Mad Magazine

All right– so it wasn’t always funny or incisive, and it could be tired and dowdy at times. And occasionally it picked the wrong targets in some misguided belief that all sides of every issue deserve equal measures of humiliation. And it hasn’t been really relevant for twenty years. Still, you have to shed a tear for the death of Mad Magazine.

Not that it’s actually died.

The new owners of Mad Magazine — the quintessential greedy, ruthless, heartless corporation– AOL/Time Warner– will now accept advertising, thank you.

How can Mad Magazine, which used to mock the fundamental principles of hucksterism and commercialism, continue to attack the great hypocrisies in American culture while simultaneously urging you to buy Schlock Beer or Fuds Candy Bars?

My guess is that they will do the insidious thing: they will install a pseudo-hip self-mocking irreverence in the advertising itself, thereby confusing the reader into thinking that it can be cool to be an idiot– precisely the sort of clever marketing strategy that Mad used to mock.

I don’t think any sell-out on my list makes me sadder. Poor William H. Gaines (the original publisher of Mad, who refused all advertising).

Mad was no great shakes as a magazine. It had it’s faults. But the one thing I loved dearly about it was that it alone, among all American media outlets, had the courage and audacity to defy the one real sacred cow of our culture: that greed is good.


Bugs in Lingerie

Have you ever seen Bugs Bunny in black lingerie? He sidles up to some Arab sheik and bats his false eye-lashes and giggles….

I’ll bet you’ve never seen it.

I’ll bet you’ve never seen the horse’s ass that turns into the face of Adolf Hitler in an old Popeye cartoon either. Actually, I’m not sure if it was Popeye. I seem to remember that it was Donald Duck’s three nephews who were trying to hoist the horse into their bedroom. It spun around as Donald Duck or Popeye or whoever it was turned to look and with a swish of it’s tail, there it was, Adolf Hitler’s face.

Now, you probably don’t think it is very important that you or your children ever see Bugs Bunny wearing sexy black lingerie. You probably even think that it is a rather perverse idea, after all. What on earth is Warner Brothers doing showing that stuff to our vulnerable impressionable children? You may have seen the great documentary, Crumb”, in which the celebrated underground artist admitted to an unhealthy sexual infatuation with Bugs Bunny.

But that is not the point at all. You can take Bugs Bunny in his black lingerie or leave him, but the problem is that you did not have a choice. Some flunky at some big corporation simply decided that, from now on, you were not going to see Hitler as a horse’s ass or Bugs Bunny as Mae West or Al Jolson. They decided that it would not be appropriate or suitable or honorable or profitable for Warner Brothers to continue to issue the cartoons as they were created by those renegade Disney animators who couldn’t stand Uncle Walt’s control-freak mentality.

These cartoons, incidentally, were not necessarily originally intended for mass audiences in the uncontrolled environment of the family living room. They were shown in theatres, before the main features. They were shown in glorious Technicolor projection, forty feet high and sixty feet wide (or 16:9 or whatever…).

Did those early audiences storm out of the theatre when Bugs showed up in black garters and panties, trying to seduce an Arab sheik? Did people of Arabian descent start picketing the Warner Brothers’ studios in protest against the crude stereotypes?

Yes, it must be admitted, that it is not only the humor and sexual content that have been edited out of these cartoons. The original animators were not, as it were, sensitive, by modern standards, to racial stereo-types. Native peoples, blacks, Italians, women– we might squirm today at the broadness of their humor.

A few years ago, Disney produced an updated version of “Huckleberry Finn”. In the modern version, the word “nigger” was completely expunged from the text. Disney didn’t want to offend anybody– except for the broadly caricatured racists.

This is ridiculous. Does it really need to be explained to anyone? Mark Twain recreated the language of his day. He brilliantly imagined the dialogue between Huck and the runaway, slave, Jim, as it would quite likely have sounded, including the word “nigger”. What is the point of removing it from modern versions of the story? To deny that we ever used that word? To pretend that white Americans in the 19th century referred to African-Americans as “blacks”, “coloured”, or “negroes”?

The point is to re-imagine history in a way that is flattering to ourselves, that panders to our sense of personal worth, that sells.

It is important that we know that, in the 19th century, most white mid-westerners referred to blacks as “niggers”. It is important to know that people used to smoke in offices. It is important to know that women used to breast feed babies. It is important to know that children of all ages and genders often slept in the same bed. It is important to know that there was no indoor plumbing. It is important to know that people trapped together in a life-boat occasionally had to urinate.

It is important to know that Bugs Bunny’s creators thought it would be funny if he wore black garters and panties. If you don’t want to watch– fine. Don’t.

But please allow some of us the freedom to have our history without blinders.

Update (2001-05-03]

AOL/Time Warner is holding a Bugs retrospective on The Cartoon Network next month, but don’t look for those rare original Bugs cartoons I was talking about. Warner Brothers, concerned, apparently, about the commercial value of the Bugs “property” won’t let those cartoons be shown. In other words, this retrospective will be anti-historical. It will deny history. It will pretend it never happened. Without a doubt, these are the same minds that would decide to do “Huckleberry Finn” without once using the word “nigger”, as if white mid-westerners in the 1880’s didn’t use the word.

What next? Will they digitally remove the smoking from offices in 1950’s movies? How about the the rape in “Water Hole #3”, the James Coburn flick that suggests the woman enjoyed it? And should we really allow Nazis to appear in “The Sound of Music”?

If you can find an original copy of The Wabbit Who Came to Supper (1942).  Wait a minute– where?

That Wascally Wabbit

More information about cross-dressing Bugs.

Republican Deficits

Some critics of the George W. Bush Jr. tax cut don’t understand one simple but important thing about Republican economics. They allege that this $1.2 trillion tax cut, which primarily benefits the very rich, will drive the government back into a deficit within ten years. They think that Bush Jr. and his cronies don’t know this.

They know it very well. The cronies know it, absolutely. Bush Jr. himself may only be dimly aware of it, because he really isn’t all that bright.

The purpose of the tax cut is to accomplish exactly what the critics say it will: restore the budget to a deficit position. Why? Because the budget deficit was quite simply the best tool the conservatives had for transferring as much wealth from the poor to the rich as possible. Jimmy Carter left the presidency with most social programs intact and a relatively modest $45 billion deficit. President Reagan, unable politically to slash the social programs he wanted to slash, simply ran up the deficit by cutting taxes without cutting spending. He was the most fiscally irresponsible president in the history of the United States and left, as his legacy to the nation, a $450 billion deficit.

Mr. Do-Nothing Senior, George Bush, did nothing. The deficit suited Republicans just fine. Military spending continued at its usual hysterical pace, squandered left, right, and centre on madcap schemes, over-priced hammers, obsolete aircraft, and bizarre futuristic technologies that never worked. But even George Bush Sr. realized that he couldn’t let the deficit spiral too far out of control: he raised taxes. That is why, some think, he lost the next election to Bill Clinton.

Enter President Clinton. Clinton cut spending and left most existing taxes intact. Within five years, he had eliminated the annual deficit. The economy, spurred by low interest rates (caused by the fact that the government was no longer competing as heartily for loaned money), grew spectacularly.

The Republicans lost the election to Al Gore, but were awarded the Oval Office by the Republican appointees on the Supreme Court. Bush’s first significant act is to set the government on the path towards deficits again. His trillion dollar tax cut, combined with the downturn in the economy, (which will lower projected tax revenues) will almost guarantee that the government will once again be in a deficit position within ten years.

And then, once again, the Republicans will raise a hue and cry: we must cut spending!

Is it really all that subtle?

As you will know when you read this, all of the predictions here came true: Trump entered office January 2017 and by January 2018 the projected annual deficit of the United States will be about 4 times the size of Obama’s largest deficit (it was declining, slowly, before Trump).


My Music

You have undoubtedly heard about the injunctions and the motions and lawsuits and all the legal technicalities of the Recording Industry Association of America’s battle with Napster. The lawyers must be advising the RIAA that they can have an impact on music piracy– and their bottom line– by winning a few court battles against the software giant.

What is most interesting is not who is in court today, but who is not in court today. Napster, my friends, is a scapegoat. Why did the RIAA not file the same motions, injunctions, and lawsuits against Microsoft? Why is Creative Labs sitting there untouched? Why is Yamaha unscathed? Who gave a special blessing to Samsung? Winamp? Music Match? Audio Catalyst? Sonique? Creative Labs? Philips? Iomega?

If you read the advertising for Windows ME and XP and whatever other version of Windows Microsoft is promoting these days, you may have noticed that Microsoft thinks you want to play music on your computer. It has incorporated all kinds of features to allow you to easily and conveniently rip, download, store, and play MP3 files. You can even store them in a directory called “My Music”! Microsoft is obviously trying to profit from the consumer’s demonstrated interest in pirated music.

And Microsoft isn’t the only corporation benefiting from the digital revolution in music. Yamaha makes speakers that are designed to be used with computers, and almost certainly used to play illegal music files. There are now players from Rio, Sony, Creative Labs, Iomega. How come all of these companies are off the hook?

Could it be because they have better lawyers than Napster, the tiny little upstart, does? Could it be that the RIAA is being arbitrary and selective about trying to enforce it’s copyrights? Could it be that the law is an ass, and the RIAA are even bigger asses?

Quality Education

Last year, I remember hearing the Minister of Education of the Province of Ontario say, on the radio, that her department was dedicated to providing every student in Ontario with a “quality education”.

Am I the only one who finds it irritating, oftentimes, when people misuse words and sentences? “Quality education”? What quality? She doesn’t say. The quality of mercy? Not in these quarters.

I’m not a language snob. Sometimes language changes for the better, becomes enriched, more flexible, and sharper. “Cyberpunk” is a great new word. So is “internet” and “wired” (in the sense of “wired world”).

Sometimes, however, people are just too lazy to formulate a complete sentence. “Quality”, like “oftentimes”, seems more the result of mental passivity than activity. What the Minister of Education probably really meant to say was that her department would try to ensure that the good quality of education in Ontario would not be endangered by her government’s stupid policies towards the teachers’ unions.

Fabulous Fantino!

The chief of police in the City of Toronto is Julian Fantino. Fantino is a fabulous guy. He has fantastic ideas about everything.

Fantino thinks it is contemptible that the police actually have to answer to a committee that includes civilians whenever they kill or injure somebody. The police know better than anyone else when someone gets in the way. Why should outsiders have to come in and ask questions that the police haven’t already thought of, like, “what can I charge this guy with after I beat him up for dissing me?”

Fantino thinks the police need an increase in their budget every year, until, I think, the police budget is at least ten times the budget for everything else combined. There can never be too many police officers. Not even when a RIDE (drunk driving) program in Scarborough only catches one person in one year. Money well-spent! It’s the visibility of the police that keeps those drunk drivers from getting into their cars! If that’s the case, I suggest we use Lastman’s ideas for moose and put fiberglass officers all over the city. There can never be too many moose.

The City of Toronto is facing a $300 million shortfall this year. Premiere Harris must be giggling in his downtown love-nest or from his vacation in Florida or some golf course somewhere about the civic politicians being forced to give up their limos and research assistants and cut the wages of those lucky working stiffs that get to subsidize millionaire athletes when they’re not being pulled over by the RIDE program. Everybody in the city is going to have to “bite the bullet” and give up their wage increases. Except for the police. The police demanded a 7% increase. The Police Services Committee, rightly embarrassed, decided to only ask for 3%. But you see how bargaining works: ask for something obscene and then settle for something absurd.

What’s odd about this is that even during the years of recession, when everyone else was taking pay-cuts or getting laid off, the police forces continued to grow and their budgets continued to grow. Meanwhile, in spite of Fantino’s nonsense, the crime rate has actually declined. If anyone is in a position to take a budget cut, it’s the police.

The police desperately want a helicopter. The city was reluctant to fund one, so they got some corporate sponsor to donate the money to rent one for six months. I presume the corporate sponsor was able to write off his donation as a charitable gift. Which means that someone else has to cough up that deduction to make up for the missing tax money. Which means you and I, brother. Then the police tried very hard to make it look like the helicopter was helping the save lives. The trouble is that officers on the ground routinely beat the helicopter to where-ever it was police helicopters go. If you watch U.S. television, the role of police helicopters is to video-tape the chase thereby proving how dangerous the reckless offender was driving, which justifies the gap in the tape between the point at which the officers drag the hapless evil-doer from his car and the point at which they lift his handcuffed comatose body into the back of the patrol car.

When the Supreme Court of Canada– I’m getting to my point– ruled that a pair of Canadians could not be extradited to the United States for trial until Canadian authorities were assured that they would not face capital punishment, Fantino weighed in immediately with his pronouncement that Canada would now become a safe haven for wanton murderers and terrorists from all around the world.

First of all, the comment is idiotic. The Supreme Court ruled that Canadians cannot be extradited to the U.S. to be subject to the death penalty. The ruling does not apply to foreigners. It might, in the future, if someone brings a case involving foreigners before it, but it doesn’t now. (In fact, a few years ago, the Supreme Court did send Charles Ng back to the U.S. to face the death penalty, because he was a U.S. citizen.)

Secondly, the Canadians in this case can still be tried for murder in Canada and sent to prison here. They likely won’t be because the U.S. will probably agree not to seek the death penalty.

And thirdly, who asked you? You are a police chief, not the Minister of Justice. You are not a democratically elected official of the government, and you seem hardly accountable to anyone. What’s with your big mouth on the front of the newspaper every two days? Why don’t you shut up and train your officers on the etiquette of strip-searches?

Fantino is one of the most obnoxious police chiefs in the country. What he really wants is to be in the news every day. He loves to hear himself speak. He is loyal to his officers no matter what they do. He seems to have a vision of some kind of police state in which cops can do pretty well whatever they want to. And if you object? He’ll tell you, well, that’s the price of law and order. You want us to sick the Hell’s Angels on you? Now shut up and bend over.

Now listen– I’m not one of those people who thinks we can do without the police. But I am one of those people who thinks that being a cop is a privilege. And I think that if you want to be a cop in our society, and get paid for being a cop, and get respect for being a cop…. there is one trade-off: we have very high expectations for you. You have to be self-disciplined. You have to have self-control. You have to understand the law and know how to apply it fairly and equitably.

You have to demonstrate a fundamental respect for the fact that it is the role of our democratically elected institutions to make law, and your role to enforce it.

And sometimes, you have to shut up.


Some record company executive back in 1970 or so listened to a song about cannibalism and thought, hey, this could be a hit. And so we have “Timothy” by the Buoys, which had pretty well disappeared from the airwaves for thirty years until Napster gave it new life. Yes, people are using the Napster and the internet to share music files and one file that shows up a lot is “Timothy”.

Not since Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” have people taken such delight in such a morbid possibility.

“Timothy” gets right down to business. The narrator is trapped in a mine shaft that caved in. “Everyone knows” the only ones left are Joe, and “me”, and Tim. When they finally reach the unfortunate trio, the only ones left are Joe and– long silence here– me. The chorus:

Where on earth did you go?
God, why don’t I know?

Well, we know why he doesn’t know. “My stomach was full as it could be/and nobody ever got around to finding…. Timothy.”

Uh huh.

Now, let’s not get sidetracked by the fact that the song is about cannibalism. And let’s not even begin to discuss the question of whether or not this is another one of those pernicious rock songs that promotes anti-social behavior, like eating your co-workers. Let’s focus instead on the reliability of the narrator, because he is quite clever. You see, he tries to get you, the listener, to share his sense of shock and outrage that Timothy has been eaten. He thinks that because he shares your presumed shock and outrage, that you won’t suspect him of being the instigator of this tragic development. Oh no. He says:

Joe was looking at you….

Ah ha! Yes, I may have eaten my co-worker, but it wasn’t my idea. Yes, yes. As your present co-worker, I feel a lot better now.

So where’s Joe? Why don’t we get his version of the story? Maybe he’s the one who really “blacked out just about then” and suddenly woke up with a full stomach.

And let’s look at that sequence of lines there. Joe is looking at Timothy after saying that he would sell his soul for just one piece of meat. Joe takes a sip of water and hands the bottle to the narrator saying that there is just enough left for one person. And then:

I must have blacked out just about then
‘Cause the very next thing that I recall
Was the light of the day coming through.
My stomach was full as it could be
And nobody ever got around to finding Timothy.

Now think about this. He blacks out but wakes up with a full stomach. Can you eat while you are unconscious? No. Do you suffer trauma to the head while chewing on somebody’s forearm? Not necessarily. Is your psyche so traumatized by the experience of dismembering a friend that it represses the memory of the experience? Well, that’s what he’d like you to believe. But, in fact, research has shown that …..

Wait a minute. You should never believe any sentence that begins with the phrase “research has shown”. Research shows whatever the researcher wants it to show. Which is not to say that research is always wrong. It’s just a warning: don’t believe somebody just because he says “research” says. Check it out for yourself.

So check it out for yourself: do people repress memories of horrific events? No, they don’t. I know– dozens of Hollywood movies have shown this exact thing and they are all “based” on true stories. They are all lies. Seriously, check it out: they are all lies.

Back to the research, and I’m serious here: some researcher talked to a number of people who had verifiable experiences of traumatic events. Everybody can remember the events. Nobody “repressed” the memories of those terrible events. They are always there, always available to the mind to consider and reconsider.  Survivors of the Holocaust can tell you the same thing: they have not lost their memories of their terrible experiences.

On the other hand, in almost every case in which people claim to have repressed memories of traumatic events, they have no proof that the events actually happened.

But that’s a separate issue.

Anyway, the guy says he can’t remember anything from that last swig of water to the rescue. Well, he’s a liar. I just thought you should know that. He just doesn’t want to remember. He should stop whining. He should rewrite the song. The chorus should be:

I was chewing on you.

God! What did I do?

Yes, yes, yes, I know that “Timothy” is a miner’s slang for a mule used underground for hauling cars full or ore to the surface. But the song never tells you that, does it?