sit in a warm room all day and write, or edit, or otherwise summon things out of pixels, but after a while you go mad, and have to go be among people. Off to the office, listening to the same radio programs. It’s either the BBC, or Prager, or the old radio show channel, or the Clean Comedy channel. The Salty Comedy channel is funny, but less so, mostly because the “edgy” comics are generally much less intelligent.

There are a few comics who appear over and over, often for good reason. Jim Gaffigan is funny. Mitch Hedberg is very funny. Or was. Bob Newhart reminds you why people bought the albums: the routines merit relistening, until you come to anticipate the line you really like. Then there are people who tell long, long stories that may have a payoff, and you can tell they’re “speakers” more than comics. Jeanne Robertson. Jerry Clower. The latter tells Suthun tales with a great boomin’ voice what uses backwoods locutions to powerful Ee-ffect, wut with tayls of Unca Clovus and Eudell and Odell and the lahk. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed at a single routine, but I find the voice and manner of delivery mesmerizing. (Short clip.)



Today, again: Brother Dave. Not Dave Garroway, who comes to mind whenever I think of midcentury middlebrow media personalities with black glasses, but Brother Dave Gardner. He’s worth noting, if only to note how times and tastes change. Wikipedia says he worked in the Andy Griffith / Jerry Clower mode of southern storytellers, but he snuck in a beatnik tone. (A 1962 reefer bust explains that, perhaps.) The routines are long, sorely lacking in structure or jokes, and seem to rely on the Northern audience’s amusement at a Southern archetype playing a hipster Baptist, or something.

We didn’t have those at home. Had a few Bob Newharts, including the famous “Button-Down Mind.” I did not understand what that meant, but inferred there was something repressed about it. This led to a love of Comedy Albums, which led to Carlin’s “AM / FM,” which had the self-righteous cynical misanthropy beloved by a junior high boy. Between Carlin and the Firesign Theater, these guys managed to associate the standard style of commercial announcing with empty falsehoods and cheery lies. Everyone goes into the standard cliche DJ or game-show host voice today when they want to indicate that they’re being ironic and don’t mean what they say. Even though no one’s spoken that way for oh, forty years. The inversion of the style had a longer life than the original meaning. Carlin came out of radio, which is one of the reasons he was so adept at demolishing its conventions.

That’s one of the things I enjoy about listening to the “Cruisin’” series of records, a post “American Graffiti” collection that matched old songs with airchecks of great 50s and 60s DJs, like Joe Niagara. These guys could sell it. These guys were amped-up bundles of nerves who could jabber right up to the post or hit the brakes and slide slooow and soulful into the ballad. FM radio killed that, with its serious DJs who were, like, professors of this important new medium called Rock. Then came the wacky teams who banter back and forth like friends you wish you could meet after work at the mortgage office because it’s Margarita Wednesday at the bar with all the stuff on the wall.

I juuust remember the end of the classic DJ. They were still around when I was listening to Carlin, so I got what he lampooned. Ha ha they are false. Everyone’s false. Every one is fake. Except George, especially because he’s being honestly fake.

Anyway. My favorite comedy albums were by Tom Lehrer and Peter Schickele, both of whom hold up fine. The one I probably shouldn’t have sold, because it’s probably rare today:


It contained the biggest comedy-killer I’ve ever seen anywhere. After eight slices of genial poetry about the human condition and his own size, he put in an anti-abortion poem in the ninth track. And went on for three more comedy cuts. I'm not alone in this assessment.

Correction: not rare. It’s all at


Oh: Joe. He put down a wailin' pound of sound. And Time and Temperature too.



Is it just me, or did we have something there? Or do I just like it because I wasn't around to listen to my peers and betters make fun of it, like Carlin did?








ITEM: I was taught at school that Woodrow Wilson was great because he was opposed to war, but then he reluctantly fought it, won it, invented the League of Nations, and at least was better than Coolidge who caused the Depression by not talking very much. Later I learned some other facts about his politics that caused me to shift my opinion, and regard his bony professorial form as something other than the harbinger of technocratic wise-man governance.

A few weeks ago I was listening to a radio interview with Amity Shlaes, who wrote the latest Coolidge bio. Someone called in and asked, with sarcasm you could almost smell like a cloud of AXE body spray, when they were going to get around to mentioning that Coolidge screened “Birth of a Nation” at the White House.

Whereupon it was pointed out that Wilson made it the distinction of being the first movie shown at the White House. The caller retreated, possibly thinking that if Wilson hadn't done it, Coolidge sure the hell would have.

Today, an interview with Joyce Carol Oates about her 4,945th book, which features Wilson:

“The portrait of Woodrow Wilson as a very limited person, a racist, a misogynist, and a Christian conservative with charity for few persons beyond those of his own kind is historically valid. Wilson was exceedingly thin-skinned and prone to feuds, possibly as a byproduct of his excessive self-medicating. He was something of a dictator, though always cloaking his ambition in the loftiest of Christian terms.

It seems clear that Wilson believed himself ordained by God to be president of Princeton, later president of the United States, and later head of the League of Nations. He was squarely in the tradition of our American presidents—like George W. Bush—who seemed to have believed themselves involved in Christian crusades.”

There you go.

ITEM: My friend Hugh Hewitt today spent an hour on video games as the proximate cause of the Sandy Hook shooter, spurred by a New York Post story that says the little bastard was an avid gamer. Hugh said it would be a good thing for a jury to decide. I fear a jury would look at the sales numbers, conclude the companies had lots of money, hear a few hired experts, and conclude that the victim’s families are entitled to some of that money, because the games were violent and one of the 162 million users was violent, and fairness and compassion require redress.

Experts are welcome to opine, to study, to observe and conclude, and experts are entitled to extrapolate from their data a variety of suppositions about people who may be affected but nevertheless don’t behave differently; experts can ask for grants and hook up gamers to electrodes and study which parts of the brain light up.

But. When it comes to making a case that the shootings were A) tied to the user’s use of a certain medium, and B) the creators of the work in that medium should be liable, there are certain things I require:

- Knowledge of at least six videogame titles from various genres, including the plot and the moral universe the game describes-

- Ability to describe the difference between Doom and Dark Forces

- AWDS = WNES: explain. (This is like asking gun-control advocates to know something about the things they profess to understand.)

- The different ethical landscapes of GTA and Bioshock

That will help me understand your arguments, because it suggests a passing familiarity with the medium you want to constrain, punish, restrict, etc. I’m not saying All Games are Good and I’m not justifying the anti-social aspects of some games - although those seem to be in decline. If games can be blamed, movies, books, songs can be blamed, and if they can be blamed, they can be sued; if they can be sued successfully, they can be regulated.

The enthusiasm for regulating one form of expression is rarely confined to that particular example.

ITEM: the 10th anniversary. Next week, perhaps. Ajami's piece in the WSJ seemed right. (No link b/c subscription required.) Right now I’ll go with Zhou En Lai for once, when he was asked about the French Revolution. “Too early to say.”

He was probably thinking of the 1968 revolts, but same concept.


New Mpls, of course. The HQ of the Pillsbury Company, but before that - well , you'll see. Big honking work blog around noon! It's Wednesday, and we are but two days from the pleasures of the weekend. Only two!

This week. Is lasting. Forever.











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